Thursday, July 31, 2014

Road Trip: Hailed Out in Yellowstone

After another cold night and LOTS of heavy rain and hail we were cold and had wet sleeping bags. Apparently there was a trench under our tent site for a reason...

It took us about 4 hours to pack up everything and then we toured 3/4 of the park in one day.

Sadly there weren't many bison near the road as we drove through the Hayden Valley.  This one had a friend behind him that was pooping.  The highlight of the day for 4 year old Noah!

First stop, stinky mud pits!  This was called the Dragon's Mouth as the water is continually coming out in waves making a roaring sound.  It's also stinky!

There's a photo of us at this same sign from the last time we visited Yellowstone... Then there were 9 of us, this time there are 6 and it's just our family!  I think we grew...

(and I just noticed I have another picture of the Dragon's Mouth in that post too!)

We made it down to the Old Faithful area and had about 40 minutes before the window when Old Faithful was supposed to go off.  Daisy Geyser was supposed to go off in about 20 and we wondered if we could get there and back since Cory was very excited to see Old Faithful.

The lady at the front desk told us it was about half a mile out... so we hoofed it.  Only to get here to Castle Geyser and have the sign say that Daisy Geyser was another half mile away.

You can see the Inn in the background, where we needed to get back to to see Old Faithful go off.

We took the boardwalk on the other side of the geyser area going back, one I had never been on before.  There are lots of bubbling pools and pretty colors like this Crested Pool.

We didn't make it all the way back around as it was HOT and the boys were going slow.

Sadly I think geyers are one of those things that are much more spectacular the closer you are.  We stopped at this viewing area when it was getting close because we didn't want to be down in the trees to the left and miss it entirely.

While sitting there I overheard a kid to my right say "this was SO worth it" and his parents laughed and said something about how when they were park employees they thought the same thing.  So we struck up a conversation.  It's always fun to meet other people who have worked in Yellowstone as it's quite the unique working environment.  We chatted all the way back around the walk.

I love the old Inn, it's gorgeous inside, but very dark with bright spots where the windows are so it's quite difficult to take photos inside.

Then we headed north to Bozeman and back to my friend Dan's house (different Dan!).  After stopping for road construction we were halfway to Mammoth when we saw a family walking quickly along the side of the road.  Bear!

We quickly turned around and found the pull off they had parked in and all jumped out.  Hope was still asleep so Brian went back with Joy soon and I took the boys up on the bank.  We managed to see through the trees two black bears, although one of them was brown in color.

They headed off through the trees away from us so we went back to the car.  By then a TON of people had stopped to see what they could see and by the time we started driving again the brown colored bear had gone ahead to a clearing and was much closer to the road.

There were a whole bunch of people standing way to close (in my opinion) and when the bear started ambling towards them - looking for food - they scattered!  We were in the car on the road and I handed Brian the camera and he managed to get a few good shots before a truck behind us started honking (really? I have no idea why they were in such a hurry!).

This is actually the closest and best bear sighting I ever had, even with working over 6 months combined in the Park.  We won't talk about the bear that was sitting right outside my dorm room on the back steps one summer while I was sleeping in!

And so we stopped for pizza in Gardiner and then headed back to Bozeman for a good night sleep in warm dry beds!

Tuesday, July 29, 2014

Book: In The Field of Grace

Destitute, grief-stricken, and unwanted by the people of God, Ruth arrives in Israel with nothing to recommend her but Naomi's, love. Her loftiest hope is to provide enough food to save Naomi and herself from starvation.

But God has other plans for her life. While everyone considers Ruth an outcast, she is astounded to find one of the most honored men of Judah showing her favor. Long since a widower and determined to stay that way, Boaz is irresistibly drawn to the foreign woman with the haunted eyes. He tells himself he is only being kind to his Cousin Naomi's chosen daughter when he goes out of his way to protect her from harm, but his heart knows better.

Based on the biblical account of Ruth, In the Field of Grace is the story of a love that ultimately changes the course of Israel's destiny and the future of the whole world.


Once again I haven't had time to read this one before the review is due.  (I did read the last one and added my review if you want to go back and check that one out!) 

This will be the 4th book by Tessa Ashfar that I have read and if it's anything like the first three it will be amazing.  You have to be very careful bringing Biblical stories to life and I feel like having lived in the area of the world where they are from, Tessa just brings so much depth and rich story to life.

I'm hoping to have time to read it this week!


