Wednesday, April 30, 2014

Off the Beaten Path in Utah

Hello from Utah!  We're currently staying in Moab, near Arches National Park.  Arches is not off the beaten path, but it sure is beautiful!  I think it may be the National Park that I've found the most beautiful thus far on our trip.  Here are some pictures:

Our kids are now Arches Junior Rangers, and we've done a good amount of exploring here.  It has been very scenic, but the kids wouldn't say it had the most adventure for them.  Fortunately, along with the great scenery of Arches, we were also able to have some great adventure.

Two hours from here is Goblin Valley State Park.  It is truly in the middle of nowhere, with highway signs that even warn you that there will be nowhere to stop at all for the next 104 miles.  Impressive!

We got to Goblin Valley, and I asked the ranger our typical question, "What are the must see and must do things here, when you have four children?"  Being an exceedingly helpful ranger, the man said, "Just drive back there.  They'll figure it out."  It turns out, though, he was right.  We drove back, and saw this:

Goblin Valley has so many rock formations to explore, climb, squeeze through, and be photographed.  Take any kid here, and he or she will immediately know what to do.  There was no hiking path, just an exploration!  This was our daughter's favorite park, with all the opportunities to explore and just play.

doesn't this "goblin" look a bit like a dinosaur?
heading towards a cave
E climbing around under the "goblins"
Miss I found this a great place to have a tea party

Later in the week, we went to Mill Canyon.  This was BLM land, with only dirt roads, and no one else anywhere around.  We came to do the dinosaur trail.  Fantastic!  The sign said that the dinosaur trail was an extreme experiment.  What happens if you leave real dinosaur fossil bones in the canyon wall, right where they were found?  Will people destroy them or steal them?  I hope that never happens, because it was so cool to be so close up to the dinosaur bones.  Signs were posted to tell us which bone and which dinosaur we were seeing.  Here's Y pointing at a bone.

Here are some more photos.  While the signs talked about vandalism and stealing bones, nothing was mentioned about touching the dinosaur bones, so it was really memorable for the kids to gently touch a dinosaur bone, right where it had been found.

Overall, the kids rated Mill Canyon higher than the Grand Canyon.  I see their point.  It's so neat to be completely alone in nature, feeling like you're exploring and finding things no one has the chance to see.  It was the same at Goblin Valley - so fun to do more exploring in a really remote area.  If anyone goes to Utah, we highly recommend all these stops!

Tomorrow, we'll go explore a trail that is supposed to have fossilized dinosaur footprints.  I love the variety God created in our country!  Rock formations, sand dunes, dinosaur bones, caves, swamps, beaches, canyons, mountains, white water rivers - there's so much variety in this country!  How wonderful!  We hope you're enjoying your corner of the country, too!  Love from the Utter family!!

Monday, April 28, 2014

Not a Living Amateur

Mr. Oltman, our college orchestra conductor, who was well-respected by all for his high standards and ability to push his students to excellence, cut off the music being rehearsed.  "WHAT IS THIS???"  He loudly queried the french horn players, "Amateur night???"  The rest of us in the orchestra cringed with the french horns over their public humiliation, but admittedly, it was great incentive to practice the orchestra music.  No one wanted to be labeled an amateur.  

I don't suppose most people would be overly mortified by being called an amateur french horn player.  I wouldn't mind.  I'm not a french horn player.  We can't be excellent at everything, and since most of us don't even know how to hold the instrument, we'd be doing quite well if we were amateur french horn players.  Yet, there was something important that the orchestra conductor was doing.  He was calling us musicians to a very high standard; to excellence.  

These are the memories and thoughts that went through my mind when I read Mr. Oltman was retiring.  He had a huge influence on my life.  He taught me about excellence, and he made me really strive to be excellent at the cello.  I now realize, when I play the cello maybe four times a year, that I am not excellent at the cello.  I miss playing, and hope to play the cello more in the future, but Mr. Oltman taught me something that I can still apply in my life.


We can't be excellent at everything.  We can't even be excellent at most things.  But, life loses some of its joy if we don't strive for excellence in anything at all. 

Here's something else that stays in my head.  It's in the dialogue in the play "Our Town," by Thornton Wilder, as Emily looks back on the life she lived and the people she loved.
"Emily:  Do any human beings ever realize life while they live it?--every, every minute?
Stage Manager:  No.  The saints and the poets, maybe --they do some."

