Monday, September 7, 2015

The End of Summer

Today on the blog I'm taking you to a new corner of Wyoming. I guess I'm playing tour guide! We went to Medicine Lodge State Archaeological Site for a camping weekend. But before I get to all the pictures... a story:

I've been so excited for school to start this year! We are continuing our homeschool journey, and as such I've spent several weeks this summer choosing and shopping for curriculum, planning and preparing. Recently I also went and purchased school supplies. I had so much fun picking out notebooks, rulers and index cards! I really had to control myself from going overboard and buying a bunch of stuff we didn't need – like a protractor for my preschooler. I always liked school myself... and school supply shopping for my kids is just the best. My favorite purchase - I am so pumped that I found a left-handed scissors for the Biker Dude!

(Uh oh, I think my nerd is showing.)

We started school this past week, but before we could get down to business we had one last summer-y weekend planned. Our church family headed out of town for a group camping excursion – the first of what hopefully becomes an annual event. Honestly, I wasn't originally looking forward to it. The thought of tent camping with a 2 ½ month old baby was less than appealing to me, to say the least. But! Some good great super-fantastic! friends of ours offered to lend us a camper for the event, and that changed everything.

Sooo... there we were, getting things ready so that we could leave the next day. The kids were already in bed and PJ and I were packing the camper when I asked him to go downstairs and bring up something we needed. He wasn't down there for more than two minutes before he started yelling for me to come and help him. I'm all, “What do you need my help for? I just sent you down there for one little thing.” “Just come help me!!!” he insisted, with quite an urgent tone in his voice (which, yes, that is just a nice way of saying that he yelled a little). Anyway, I get down there and discover the reason for his insistence - which was that our basement had gotten water in it (because of course that would happen the night before we want to leave for vacation...). There wasn't any standing water, thankfully, but the water did puddle up around your feet as you walked across the carpet. The room that flooded was my sewing room/storage room, so there were a lot of boxes and storage totes and miscellaneous items that we had to move. The water also went under the wall of that room and into our school room area, which meant that I had to tear apart nearly everything that I had spent so much time carefully preparing for our school year – just three days before it was supposed to start. (Ugh!!!) Once the heavy lifting was done, PJ got the wet vac out and vacuumed something like 15-20 gallons of water out of the carpet while I went upstairs and got back to packing. I was ready to call the camping trip off, I was so frustrated, but we turned a big fan on the carpet overnight and then left it to dry unassisted the next morning while we went to...

...Medicine Lodge State Archaeological Site!

Oh. Nearly forgot. Can't leave yet. I hadn't been feeling good for a few days, and wasn't getting better at all, so I decided to go to Urgent Care that morning. Thankfully there wasn't a long wait, but they did end up putting me on antibiotics. So that was another unwelcome addition to our trip to...

...Medicine Lodge State Archaeological Site!

(Yes, we can finally go. Wait. We can go - after we get gas and stop at the store and get lunch and feed the baby and... Good gracious, this leaving thing is taking forever!)

So. Medicine Lodge State Archaeological Site. Never heard of it before. Never even knew it existed. Wyoming still has plenty of surprises left! We drove out into pretty much the middle of nowhere and followed a couple of tiny little signs.

Landscape near the entrance.

Went down a gravel road and came upon the entrance to the park which led us into what felt like an oasis. There was a cold stream full of trout and a large number of trees of the deciduous variety in a little valley surrounded by rocky bluffs.

 View from our campsite.

 Beautiful trout stream ran through the whole campground.

The campground was meticulously maintained with nice grassy sites and the cleanest, best-smelling pit toilets I've ever encountered (they used “forest” scented hanging car air fresheners). The campground was busy, but not totally full.

One of the available campsites.

Oh! And there was this – while we could drive just a short distance down the road and get cell service, there was no service after we passed through the entrance to the campground. This only added to the “oasis” feeling. There were no ringing cell phones disrupting the peace, and the only thing we watched in the evenings was the campfire. It was rather nice to be disconnected for a couple of days.

The kids were in their glory – spending all day outside, running around with their friends, riding bikes, playing in the creek, making s'mores... It was the first time that we'd been camping in a few years, and the first time ever for Little Mister and Little Miss. In fact, last time we went, Mountain Girl was just a little over a year old and we went tent camping at the beach. (Sand + little kids + tent... hmmm, maybe there's a reason we didn't feel like going camping there for a bit...) Anyway, they absolutely loved it. In fact, I think we all had a pretty good time.

