Wednesday, December 22, 2010

I Believe!

As of today I have resigned myself to the fact that I will not have Christmas cards sent to anyone in time for Christmas this year. I knew exactly what I wanted to say and we even got a usable family picture at the beach - which was not as easy as it sounds! It might end up becoming a Happy New Year, Happy Valentine's, or even Happy Easter greeting in 2011. (I actually did send a Happy Easter greeting in lieu of Christmas cards a few years back.) And that's okay. I'll spare the reasons why and let you fill in the blanks.

But I would like to share my Christmas card thought while still in the season...

So of course, first, Merry Christmas to you!

(My little Christmas decor specialist this year - gotta love the "bulb laden" branches on the bottom half of the tree! It makes me smile every time I see it.)

Earlier this month we spent a quiet evening together learning songs the children at church were to sing at the Christmas program. It was the first time I felt "the true Spirit of Christmas" this holiday season and it was a beautiful moment, something I really needed.

We asked our boys what Christmas means to them, and our five year-old replied, "Hot cocoa and Jesus." Love it!

Our eight year-old replied thoughtfully, "It means Jesus' birth to me - it means just about everything."

It was one of those moments when Heaven felt pretty close, and I put my arms around him and said "Thank you."

I thought a lot about the question that night, "What does Christmas mean to you?" and how I would answer it. The words from Luke 2:6-7 came to mind, and I thought about how Mary and Joseph sacrificed so much to fulfill prophecy given about their Son, even (maybe especially) in the circumstances of His birth. I can only try to imagine how His mission and Mary's role in preparing Him through His early years affected her deeply as a mother. I pictured this young, Holy little family and a felt a great love for them and gratitude for their faithfulness in everything they did. Obedience probably didn't feel so singularly extraordinary at the time. But because they were, the salvation of all mankind became possible.

What does Christmas mean to me? "And she brought forth her firstborn son, and wrapped him in swaddling clothes, and laid him in a manger...For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosover believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life" (Luke 2:7; John 3:16). He came for us. This influences every part of my life and is the reason my heart is full. Yes, I believe.

Monday, December 13, 2010

A month in Monterey

I can't quite say we're all settled in here, as much as I long to be able to say it! I sometimes still have the strange feeling that it's been a month-long vacation of sorts, that we're just kind of pretending we live here. I've considered establishing our own sand box by the front door from all the sand that comes home in our boys' shoes on a daily basis. Maybe once it's full I'll realize that we've been here long enough to call it home. (Free refills!)

(This is what my GPS came up with when I selected "Go Home"...with an arrival time of 48 hours later. I almost cried!)

With plenty of ups and downs during the past month, I've remembered my realization when we moved to Europe: "Moving overseas is not the same as vacationing there." Unfortunately, moving to a resort area doesn't automatically equate to living the resort life! However...

How 'bout I just focus on the "ups" here? There are plenty of them.

Lovin' the trees here. So much character. Doesn't this one look like a Dr. Suess kind of tree? (Look closely at the branches coming straight out of the top like a row of candlesticks.)

A favorite of our boys - we see this one every Sunday in the church parking lot.

This tree is like 12 in 1! One of my favorites.

It's a new experience for us to live so close to the coast - and there is a lot of fog and mist in the air that go along with it that makes the air just feel good. Everytime I drive by the beach and see the waves crashing it still takes my breath away!

The most-mentioned attraction in Monterey by friends who've been here was the Aquarium. It did not disappoint! We'll be returning there often.

Cannery Row is adorable and it reminds me a lot of Seattle, where I served as a missionary for 18-months several years ago.

It's fun to see the CA flag waving alongside the American flag...

So, I've heard of 30-minute parking before, but this one still makes me smile:

(If any of my new friends are reading this and have a logical explanation, I'd love to hear it.)

Okay, last pictures for today: Dennis the Menace Park. A very clever and fun spot!

I have every intention of posting again before the holidays, but you know with best of intentions sometimes reality takes priority. So just in case, Happy Holidays and may your days be merry and bright!

Thursday, November 4, 2010

Day 11: Then we're just going to have to walk?

Day 11 was significant for a few different reasons; meeting Toby the Desert Turtle was the first. This was the closest I’ve ever come to thinking “maybe we could have a pet, too.” (I have never had that thought, ever, until today!)

The drive to the Trail of 100 Giants from Ridgecrest was by far the most remote drive we’ve been on this entire trip. The terrain got really unique and there were no other cars or people for miles – just an occasional cow.

After what seemed a very long time of me silently wondering if we were going the right way, Eric asked the same question out loud. Not too comforting to be on that same page together! Check out this adorable little airport where we stopped to stretch.

Confusing, or amusing?

We got to the trail, high up on top of a mountain, and found one other person - a park ranger. The parking lot was closed off, the bathrooms were locked up, and he informed us that they were just about to close the road. He said they’d gotten snow up there recently and it was time to shut it down until Spring.

We stayed for a few minutes anyway and saw the most massive trees – it smelled so good in there along the trail, like fresh pine and wood. It’s hard to have pictures do it justice, partly because you just can’t fit any of these 1,500 year old trees entirely in a picture, both width and height.

Back where we’d parked, now there were two other cars. We asked about the drive down the other side, how long it would take, etc. They both said “It’s WAY worse – it’s a lot curvier (which I really couldn’t imagine, considering how curvy and narrow and long the drive up was) and takes a lot longer. And there’s some snow.” AH!!! Not what we wanted to hear. But that’s the way we needed to go to get to our lodging for the night.