Mr. Oltman taught me about excellence.  I can't be excellent at everything or even most things.  At this phase in my life, I can't be excellent at the cello, but I do have one thing in which I want to excel.  Life.  I don't want to live life as an amateur.  I want to realize the moments I live, as Emily said, and live them well.  God made me to love Him and serve Him, and to love my family and serve them, and the people around me.  

There are moments, like when I have a bad attitude with my family, that I replay in my mind, and think to myself, "amateur!"  That's not the way to be living this life!  Oh, I want my life to be characterized by love!  Life will go by so quickly, and I want to make the most of each moment.  I don't want to get to heaven and regret having lived my life with too much ease and not enough thought.  I'm so happy to be on an eight month (or more?) camping trip with the opportunity to focus on my family and on God.  Sometime, I assume we'll end up at some kind of home again, but no matter where we are, I want to remember the lessons people have taught me in my life.  Excellence.  And, I want to remember not to be a living amateur.

(For those of you who get to this blog from a travel website- sorry.  Next time I'll write about Utah!  There is part of full-time RVing that helps you focus on your family, if you're like me, and you ever want to do that more in avoiding living as an amateur!)

Friday, April 25, 2014

White Water Rafting in Colorado

I walked into the camp store, and a brochure with the words "kids" and "free" caught my eye.  Like many parents, we have been known to do lots of things when we see phrases that combine those two words, so I took the brochure back to Char and tossed it to him.

"Let's do it," he said.

So, I called the white water rafting place and asked how young of children they took on rafting trips.  I was told that they taken children as young as one and two years old, so off we went.

As we waited to get in the water, we were instructed on what to do if we should happen to fall out of the boat on the rapids - how to swim on your back, feet first, because you'd rather smash your feet into boulders than your head.  I tried not to think about my newly-turned-four-year-old trying to follow that advice, and we got into the raft.  The water looked calm and serene.  I'm really happy we got out on the river in Colorado!

We paddled in the calm water for awhile.  Then the water got a little bit bumpy, but we had fun following the guide's instructions, as he yelled, "Paddle forward.  Forward!  Forward!"  I think B and E had a good time being trusted with paddles along with Char and I.  It was fun, too, when the guide would yell, "Bump!" and we'd all prepare for the bump.

We watched a kayaker crash into a bridge and almost flip, and we were happy to have our guide on our raft with us!  I wish we had some good pictures while on the river, but there was too much splashing to have the iPhone-camera out.

We chatted with the guide a little bit about what made different areas a class I to a class V rapid.  This trip was to involve a class III section.  Our beginning of the trip, which had been very fun, had only been class I.  The guide told us that right before the class III section, there was a part that he would call class I and a half or II.

We got to this section of the river, and Ily freaked.  It was an exciting time on the river, and all the boys enjoyed it, but I decided that Ily and I would walk around the class III section.  Char tried to talk us into staying on the raft, but here's the picture of the boys as we girls got out.

The next time we saw all the male members of our family, they were running in circles around a playground.  We thought that was a little odd, but they later explained that they were trying to get their legs to work again after freezing.  As we walked up,
B said, "That was awesome!"
E said, "I feel like I fell in a snow drift in my underwear!"
Poor Y was crying too hard to say anything.
Char said, "You made the right choice to keep Ily out of that."  Then he said, "There was this huge wall of water right in front of us!  Then, we were all surrounded by water, and we couldn't see anything, and we didn't even know if we were still in the boat.  I guess I was standing up, and the nose of the boat was straight up in the air, and the kids were screaming."  The kids, by the way, were tucked in tornado position in the front of the boat.  "And that was just the first time!  We did that three times!"

And that was our white water rafting experience in Colorado.  Char, B and E loved it and would like to go again.  Y, Ily and I may stick with hot tubs.  It was fantastic, though, and I'm glad we did it!  Kind of like scuba diving, I found it a really fun thing to do - once.

Oh, and if anyone is ever in this area, I said that four year olds can definitely do Mesa Verde.  White water rafting - not so much.  I know the guide talked about the time he had a 13 month old baby on his trip, but, well, free or not, with little kids, I'd stick with Mesa Verde.

Wednesday, April 23, 2014


We left Arizona and drove towards our destination in Colorado, and on our way, we passed Four Corners.  For some reason, ever since I was a kid and heard that four states met in one place, I have really wanted to do this:

Our son, however, apparently always wanted to do this:

As a family, it was fun to stand together and be in four different states.  I'm not sure why I found this so entertaining, but I did.  Four Corners.  It's a great spot for a bunch of photos.  I also found it ironic that it is a park in the Navajo Nation, and is run by Native Americans.  It may be where four states meet, but really it seems to be an Indian reservation.