We had a young man who wanted to be baptized in a creek, so we did that on Sunday morning. It was definitely a highlight of our weekend! We also enjoyed a little walk around the campground on a nature trail, an outdoor church service, horseshoes (until they broke) and ladderball, omelets-in-a-bag (just ask if you want the instructions for them – they're really good and a simple way to feed a large group), campfires and lots of s'mores and conversation.

 Nature trail.

Nature trail.

Cactus and wildflowers along the nature trail.

 Nature trail.

Oh, and if you're wondering why the place is called an “Archaeological Site” rather than a State Park or something else, it's because of the petroglyphs (which you can view quite easily on a large rock face right by a parking area) and I guess they also did some archaeological excavations there as well.

 Petroglyph area.

It was a nice, refreshing weekend – even if it was dampened just a bit by the knowledge that we had to deal with the basement when we got back home. The carpet was still a little damp, as we expected, so we turned the fan back on to get it all dried out. The good news is that there has been no more water coming in, and we're pretty sure we know what happened, so everything should be all taken care of now. I was determined to start school despite the mess, so we've been working around it. Things have been going well, even if they are a bit cramped and a lot disorganized. Hopefully soon we can move the furniture back where it belongs and get everything all situated the way that it was before.

 Wild sunflowers of Wyoming.

"He lets me rest in green meadows;
he leads me beside peaceful streams."
-Psalm 23: 2 (NLT)

Friday, August 14, 2015

Life and Love

From the minute he woke up this morning, Little Mister was in full-on toddler mode, and he kept it up all. day. long. I couldn't seem to figure out what he wanted at all, and nothing I did was the “right” thing in his mind. Tonight, at supper, we had pizza. He was excited about this! He loves “peepah”! Waiting for it to cool down was torture. “Peepah! Peepah!” I gave him two tiny slices. “Peepah! Peepah!” Yes, Mister, you have pizza. “Peepah! Peepah! Peepah!” Yes. That's pizza. Eat your pizza, buddy. “Peepah!” (Insert tone of growing desperation, as mommy obviously doesn't understand what the problem is.) I stared at his plate. Hmm. I usually cut his pizza into small pieces, not slices. Could that be the issue? I took his plate and started cutting it up. His tone changed to one of excitement again: “Peepah! Peepah!” Yes. Got it. I hand him the plate. It took him all of 3.2 milliseconds to determine that this particular pizza was “bleh”. Apparently, tortilla crust is not an adequate substitute for real pizza dough. So much for my supper shortcut. He didn't eat any of it.

And while this toddler drama is playing out, I am listening to my older two kiddos. Biker Dude is telling me that he wants to be a grandpa when he grows up. “Why?”, I ask. Well, it's so he can tell his grandkids all about sea creatures (we're on a bit of an Octonauts kick here of late). Mountain Girl wants to be a grandma when she grows up. But, “I don't want to have a woice (voice) like you, mom. I want to keep my same woice. I like my woice. Your woice sounds like a boy. Say something. Mom, say something.” Me: “Something.” “Oh, you don't sound like a boy. You sound like a dirl (girl).” Well that's a relief. :)

And the new girl was sleeping soundly in her swing.

They're all asleep in their beds now. The wind is howling outside, blowing in a storm I'd guess. The floor looks like there was a windstorm inside, too. Toys are everywhere. There are dirty dishes in my sink and crumbs on the floor. Someone left the lights on downstairs. The dryer is full of clean clothes, ready to be folded. And it's all okay. :) Yes, the mess bugs me. Mostly because I know that after I deal with it tomorrow morning, my house has a 9 in 10 chance of looking the same way it does now by late afternoon. But for tonight I will dismiss the mess and relabel it as “the signs of life” and I will sit and relax for a few.

Life with little kids... It's messy, and it's glorious. It's both tiring and energizing at the same time. It'll drive you crazy... and yet, you'll wonder what you ever did without them. Yup. It's love.

"Children are a gift from the Lord; they are a reward from him."
- Psalm 127: 3 (NLT) 

Saturday, August 8, 2015

Peace - and Pulling the Plug

The other evening I walked outside after the kids were in bed so that I could water our garden. I wasn't thinking of anything else, besides getting finished with my job, as I walked over to turn on the hose. I was looking forward to getting back inside so I could find something to watch on TV. That's when I looked over and realized that I was being watched.

Yup. A big buck mule deer with velvet antlers was laying in the alley right up against the neighbor's fence, chewing his cud. He's a city deer and as such he wasn't too concerned about my presence. So I slowed down. I watched him for a few minutes. He eventually stood and stretched out his legs then began moving on, so I turned around and went back about my business.

But this time I was quieter.

I heard... bugs singing their evening song, dogs barking, a loud pick-up truck and the faint sounds of the night rodeo.
I felt... a cool, gentle breeze.
I saw... far-off clouds dropping rain showers, a bird returning to his nest for the night and the last remains of the evening's sunset disappearing over the mountains.