If you would like to read the first chapter of In The Field of Grace, go HERE.

Tessa Afshar was voted "New Author of the Year" by the Family Fiction sponsored Reader's Choice Award 2011 for her novel Pearl in the Sand. She was born in Iran, and lived there for the first fourteen years of her life. She moved to England where she survived boarding school for girls and fell in love with Jane Austen and Charlotte Bronte, before moving to the United States permanently. Her conversion to Christianity in her twenties changed the course of her life forever. Tessa holds an MDiv from Yale University where she served as co-chair of the Evangelical Fellowship at the Divinity School. She has spent the last thirteen years in full-time Christian work.

Monday, July 28, 2014

Tips for Visiting Yellowstone National Park

Old Faithful
The other night I met up with a fellow mom of twins and she mentioned she was heading to Yellowstone with her gang next month.  Since we just got back, I started sharing a few things with her and afterward she thanked me for all the information.

Later I thought, I have a lot of insider info from working two seasons in the park that might help people prepare for a better time.  So here are my top four points to make your visit less stressful!

Plan Ahead - Way Ahead


Main Entrance - Gardiner
Most lodging in the park is booked at least 6 months in advance if not farther.  If you plan to camp you will have a little more wiggle room, but if you need a hotel or cabin call as soon as you know.  This especially applies if you have a specific itinerary and want to stay in certain places on certain nights or need multiple rooms together.  The earlier you can call the better!

For camping: you will need to know exactly what size tent you have or they won't let you make a reservation.  There are also a few National Park campgrounds (most are run by a concessionaire) that are first come first serve, but you'd better plan to be there at exactly 11am or have a backup!

The lodging concessionaire is called Xanterra Parks and Resorts.

Take your Time

Bison in Hayden Valley
Most people don't realize just how big Yellowstone is.  At 3,468 square miles or 2.2 million acres, Yellowstone is big.  There is one main figure eight of road that goes through the park and for each "segment" (pretend it's a digital 8 and you'll understand the segments) you should allow about 45 minutes of driving time.  A few sections are shorter, but you also never know when you'll run into an Animal Jam! 

There is also usually major road construction on one or two segments each summer.

Besides, this is vacation and there are lots of little things to see along the way like stinky mud pits and picture perfect waterfalls!

Crested Pool
A good rule of thumb is that if you simply want to drive and take a few minor walks during the day, still don't plan to do more than one half of the figure eight in a day.  If you want more, allow at least 3 full days in the park to hit all the major view points!

Pack Well

Whether you're camping or not, please be aware that no food or food preparation items can be left outside unattended at any time.  This is for your safety and so that bears don't learn to come where the people are.

Mammoth Hot Springs
You should also bring plenty of snacks and as much food (for camping) as you can from outside because your choices are limited to one company of stores and they are expensive.  If you are staying in a hotel you are not allowed to cook/grill, but there are cafeterias, delis, and fine dining at each of the major lodging locations.  You'll still want snacks for your days of driving though!

In terms of clothing, layers are your friend.  The majority of the park is located at 6,000 feet or above in elevation.  It can get quite cold in the morning and evening and sometimes even snow.  There was a reason we had Christmas in August celebrations when I worked there! 

The elevation also affects how much sun you get.  When it does get warm and you shed your layers, be sure skin is covered with sunscreen, especially if you are fair.  And don't forget the bug spray!

Remember you are in a National Park!

Some of the funniest questions I got while working there related to the amenities (I worked as a front desk agent at one of the lodges).  There are no swimming pools. No TV's in the rooms. And most places don't even have phones.  Your cell phone will not likely work in most areas although there is now some wi-fi available in the lobbies with pay as you go service.

Some of the accommodations are very rustic, especially for the price.  But you're also paying for the location since having to stay outside the park means quite a bit of extra driving each day.

Lower Falls at Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone
There are very few street lights!  Some things, like the Lower Falls and Old Faithful can look really cool by moonlight, but please be VERY careful if attempting this since they are also in dangerous areas, especially in the dark!  Your best bet is to go to bed early and get up early with the sun to enjoy the most of your time in the Park.

You can also read more about our recent (camping!) adventures and see more photos here and here.

Have you been to Yellowstone National Park?  What are your top tips for a good vacation here?

Wednesday, July 23, 2014

Wordless Wednesday: Programming with Friends

We had some friends come stay with us a couple weeks ago.  Jason was helping Cory learn some basic programming that his daughter Cora already knows!  