We continued our drive into Colorado, and the picture below is the view.  Wow, I'm loving Colorado!!!  We can see a very similar view close to our campsite.  Snow-covered mountains and greenery.  Our five-year-old said, "This is so nice!  I'm so happy not to be camping in the desert!"  Ha!  The desert sure is fun to explore, but I think everyone in our family is now appreciating water in a new way.  These sights make me so happy.

We came to Colorado partially in order to explore Mesa Verde National Park.  I had debated back and forth whether we would come here, as some of the hikes sounded challenging with younger kids.  I'm happy to report they were not a problem at all for a just-turned-four-year-old.

Here's a view looking down on Cliff Palace.  You can see where we were able to hike there.

Ladders.  Sometimes our daughter has refused to climb them, so I was happy to see she agreed to go down into the kiva (circular shaped room in the cliff dwelling) without any hesitation.

I was the one with the hesitation about the next ladder.  Look very closely at the crack in the middle of the cliff here.  Towards the top, you can barely see a ladder in that crack.  Next to the edge of the cliff.  I was seriously nervous about taking our kids on the hike that involved some of these ladders.  However, once we got to them, the ladders were no big deal, and were not scary - the way they looked to me when I saw this view.

Yep, the Cliff Palace hike was no problem with kids, and they loved climbing the ladders and steps and walking around the ancient Pueblo dwellings.  Mesa Verde was full of adventure, and I also hope the kids will remember this someday in school when they learn about these Indian dwellings.  (I'd say Native American, but all the Indian shops around here say "Indian" and none of them say "Native American.")

While in the area, we visited Durango.  (Thanks for the recommendation, Jill!)  It's a really neat town, where absolutely everyone seems to be out exercising.  We joined in the exercise and scootered along the Animas River Trail.  It was really fun and scenic.

Later in the week, we set out to visit Mancos State Park, to put in the S.S.Utter and paddle in Colorado.  It didn't work - the lake was closed to boats that day, but we took a short walk and took a picture by the lake.

Since we left Mancos STate Park earlier than we expected, we had time to go to Mancos SKate Park, instead.  The kids were happy with this trade-off!

That's Colorado up to this point.  We love it!  Next up - Utah!

Monday, April 21, 2014


On Saturday, our little girl turned four.  We pretended her birthday was Friday, because Saturday was full of too much driving and non-fun to be a four-year-old birthday.  That's okay, though, because she pretends a lot, too.  She still thinks she's an armadillo.  Happy birthday, my precious and sweet little armadillo!!  :)

See the stuffed armadillo in her hands?

You can't take ballet lessons while you're on the road, which is a bit of a shame since she dances and twirls so much.  We did the next best thing, and bought her some ballet DVDs for her birthday, and now she twirls around the camper with them.  It's fantastic!

We also celebrated Easter on the road this weekend.  We'd colored our Easter eggs outside at our picnic table.

We had an Easter egg hunt outside in our campsite, as there's not much room in our RV.  I loved watching them look around here for their eggs with the view of the mountains in the distance.  Colorado is gorgeous, but more about that later this week!

Before I forget, we loved the book "The Cross in the Egg" by Shirley Taylor with our littler two this Easter.  It tells the story of Jesus' death and resurrection so sweetly for young kids, and as a rabbit tells the story, it makes the gigantic bunny we've put into Easter have a little significance.  I highly recommend this book!

Also on Easter morning, we attended church, as usual.  It has been interesting, as we travel the country, to be attending a different church each week.
On Easter in Colorado, we sang about God's glory displayed in the mountains.
In New Orleans, where everything is wet, swampy, and in danger of hurricanes, we heard a lot of analogies about floods in the sermon.
In Arizona and New Mexico, the music in the service was accompanied by harmonica.
In Florida, we attended a church the day they were grieving the kidnapping of two of the congregation's children.
In New Mexico, we attended a church on the day they announced they were going to close down the church.
In Florida, Alabama, and North Carolina, we attended a lot of churches where Char and I were the youngest adults by twenty years, and our kids were the only ones in children's church.
The Louisiana church had lots of families and great classes for our kids.