It was really quite peaceful. Despite the barking dogs and the loud truck, it was really quiet.

Peace and quiet... not something I get a lot of during the average day. With four kids, a husband and a couple of dogs to share my days with it can get rather noisy at times.


Anyway. Peace and quiet. It's kind of amazing how quickly some peace and quiet can overcome the busyness and make you become reflective. As I stood there watching the water from the hose drip off of the leaves of the garden plants I started thinking.

There's a real lack of peace and quiet today. In our country, and I guess the world in general as well. And I get it. People are looking for an escape and it's super easy to find one. The vast expanse of the internet is only as far away as the phone in our pocket. There is no waiting. With one touch our mind can be whisked away by, well, whatever we want. I know that for me personally it is hard to resist the temptation to type up the news, or a blog, or social media – something to read about – when I feel like I need to get a mental break from the responsibilities of taking care of the kids and keeping up with the housework, etc. It doesn't provide the peace and quiet that I'm looking for, though. The problem is that all it really does is steal my time. It steals my time away from the things that I need to be doing, and it steals my time away from my family. And it doesn't make me feel more relaxed - it just gives me enough of a distraction to leave me wanting more. More does not satisfy what I am looking for. It does, however, make me addicted to the pursuit of it.

In contrast, when I finished watering the garden and I went and sat down on the deck outside our back door and listened to the stillness, and felt the breeze, and looked at the sky and the trees and the mountains... I could feel the layers of tension being peeled back. I could feel the peace overwhelming my soul. I thought about God. And I wondered how anyone could sit in His creation and deny His very existence. I went back inside feeling refreshed... And I knew something... it is time for me to make a change. It's not that I am neglecting my family or my responsibilities, it's just that I'm too often making a priority of my “need” to be plugged in and distracted from the pile of laundry I should be folding. I'd had a wonderful afternoon and evening with the kids that day. We had worked on some projects together. We laughed. We enjoyed a homemade supper which we ate in the family room while we watched a cute little movie. My phone had been on the charger, and I didn't look at it once.

Sometimes I think it would be great to go back to the time (which wasn't that long ago) when phones were attached to the wall and simply used for calling people! But the truth is, although that would remove something that is a major distraction for me these days, I would probably just find something else to fill its place. The fact that it is so easy to plug in and disconnect from life is really only part of the issue. It is more an issue of the heart. Do I sometimes feel that I need a permanent break from responsibility? Am I longing for the carefree summertime-type days of childhood when the biggest decision I had to make was what flavor of ice cream I wanted on my waffle cone? The answer is YES! Most days I just want the dirty dishes and the dirty laundry and the toys on the floor to go away with no effort on my part! It's not enough that the dishwasher and the washing machine and (occasionally) the kiddos do those tasks for me. I want them to disappear completely because they are so mundane and boring. (Am I embarrassing myself with these admissions? Probably so...) I want to play and have fun all day long! And why shouldn't I?

When I was a child, I spoke and thought and reasoned as a child. But when I grew up, I put away childish things.” - 1 Corinthians 13: 11 (NLT)

Maybe I'm just speaking for myself here. Maybe I'm not speaking for you at all. (Or maybe I am.) The thing is... there's a reason we grow up. We can't stay children forever. Our bodies have no choice but to change and grow into maturity. Our minds, attitudes and actions... those we have some more control over. We must, as Paul says, “put away childish things” (and he's not referring to our sippy cups).

A little peace and quiet one evening – and I let it go to my head! I'm reconsidering my daily routine... should you?

There. I've said my piece. If you've gotten this far, you've read it. Now get off the computer. :) I'm gonna go fold some laundry.

Wednesday, July 15, 2015

It Might Not Be Easy, But...

October 17, 2014. Yup, that's the last time I sat down and wrote a post for the blog. That's really bad for blog-business, I know, but I've had some other things I've been focused on for the last while. It wasn't long after my last post that we found out that we were expecting our fourth child. My pregnancy wasn't completely trouble-free, but she's here now! And she's about a month old already! Wow. Time flies.

Say “hello” to the Little Miss!

Besides that, we've just been doing life together. It's been quite a ride, as we've dealt with some bigger health issues in our family lately along with some other things, but we're all doing fine now. I'm ready to move on and have a break from doctors for a while, though!

With the birth of our new daughter we've had a run of family visitors. The kids have enjoyed having a grandparent or two here for all but five days out of the last month. Of course this always produces a variety of emotions for me. I love having family here! I hate seeing them leave. It means that what I have on my mind right now is that fact that...