Yes we had 6 kids between the ages of 2 and 7 in our house, it was fun!  We only wish we lived closer together!

Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Book: Firewall

After a whirlwind romance, Taryn Young is preparing to board a plane at Houston International Airport, bound for a dream honeymoon, when a bomb decimates the terminal. Injured but still alive, she awakens to discover her husband is missing and they’re both considered prime suspects in the attack. Further, the FBI is convinced her husband isn’t who he appears to be.

Agent Grayson Hall’s number-one priority is to catch those responsible for the day’s act of terror. All evidence is pointing to Taryn and her new husband. But his instinct tells him her pleas of innocence are genuine. Is her naiveté just for show, or could she truly be another victim of a master scheme, possibly linked to the software she recently developed for her company?

With both their lives and reputations on the line, and the media outcry for justice increasing with each passing minute, Taryn and Grayson have no choice but to trust one another . . . and pray they can uncover the truth before they become two more casualties.


I haven't had time to read this one yet, our summer has been a bit wild!  But I have read a couple of DiAnn Mills books before and they are totally enthralling.  Like suck-you-in-can't-put-it-down good!  This one is a different genre than some of the other ones I've read, but I'm hoping to get to it this week!

ETA: I picked this one up the other night at around 7:30pm... and finished it at 2:30am, all 400 pages.  I thought it wouldn't be suspenseful since it was an after the fact story... wrong!  This one is a page turner and I had NO idea how it would end.  Not exactly my favorite kind of story since I get all tense and have to finish before I can go to bed, but it was a good story.

I don't know anything about the FBI, but a few things seemed a little far fetched to me.  Other than that, the motivation for the story will seriously make you think.  Real world application here!


If you would like to read the first chapter of Firewall, go HERE.

DiAnn Mills believes her readers should “Expect an Adventure.” She is a fiction writer who combines an adventuresome spirit with unforgettable characters to create action-packed novels. Her books have won many awards through American Christian Fiction Writers, and she is the recipient of the Inspirational Reader’s Choice award for 2005, 2007, and 2010. She was a Christy Award finalist in 2008 and a Christy winner in 2010.

DiAnn is a founding board member for American Christian Fiction Writers, a member of Inspirational Writers Alive, Advanced Writers and Speakers Association, and is the Craftsman Mentor for the Christian Writer’s Guild. She speaks to various groups and teaches writing workshops.

DiAnn and her husband live in Houston, Texas. Visit her website or find her on Facebook at

Monday, July 21, 2014

Book: Penny Wise

Penny Wise introduces us to yet another family in "the neighborhood"---the Jaspers, busy with demanding jobs, busy with church, busy volunteering, parents of three active teenagers, juggling sometimes crazy schedules. All good things. Until all those "good things" feed into a series of crises that affects the whole family. Something's gotta change!

The third in the Windy City Neighbors series, Penny Wise is a contemporary peek at an urban family wrestling with the spiritual and practical challenges of real life. The series employs the innovating storytelling technique of "parallel novels," each with its own drama and story arc, but whose characters' lives become intertwined with their neighbors and affect one another. Welcome to Beecham Street---a typical, isolated American neighborhood that is beginning to come out of its shell . . . for better or worse.


As mentioned above this is the third in a series and I really don't think it would work as a stand alone very well.  It's supposed to be about the neighborhood and how each new family gets drawn in together (I'm already guessing which neighbor the next book will be about!) so there is a lot of back story that you'd need to read this book well.

For review: I kind of felt like this one took forever to build up to the climax, which I also partly saw coming, and then resolved too quickly.  Neat little packages don't always happen in real life.  That being said, I did appreciate how Michelle Jasper started to learn that being a Christian doesn't mean you too busy doing all the right stuff to actually have real time with God and your family.  As part of the series, I really enjoyed it.


Purchase your own copy or read reviews by other bloggers.

Dave and Neta Jackson are award-winning authors living in the Chicago area where their parallel novels from the Yada Yada House of Hope and Harry Bentley series are set. As a husband/wife writing team, Dave and Neta Jackson are enthusiastic about books, kids, walking with God, gospel music, and each other! Together they are the authors or coauthors of over 100 books.

I received this book from LitFuse Publicity in exchange for my fair and honest review.

Thursday, July 17, 2014


Bloom... even when it's dark?