Churches all over the country - they're very different, and very interesting to attend and interact with people from all these places.  Sometimes, I find myself judging the church, like when "Agnus Dei" was accompanied by harmonica.  However, that's wrong.  The important part of any church is that Jesus is alive!  And that He's alive in the Holy Spirit in His people, and we all love Him.  When we see that in a church, it makes me so happy, and makes me feel at home.  Wherever we are.  That's what's great, and that's because of Easter, and it was a wonderful Easter!

We hope your Easter was great, too!  Next time, I'll write about Colorado.  Here's a few more Easter picture that will always make me happy whenever I think of Easter on the road.

can you tell one child likes to dress up, and the others don't at all?  :)

Wednesday, April 16, 2014


We have moved on to Arizona.  When we left New Mexico, we rather accidentally ended up boondocking in a Walmart parking lot in Albuquerque.  It was our first time needing to boondock at a Walmart, but it went just fine.  In the morning, we grabbed some fruit, and we saw this as we walked back out to our camper:

Made me quite excited, since Albuquerque is known for hot air balloons, and we saw 4 of them in the parking lot area.  Nice!

We kept driving and made it into Arizona, stopping at an Indian reservation for lunch.  I've been taking pictures of anything that declares itself to be the world's largest - whatever it is - on this trip.  So, here's the world's largest teepee.  I'm not sure it really counts, given that it was made of sheet metal, though.  Ha!

As we continued our drive to the Grand Canyon area, we made a stop where a meteorite had hit the earth, and you could see a giant crater.  Well, we could have seen the giant crater if we'd wanted to pay $90 for our family to climb to the top of a building and look down on the hole for a minute.  When you're trying to explore the whole country, you have to be picky about how you're spending your money.  We turned around from the building and looked up a picture of the crater on the internet while in their parking lot.  It looked nice.

As we were leaving the crater area, we saw people along the road looking through rocks on the ground.  Apparently, broken pieces of meteorite are heavier than similarly sized rocks, and also magnetic.  We got a magnet out of our camper and started testing various rocks for magnetism.  We found these shiny, heavy, and magnetic rocks, and I'm determined that they're meteorite pieces, and that it made this side trip quite worthwhile.  Anyway, our family always enjoys playing with rocks.

The next day was Sunday, and we went to Sedona to climb on the red rocks there.  Our kids were really disappointed we didn't make it to the top of the rocks, but it seemed a little dangerous with young kids and with the fact that we were low on water.  But, we did make it a good portion of the way up Bell Rock, and it was quite a fun adventure!

The next day, we visited the Grand Canyon.  It was fantastic!  A great way to spend our anniversary, and also just fun hiking and showing the kids the vastness of the Grand Canyon.  We all really enjoyed those sights!

part way down the Bright Angel trail into the Canyon
our hiking in the desert water dilemma is now solved

The rest of the week, we're relaxing our sightseeing schedule a bit and spending time at the indoor pool and the playground here.  The campground also does a wild west shootout every morning, so we've been regularly watching that play.

It's been nice to have a week with a little down time.  So, that's our summary of Arizona.  We hope you have a wonderful Easter this weekend!  Christ is risen!!!

Monday, April 14, 2014

Wedding vows

Char's wedding ring flew off his finger somewhere in Big Bend National Park, and I'm really happy about it.  Tomorrow is our 13th wedding anniversary, and we're going to the Grand Canyon, just like we did on our honeymoon, and I'm so excited to exchange rings again.

Wedding vows.  If you're married, did your wedding vows make much of an impression on you when you got married?    To me, they seemed somewhat like a lot of traditional words in the blur of a busy day.  Sometimes, it seems overfamiliarity with certain words makes them lose impact.  I'd heard those wedding vow words so many times since childhood - in books and movies.  Then, beginning in high school, I began playing the cello at weddings, and I half-heard those vows so many times in between playing wedding music and stressing that I'd screw something up and ruin someone's wedding.  The wedding vows didn't mean a lot to me.  I heard them over and over again.

On the other hand, Char and I were getting married, and I knew I needed to take the words seriously, but how could I understand our wedding vows when we made them?  I realize now how much I didn't know back when I was 25.  Marriage would be so much deeper, more complicated, and more intricate than we could ever know when we made those wedding vows.