Long story short, it was even worse than the warnings, we were just grateful no one threw up, I got a big headache (from 8,ooo feet down to 300 feet altitude in a couple of very stressful hours), and we decided to just bag the night's reservation for lodging (back up another mountain - I was done). So we headed straight for Monterey instead, just 3.5 hours away at that point.

When Eric announced our change of plans, "Well, today's the last day of driving on our trip!" our youngest replied in all seriousness, "So then we're just going to have to walk after that?" I think the pioneers would have been proud at that response!

We drove past Selma (the "Raisin Capital of the World"), past vineyards lined by palm trees, orchards, and fields of a variety of crops. Chased the sunset through (much milder, thank you!) mountain passes, and finally saw the sign we've been waiting to see for the past eleven days:

Of course by now there are all kinds of bugs on the windshield that the camera just can't ignore anymore.

So we're here! We made it and are looking forward to getting settled into our new life in Monterey. It will be a really exciting day when we can drive through a car wash to get rid of the rest of our trip's evidence...

...but that will have to wait until the reminder of Joplin (aka crunched bumper) is fixed first.

It's a good life!

This concludes my travel log "From Sea to Shining Sea". Northern Virginia feels so far away now, probably because we felt every mile go by a lot more tangibly than if we had flown and arrived here the same day. It was very, very cool to experience the gradual changes in topography, climate, time zones, and culture in our own country. I think I have a little better idea of the big picture now - basically that it's a lot bigger than I can really guess! And knowing that is a good thing. I think I feel another blog entry coming on...but for another day. Maybe when I need a break from going through boxes, and we have internet set up again. Until then, Happy Trails!

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Day 10: On the road again

From Flagstaff, AZ to Ridgecrest, CA


Favorite Signs

Road Kill Cafe'

Holy Moses Wash

Saw our first palm trees! There were nine of them in the landscaping around IHOP, where stopped for lunch. After looking around for other palm trees in the area, our son concluded, "I guess they only grow at IHOP."

We crossed the border into California!!! A loud cheer went up in the car.

The price of gas went up almost a full dollar per gallon once we crossed the border. Hmm...

It's been very interesting to watch the topography change across the country.

The best part of the day, by far, was getting to stay with good friends we'd known in Virginia! We had a great time getting caught up since we saw them last and it was nice for our youngest to make the connection that when you move, you don't just disappear. When our friend was giving us directions, she mentioned that it would look like they lived in the middle of nowhere. But we've driven through the middle of several "nowheres" over the last week and a half, and they definitely live somewhere!

Monday, November 1, 2010

Day 9: The Canyon was indeed Grand

The Grand Canyon was simply amazing!

This was our first time here, but let me preface by saying I can only imagine how good we had it by being able to visit so late in the Fall. We cruised right through the entrance without any wait, and there were only a handful of other visitors to share the park and incredible views with. I'm guessing in the Summer it would be a little different story!

Within the first few minutes, we spotted this mule deer ("Look, it's a horse!") and watched it cross the path right behind us.

At Mather Point rim overlook, we stayed for beginning of a “free talk” given by a very wise looking - and sounding - Park Ranger. (That's how the notice read to gather for his half hour geology lesson.)

We left a little early to go hear several more “free talks” when we went to church at the Shrine of the Ages with the Grand Canyon Branch congregation. It was a fairly small group and we filled up the 2nd row... it was only slightly embarrassing that our youngest fell asleep and snored through the entire service. (Actually the funniest part was watching the leaders sitting up front trying not to laugh, too!)

I enjoyed the mural and bathroom doors in the shrine

At Lipan point, our little guy hopped on a rock (made my heart leap almost out of my chest), leaned forward, and exclaimed, “LOOK at the VIEW! And I’m on it!" He was actually almost in it. Yes, this is the same one who made me so nervous yesterday, too.

We ended our visit with a little trip up the Desert View watchtower.

The night ended with a very fun evening of music - my cousin, his daughter, and I played violin trios together! I thought of the many times we played with Grandad over the years, of when I got my first lesson from my uncle (his dad) and he taught me about "five dollar finger nails," and how cool it was to see the next generation off and running with our family's tradition of violin playing.

Times like these are the icing on the cake! Really, really sweet.

Day 8: Exploration and Celebration

Ah, a much needed day of R&R with cousins in Flagstaff. They really know how to celebrate Halloween, which made it an awesome holiday for our whole family this year!

We had Halloween pancakes for breakfast...

Experienced my first pine needle shower (when the wind blew the dry needles off the trees)

My cousin’s daughter spelled “Happy Halloween” out of fallen needles in their yard...these girls are so creative!

We enjoyed exploring Pumphouse Wash ("A classic Flagstaff river bed canyon - dry most of the year" according to my cousin, when I asked him how he would describe it. It was certainly a unique experience for us!)

Then we drove to Walnut Canyon, a very cool National Park with preserved cliff dwellings of early Native American Indians. “But if you have a 5 year old who likes to run and you don’t love heights, it’s not recommended” (my cousin’s wife gave me this disclaimer well after we’d found it out for ourselves!)

The climb back up took our breath away, literally.

Back home, they threw a rockin' Halloween Party – complete with kids in costume, delicious soups and homemade bread, eyeballs, pumpkin carving¸ and Monsters Inc. for the kids.

This is one Halloween we won't soon forget!