This was the view out my front window at 8am this morning.  The light shining in on my wall was eerily red.

We here in North Central Washington are in the midst of what I think is the worst fire season I've ever seen in the 22 years my family has lived here.  The sky has gone dark and many homes have been lost this evening.

We would greatly covet your prayers for safety first and foremost, for the many fire personnel fighting in the midst of high winds and heat.  Then for the winds to be calmed and the heat to fall.

We've been through this before and we will come out on the other side.  Is that what it means to bloom?  To continue to go on, even in the midst of whatever comes your way?

My sunflower was taking a beating from the high winds tonight, but it was still there, blooming, the first one I've ever successfully grown.

And this was the darkened red sky it was blooming under.

Somehow somewhere Christians have gotten the idea that our life should be easy with Jesus in charge.  And then when it's not we get disillusioned.

Where did we get that idea?  Life is not easy. Not on this broken planet.

But there is still beauty to be found amid the ashes.  And we can be the ones bringing that beauty.

Bloom.  No matter the circumstances.  (that's me talking to myself again. ;)  It's a choice!

(and by the way?  this is not at all where I thought this post was going, it often happens that way...)

This is a post prompt from Lisa-Jo. Join in? If you don't have a blog or don't want to write there I'd love to have you write with me, even in the comments!

Road Trip: My Favorite Place on Earth

After one night of being cold camping we got up to nice weather and touring my favorite place! The Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone!

I'm sure I've mentioned here and there, but I spend 2 summers working here in 2000 and 2002.  It was hard, but good and I have such great memories as well as some life long friends!

Family photo taken by Cory!

This is the Lower Falls and yes, right in front of the kids is a giant drop off into the canyon...

Boys being silly while Mama takes pictures...

What brothers do, sisters must copy.  This is Joy.

Seeing this by moonlight is also an amazing experience, just remember your flashlight for the trail as there aren't any street lights in Yellowstone!

Me and my crew!  Photo by Daddy.

This is the brink of the Upper Falls. (and yes, I have a hold of his belt loop with my other hand)  It was lunch time and starting to rain so we didn't take the short hike to the brink of Lower Falls.  Another time!

A little cave in the rock that all the kids found.

I think Noah was pretending to be a bear in the cave.

When we got back to camp it started hailing like crazy.  Since it's bear country we had all our food with us in the car anyway so we just ate lunch there.  Then a couple hours later it was lovely out again.  The campground amphitheater above is where we held many a Sunday Service...

This is the main Canyon Village area.  I worked in the first building on the left.  They've updated a few things, including the new signs pictured below, but for the most part it all looks the same.

Then we had a dinner, a former coworker and friend came to join us (he still works there after 14 seasons!) and at the end when the boys decided to go in the tent and get ready for bed it started hailing again.  Brian was off with Hope doing dishes so Joy, Dan, and I jumped in the van since our piddly tarp over the table was NOT cutting it.  After it was all said and done this is the pile of hail that we dumped off the end of the tarp.  It was still there the next morning.  Crazy schizophrenic weather.

So, after all that hail and rain our tent had a puddle under it which was soaking through and getting our bags wet.  We decided the next morning to pack it up and leave a day early.  Probably a good idea!

Tuesday, July 15, 2014

Family, Community, and a Free Episode of Adventures in Odyssey

*This is a sponsored post, I have been compensated for my time, but all opinions are my own. 

We really enjoyed listening to Adventures in Odyssey on our recent road trip.  I think we got through almost the first two albums - about 10 episodes each.  We have lots more hours in the car next month too.  Something great to listen to that the whole family can enjoy!

Would you like to check it out? For a limited time, you can listen to a new episode of Adventures in Odyssey for FREE!