Even if I had thought a lot about our wedding vows 13 years ago, I would have had no idea what they really meant.  How does marriage really work?  Does anyone really know that on their wedding day?  I watched my parents' marriage, and it was a strong marriage, and I figured our marriage would be something like that.  However, Char and I came from two totally different backgrounds, and we needed to figure out our own ways of doing things.  I remember a few years ago when we were on vacation, and we realized we'd actually figured out the way we, as a couple and as a family, like to vacation.  The same thing happened with holidays, and with life in general.  It didn't go the way I'd always seen, but instead we needed to figure out how everything would work for us.  We had no idea when we said our wedding vows that we'd have so much "figuring out" to do of how life was going to work for us as a couple.  I know that now.

More important than that, though, are the words we said.  The words that I'd said - I took them seriously, but I didn't really understand them at all.  They were promises to my Charlie and to God, with a whole bunch of people watching as witnesses.  We promised to
and to forsake all others, 
and we promised to do that in sickness and health,
 richer or poorer, 
until death do us part.  

We've never experienced much at all with sickness or health, or richer or poorer.  Maybe God will bring that in the future.  But now I know what it means, and how much work it is

to show love even when we don't feel like it, 
to honor even when one of us offends the other,
to cherish even when we're exhausted by the kids...

And I'm excited to promise it over again.  Now I know what it means, and now I understand what marriage requires, and I still say, "I do."  And I'm so excited to say it again, now that I know.  :)  :)  :)

(edited from yesterday to add pictures)

It was awesome.

Thursday, April 10, 2014

Our "Winter" in White Sands, NM

Greetings from White Sands, near Alamogordo, New Mexico!

We hope your weather is spring-like at home!  Here, we had our weekend of winter for this trip.  It snowed for the first time since we left Ohio in December.  Tiny flakes, but very pretty as we drove over the Sacramento Mountains in the town of Cloudcroft.  This is our fourth week in the desert now, and I can say I absolutely loved seeing the town of Cloudcroft - mountainous, green, and beautiful, with even a nice stream flowing along near the road where we drove.  The snowflakes were really pretty there, too.

We got down the mountain and into Alamogordo and are camped in the desert again.  This desert, though, has a view of the mountains in one direction, and a view of White Sands and more mountains in the other direction.  Char and I both say that we're enjoying New Mexico more and more all the time, and our views here are quite nice!

White Sands National Monument was our reason for stopping here for the week, and it lived up to the hopes I'd had for it.  We got to go sled riding down the sand dunes!  It was so fun!  It was also the only sledding we'd done this year, so everyone enjoyed it.  Sure is a lot hotter, but this is our winter of our trip - snow and sled riding this week!

After sledding, we explored White Sands National Monument a bit some more, liking it so much that we decided we'd definitely be back.

In the meantime, our RV'ing friends that we've ended up seeing a bunch arrived in town.  We visited them at Oliver Lee State Park and did some more scenic desert hiking.

The next day, we toured a pistachio farm.  Apparently, pistachios are mainly grown in the middle east, but this section of New Mexico has exactly the same climate as Iran.  Who knew?  It was fun to me to see the process of growing, shaking, cleaning, and cooking all the pistachios.  The whole family enjoyed all the taste-testing of various flavored pistachios.  Of course, there's also the world's largest pistachio.  It's funny to me how many towns have the world's largest...  something.  Makes me want to put the world's largest pancake or something in my hometown.  Gotta love pancakes.  But, here's some pistachio pictures:

We then went to a zoo in town, and then a Denny's, as kids eat free, and who wouldn't want to feed eight starving children for free?  Poor waitress.

The next day, we toured the space museum here.  Alamogordo has been the home of rocket launches and lots of space exploration.  Also, White Sands is where the first atomic bomb was tested.  I guess these things are possible in the desert, where not many people live.

Lots of space stuff to look at and our kids were mildly obsessed with the window washer

With the remainder of the week, I made our family go back to Cloudcroft.  I'd thought it was so pretty!  The kids (in particular one child who will remain nameless) were stating their disappointment with this decision, claiming to be tired of riding in the truck and looking out the window.  They sure enjoy the adventure of this trip, but the scenery out the windows is lost on them.  I guess some things aren't special yet, when you're only 9,8,5, or 3.  I wonder what's not special to me yet, that will be when I'm even older someday?  Wouldn't it be nice to know ahead of time what you'd look back on your life and wish you'd appreciated more?

Anyway, it was a good short winter here in Alamogordo, and a very enjoyable week.  We hope you're doing well, too!

Cactus!  It's what's for dinner
E caught a tumbleweed