Monday, May 26, 2014

Amazing Wonders and Simple Pleasures

Amazing wonders and simple pleasures.

There's a lesson to be learned in every one-year-old's birthday everywhere.  The little guy gets a ball popper as a gift, and - OOH!  OOOH!!  OOOOHH!!! - he's the most excited kid anywhere.  While the kid is flapping his arms and jumping up and down, the balls fly out of the ball popper, and it's amazing!  Then, as every parent knows, an hour later, if it's still left on the floor, then same kid is playing with the box in which the amazing toy arrived.

Amazing wonders and simple pleasures.

We sold the house, the van, and a whole bunch of stuff, left home, and set out in an RV.  There are so many amazing wonders to see in God's beautiful creation and in this United States!  I highly recommend making this decision.  As a family, we've seen so many amazing wonders, and I wouldn't trade those experiences for anything.

Last weekend, we arrived at the amazing wonder of Yosemite National Park.  Incomparably beautiful!  I think this is the most scenic national park that we've visited thus far!  Amazing!!!  It was also the most crowded national park we've seen thus far.  We sat in standstill traffic for hours.  And hours.  We got out to hike to a fantastically beautiful waterfall.

We played in the water near the waterfall, and it was a great exploration!

The waterfall-seeing and river exploration lasted an hour, and then we got back in the truck to continue on into Yosemite Valley, with many more sights to see.  Then, there was more standstill traffic.  For more hours.  It became time to turn around and go home, as you can't miss dinnertime when you have a diabetic son.  Hours later, we arrived back at the camper.  There is no question that Yosemite is gorgeous!!  It is an amazing wonder to behold.  And I don't know if we'll go back this week.  There's an awful lot of people seeking to experience this amazing wonder.

We're now taking time to smell the flowers.

To catch tadpoles and frogs.

To pan for gold.  This is an exciting experience when the Fresno River bottom abounds with fool's gold.  (As I'm reading this to my sons, they want me to fix this so that it says there's real gold!)

We took time to climb a small waterfall,

And we took lots of time to slide down the waterfall.

The Fresno River is not an amazing wonder, but there comes a moment when simple pleasures become more attractive than amazing wonders.

Did God design us to live at a constant emotional high of amazing wonders?  Amazing ball poppers and amazing national parks are fantastic blessings!  Yet, I'm thinking the better place to live daily life is in a land of simple pleasures.  I don't know that satisfaction or contentment have anything to do with the number of amazing wonders we see and experience.  I think they're much more related to being content and happy with the people around us and with the God who loves us put us where He put us, no matter where we are.

Amazing wonders and simple pleasures.  I wish you many simple pleasures.

Friday, May 23, 2014

California coast

We just finished our first week in California, and it was fantastic!  California has been surprising to us.  We've flown into California before, but never driven into it, so we had no idea how much desert there is in California.  Also, we'd mainly visited San Diego before, and I expected the rest of California to have a similarly rocky coast.  We arrived at Pismo Beach, and it was beautiful and sandy.

Ocean sand dunes are the greatest!  As the boys tried jumping down these dunes, they discovered that to keep the sand out of their faces, they needed to zip their coats on backwards and keep their hoods up over their eyes.  This made for some highly entertaining spectacles!
Pismo Creek, which flows into the ocean, was as big a hit as the ocean itself.

We mainly had a great week hanging out near the beach.  This is a quintessential beach campground, so we celebrated B's 10th birthday doing traditional beach camp-y kinds of things: swimming in the heated pool, mini golf, arcade games, and lots of ocean.  Very fun for our now ten-year-old, although I have no idea how he got to be so old!  We love him!

We spent one day driving route 1 north, as we'd heard the coastal highway was very scenic.  The weather was hazy, but it was still beautiful!

We stopped to picnic and play around in this ocean inlet.

We also came to Elephant Seal beach, where the seals were on the beach molting.  A ranger explained a lot of interesting facts about these seals to us.  Did you know they don't eat for the 7-8 weeks while they molt?  Our family, loving to eat, was horrified.

We played on the beach near Monterey a bit, and had a nice road-trip-without-pulling-the-fifth-wheel day.

As my first big mistake of camping reservations, I accidentally didn't reserve enough days at our campground, so we needed to move up to Morro Bay at the end of the week.  This worked out, as the bay was very scenic, with Morro Rock.  It was also very windy, with great kite flying.

That was our week.  Very relaxed exploring, lots of ocean, and generally a perfect week for our family!  Next up is Yosemite - something I've always wanted to see!

I hope all's well with you!  I think you've had warmer weather than we have, and I bet it's a really enjoyable spring!  We've been thinking of Ohio as we're trying to figure out what to do in August.  Pray for us as we try to make the right decisions?  Love to everyone from the Utter Family!