Screen Shot 2014-07-07 at 4.54.28 PM 

Album 58, The Ties that Bind, will be available this fall for digital download and CD purchase, but if you join the Odyssey Adventures Club, you can listen to the full album now! Guess what? The $5 special held last month was extended through the end of July, too, so you can join in the fun for only $5! Here's what part one is about (which you can listen to for free HERE):
It’s a time of surprises as Wooton becomes the celebrity guest at Comic-Connellsville and Whit finds himself in conflict over the upcoming “Let’s Get Together Festival” in Odyssey. Plus, hear an interview with writer-director Paul McCusker about the entire 14-part series.
Album 58 was inspired by Focus on the Family’s The Family Project, a 12-session small group experience that explores the theological, philosophical, and cultural underpinnings of the traditional family, and combines that information with inspiring stories and practical tools to help 21st-century families thrive. One way families can carry out God's design for families is by serving their community—right where God has planted them, being His hands and feet together. Want to serve your community with your family, maybe make a day of out it? Here are some fantastic ideas from some Adventures in Odyssey bloggers and club members:
  • Make scarves through the year and deliver them to your local homeless shelter at the start of winter, or regularly donate food to your local food bank. —Shirley 
  • Our family likes to help with Meals on Wheels. We also do reenactments of the Civil War and WWII to help educate people on history. I like to show my kids that we should be servers and givers by taking meals to people who need them (i.e. baby just born, someone died, someone had surgery, etc.). —Erin 
  • We have been visiting a nursing home with friends once a month. The kids just sing and then we fellowship, but the ladies love it! —Lisa 
  • We make lap blankets for nursing home residents and take the time to visit with them. We also collect food for the local food pantry. —Donna 
  • We make blessing bags to give to the homeless when we encounter them. We also donate clothes and food to a local shelter. —Amy 
  • Our MOPs (Mothers of Prechoolers) group supports our local Pregnancy Support Services with donations, gifts, and notes. We also supports the Durham Rescue Mission, which helps people break free from addictions and restore families. —Melissa 
  • We live in a very rural area. Our church serves two of the poorest zip codes in the state, and about a decade ago, they started operating a food pantry out of a closet. It has expanded since then, so we now use the closet for storage, but the pantry is basically a classroom. The kids and I serve over there a lot. My 17-year-old and I go to Care & Share (50 miles away) to get food to bring back to the pantry. All of us help unload and stock shelves. On pantry days, everyone can get involved with helping people go through the line, playing with the kids, carrying boxes out to cars, etc. There are so many hungry folks, especially in the summer when school breakfasts and lunches aren't available, and helping a bit to put food on some tables is such a blessing for us all. —Debra 
  • We pack food bags each month for the homeless and needy through a thrift store that offers an outreach to the community. We also help clean our church and our Sunday school. —Michele 
  • We work through our AHG troop to do several service activities a year. My girls just recently made bracelets they are selling, which 100% of the profits goes to Hope House in Africa to help young girls. —Sarah 
  • Our church works with a homeless shelter in downtown Atlanta. We cook food ahead of time, and when our schedules allow we ride down with the group to serve the food. My son always reminds me when we haven't been for awhile, so it's something he looks forward to. —Maria 
  • We do lots of random acts of kindnesses within our community: pay for others' meals, leave change at a vending machine, hand out Gatorade/granola bars to people on the side of the road asking for food. We also love to support Mobile Loaves and Fishes. —Kathryn
Did that provide some ideas to give your family service activity the kick-start it needs? What other ideas do you have for serving your community? Share in the comments!

Monday, July 14, 2014

Road Trip: Yellowstone!

When we found out that one of Brian's cousins was getting married in Billings, Montana this summer I was giddy to go back and visit Yellowstone along the way!

So we set out on our epic road trip with 4 small children.  First day's stop was in Bozeman with a friend from my days of working in the Park.  In case you've never been there... Montana is stinking huge!  It took us 9 hours of driving that, with stops and the time difference, added up to over 13 I believe.  Of course it didn't help that poor Hope had croup so I had to take her in to the walk in before we could leave.  But we made it and the next morning headed out to one of my favorite places on earth!

Yep, this arch is massive!  And I love it!

Boys will be boys... climbing everything in site!  The peak in the back right is called Electric Peak and yes, I've stood on top of it!

First wildlife spotting in the park, a mama elk with two babies!

A short stop at Mammoth Hot Springs.  It's always crazy to see how much it's changed in the years since I've been there.  That overhang above Cory's head was NOT there the last time we were here!

And the first time I was there in 2000 and 2002 much more of the terraces that you can see from the road had water/color.  Now they are almost all dead and gray other than this one section.  It's a living thing!

And then we headed off to set up camp at Canyon Campground... where they gave us a campsite, per my request, near the entrance to the campground.  Except they failed to notice I had 4 children under 12 on my reservation and gave us one right on the main road... of a 600 site campground, rather than on the back end of one of the tent loops.  After Joy about got tagged by an RV in the road we pretty much either had the girls on our backs or strapped into their high chairs.  Not exactly relaxing for camping.

More adventures to come!