...I have two homes.

My Pennsylvania home is where I grew up. It is where my family is, and where my husband's family is. I know things about that place. I know where to go to find the best fresh produce. I know where to find a good cheesesteak. I know what time church starts. I know who serves the best ice cream, and what time to go there to avoid the worst crowds. I know how the seasons change. I know what the woods smell like, and where to find salamanders, and where to go to take a hike. I know where the mulberry tree grows in my grandparent's back yard. I know the smells of the farms – silage, rich black dirt, tobacco hanging to dry, tomato plants, manure and hay fields. I know what night of the week my family will be gathering together at my parent's house for a meal and to spend time together. And I know that I will not be there.

My Wyoming home is where my kids are growing up. It is where we are building our family. I know things about this place. I know what times of the year are best to go to Yellowstone, and what times to avoid it. I know what sagebrush smells like, and how it the strong odor of it chokes the air after a hail storm. I know the best places to go eat. I know exactly what time I have to leave my house to get to church on time. I know what horses and saddle leather smell like, and I love it. I know how the seasons change. I know where to go for the best views, and where to see wildlife, and where to sit at the rodeo. I know what night of the week I will be inviting my friends over for homemade pizza and popcorn and to spend time together. And I know that none of our relatives will be coming.

It is hard when your heart is in two places. For me that means that I deal with the effects of living far from my family. It means not knowing how to respond when Biker Dude says he wants us to move to Pennsylvania to be close to his grandparents. It means feeling a little left out and kind of sad when I'm looking at pictures or hearing stories about what our friends and relatives across the country have been up to.

So, why don't we move? I'll tell you... we just can't. As many good memories as I have about my childhood in PA, and as much as I miss the farms and fresh produce and Pennsylvania Dutch cooking, and as awful much as I miss being able to see my family, and PJ's family, and our friends we grew up with, and spend time with all of them more often... I know with complete certainty that we are where God has called us to be right now. And I know that is the most important thing. Even if it is hard. (I also know that the PA I grew up in has changed a lot since I left, and I know that there are too many people, and the sky is not big enough... And I know that I feel a little claustrophobic when I go back. I love the mountains, and I love the big sky, and I love the wide open spaces. I love being able to go and take a hike or a horseback ride and not see another person. I love raising my kids in this place. The west just makes my heart happy, even when I'm feeling a little down about missing out on family time.)

You may find yourself in a similar situation as me, juggling the emotions that go along with long-distance relationships, or your heart may be in two places for another reason. While I haven't found that it is really getting any easier with time, I can say that it helps a lot to surround yourself with a good support system. We have friends that have become like family to us – many of whom are also living a significant distance apart from their families. We spend holidays together, and trade off babysitting, and help each other as much as we can. We look out for each other and support one another in the raising of our children. We have a strong homeschool group – a community of parents that support each other in the education of our children. We have a wonderful church family. PJ and I support each other as husband and wife, and we can talk with each other about the hard issues and conflicting emotions that we deal with.

But most of all, we take strength, purpose and confidence in relying on God. He is our rock (Psalm 18: 2). He is our Father (Galatians 3: 26). He has provided us with a helper in the form of the Holy Spirit (John 14: 26). He loves us (Romans 8: 38-39). God the Father gave up everything for us. He sent His one and only Son, Jesus, to the cross to die for us. Talk about having a heart in two places! Imagine the agony of God's heart in sending Jesus – His beloved Son, pure and sinless - to be persecuted and abused, beaten and mistreated and killed... Imagine the intensity of love in His heart for you and I, as He sent Jesus to endure those things in order that we could be saved from the ultimate consequence of our sins – death and separation from Him forever. And imagine, at the end of the agony and the victory, the pride with which God must have greeted His Son and said, “Job well done.” And you know what? That's why we do what we do. That's why we've chosen to live in Wyoming, over 2,000 miles away from our family. That's why missionaries go overseas, even farther away from their loved ones than we are – even to countries where they must conceal their true purpose for being there in order for them to continue their work and even to preserve their very lives. It's because everyone deserves to know about God's love for them, and to make their decision for or against Christ. It's because we, as Christians, can't NOT go where we've been called. To live out from under what we know is God's plan and purpose for us would make us miserable. We are compelled to spread the love of God to those around us. And while we do that we will face hard times and conflicting emotions. And it may sometimes seem like it would be easier to quit, and just to live for ourselves... but if we persevere and make disciples and follow God and love Him with all our heart – if we are faithful with what He has entrusted to us - we will hear Him say, “Well done, good and faithful servant (Matthew 25: 21),” and it will have all been worth it.

That's why. Even though it might not be easy.