Tuesday, May 20, 2014

From Sea to Shining Sea

We've been on the road almost five months now, and we've made it from sea

Canaveral National Seashore, Florida

to shining sea!

Pismo Beach, California

It's been absolutely fantastic.  Before we left, I think some people, including me at times, wondered if doing this adventure with kids would be wise.  I did want our kids to see and do the things they'd read about in history and science books some day.  I wanted them to see, feel, hear, and smell the wonder of God's creation, and not just see photographs.  I wanted our kids to have a broader view of the world, and the way life is lived, than to only know a little corner of Ohio.  I wanted to have the time and space to focus on just my family of six.  And, I wanted them to know it's okay, and encouraged, to live life outside the box, and to do things that are abnormal.  And, I would say our five months have been a success!

Some comments from our kids will always stick in my mind, like, "Wow!!!  This is HUGE!!!  I thought the Grand Canyon would be a really, really, really deep crack in the earth, and that I'd have to be really, really, really careful when I jumped over it!"  Ha!  Now we know.

there will be no jumping here

Now, we know how the ground shakes under your feet when cannons from the Civil War are fired.

We've scootered on top of the levies that failed in New Orleans while reading about that time in history, and we've talked with people who lived through these hurricanes.

We've read about the California gold rush while camping in California.

there will be plenty of jumping here

We've walked around the Alamo.  And a bunch of other forts that the kids will later hear about in history.

We've lived current events while observing the evidence of probably less-than-legal-immigrants swimming across the Rio Grande.

We've experienced the power of rivers and currents while white water rafting in Colorado.

We've walked and climbed around ancient Indian dwellings and then read stories about some of these Native Americans.

We've seen the God-created beauty in sunsets, waterfalls, oceans, canyons, rivers, and animals.

We've met lots of friendly senior citizens who are overjoyed by children, really knowledgeable rangers, helpful campground owners, other road-schooling families, and a French ambassador to the U.S. and his family. There's such a variety of people everywhere!

It's been fantastic!

There are also moments when I think we need to get off the road.  Like when I wonder if I've given my kids enough spelling words, and if that will screw them up for life?  Or, are they missing out on a happy childhood by not being on a soccer team at the moment?  Is a tenth birthday celebration complete without a birthday party?  What about friendships for everyone?  Are the kids missing out on their education without being near good friends?

It's all a trade-off in life.  Taking one path means not taking a different path.  Which path is better for our families, and when?  I'm sure sometime we'll be off the road, and as our kids study for tests in school, I'll be wishing I could take them to the spot they're learning about, so that they can live the experience!  I'll be wishing to be surrounded by the glory of God in all kinds of different natural beauty.  When we are surrounded by friends again, I'm sure I'll be wishing for more family focused time.

Two different worlds; two different ways of life.  We're so blessed to experience both.  From sea to shining sea, there are very different ways of living.  I want to be so very thankful.  If you ever have a chance to see the world like this, then I hope you take the opportunity!  But at the same time, as I think about possibly switching lifestyles again, I don't want to always have the "grass is always greener on the other side of the fence" syndrome.  There's beauty in different ways of living life from sea to shining sea.

Thursday, May 15, 2014

Refreshing Nevada

The title of this blog may be Nevada, but I need to back track to our grand finale of Utah for a moment.  It really was a grand finale!  As I mentioned before, the owners of the campground where we stayed (Riverside Resort in Hatch, Utah, if you ever need a nice place,) told us about the "places only the locals know about."  So, on our last day in Utah, we decided to check out a hike to a waterfall that they recommended.  It was amazing!

First, we had to off-road quite a bit to get to the trail.  I was really worried we'd get stuck, but Char thought it was the most fun part of our trip so far!  Here's the way the truck looked after this drive:

After off-roading, we arrived at the Cascade Falls trailhead.  These overlooks were incredible.  We hiked along, and it was, just like the road, exceedingly muddy.  Every time we reached snow or snow run-off, we would wash our feet.  Our feet would feel ten pounds heavier before each washing, because of all the mud.  Our kids renamed the place "Foot Washing National Park."

After the hike,

we arrived at this:

Incredible!  It was a waterfall falling out of sheer rock.  Every time I've ever seen a waterfall previously, it's in a river.  This waterfall is in a cliff underneath a lake.  The lake has sink holes in it, and that's how this waterfall is fed.  It was so cool and so beautiful!

That ended our trip in Utah.  Still cold, and still with snow in the air.  We drove to Nevada, and the temperature increased dramatically.  Snow last week in Utah, and tomorrow it's supposed to be 103 here in Nevada.  Crazy!  We arrived at our new campsite on Lake Mead, and this is our view:

It's so refreshing for a family that loves water, to be back near the water again!  We walked the beach, swam, and the kids built with rocks and sand.  There are a good number of sharp mussel shells here, but that didn't matter!  We were so ready for a beach after our time in the desert!  (Yes, the desert was great, too!  But, our family adores the water.)  It was interesting to learn that Lake Mead was formed when the Mojave Desert was flooded by the creation of the Hoover Dam.  Our family is really happy about it, and we're all for flooding deserts whenever possible!

Something else was immensely refreshing in Nevada, and that was hanging out with cousins.  We got to visit my cousin Melissa, her kids, and her boyfriend, and it was so fantastic to be with friends.  Friends for us and friends for the kids, and it was wonderful!  We had such a great time!

As we tried to visit some traditional Nevada spots, here's a picture of the Hoover Dam.  It was neat to see in real life.  Our kids liked the escalator there the best.  Oh, well.  Someday I'll be able to show them pictures of themselves at the Hoover Dam, and they'll appreciate it more.

view from on top of the dam
view from the top of the dam, looking in the other direction
looking back on the bridge we walked across, over the Colorado River

Finally, we quickly drove down the Las Vegas strip at night just to see the bright lights.  We also went to visit the Pawn Shop that's on TV.  Char always enjoys that show, and I think he thought it very fun to visit.

So, that sums up our time in Nevada.  It was refreshing.  We hope you're doing well, too, and that there are no more tornadoes for any of you!

Wednesday, May 7, 2014

Utah through our eyes

As we drove from Moab, Utah to Hatch, Utah, we went for a good 150 miles without seeing anything.  Finally, there was a gas station and a few stores, and our whole family was so excited!  "Yes!  We can get STUFF!!  Let's stop and get some STUFF!"  Namely, diesel.  But, it's funny what's exciting when you are in a very, very, very rural area.

This trip has been going great, and we love it!  But, we've also been in the desert for seven weeks now.  I have a new appreciation for the Israelites wandering in the desert for 40 years - and we have a comfy 5th wheel!  Today I told the kids to get their coats and shoes on, because we were going to Bryce National Park to see the canyon.

"I've seen enough canyons now!"
"We don't need to see anymore."
"Do we have to go??"

These were the replies.  I told them that we were 20 minutes from one of the National Parks, and we were going to go see it.  Grumbling, everyone got in the car.

We got into Bryce National Park, and it was beautiful.  (If you're thinking about going to Bryce National Park, don't let this stop you.  We've just seen a lot of canyons lately, but it would be completely worth your time!)

We hiked into the canyon for about 10 minutes, and then our four-year-old had to go to the bathroom, so we took her back the 10 minutes to the bathroom.  After which, everyone was requesting to leave.  We got in the truck, and I was mentally writing a blog on over-saturation of beauty and wonder.  Really, there can over indulgence in good things.  I think if we were to go to Bryce Canyon as a summer vacation, it would be so impressive and we'd be in awe.  Instead, we've seen so much beauty in God's creation, that we're immune to appreciating it.  I don't like that at all!  I suppose it's a good reason for having stresses in life, to help us appreciate the beauty.  But anyway, to continue the story, we got in the truck.  Half-heartedly, I told my family that there was another trail in Bryce that went to a cave and a waterfall.  "No canyon??  Let's go!!" said 3/4 of the kids.  So, off we went.  Here's some pictures, and by then the whole family was completely enjoying ourselves.  Turns out, we really just needed to see waterfalls and caves, and not canyons.

As we walked on the trail back to the car, I asked E which he liked better, the canyon or the waterfall/ cave trail.
"What canyon?"  he asked.
"Bryce canyon.  The reason we came here!" I told him.
"Oh.  I forgot about it.  I really didn't like it much.  But, the waterfall was great!"
Hmm.  I don't think that's supposed to be the reaction people have at Bryce National Park.
Later, I asked B the same question.  "Did you like the canyon or the waterfall trail better?"
"What canyon?" he asked.
Yep, it's a good thing we're done with canyons soon.  We are spoiled rotten, I guess.

We really are enjoying Utah, though.  Our campground is the best we've been at in a really long time, and it's just us and one other RV.  Quite a scenic place.  We've been enjoying the chance to fish in the river here.

Also, the campground owner was so helpful, and informed us about the places that "only locals know about."  On her advice, we went to these lava tubes.  Very, very cool.  It was really fun to hike in caves that have no electric or paths.  Completely opposite of Carlsbad Caverns.

yes, you can climb into here!

We had also gone to Zion National Park earlier in the week.  It was a canyon.  Fortunately, though, we were able to walk to another waterfall that sprayed us with water.  We had a blast running through that and getting all wet!  We also got to play in the Virgin River there.  Very fun.

And that is Utah through our eyes this week.  We won't put up a picture of what Utah looks like at this exact moment, because it doesn't seem to us that it should really snow in May.  Utah disagrees.  But, I guess we deserve some snow in the year!

We hope you're doing well, too!  Love from the Utter family!