Cross Country Day 22 – Mesa Verde & Waiting

How do you like your home? Is it big enough? Clean enough? Are you like me, always redecorating, improving and even remodeling? We have a modest 1600 sq. foot home (this includes our finished basement) which we bought as a “fixer-upper”. We (that mostly means Doug) have remodeled nearly the entire house. What a transformation! Even so, our bedroom is about 12 x 12’ and the bathrooms (we don’t have a master bath) are smaller than most walk-in closets. Living in Connecticut, and especially in Simsbury, surrounded by bigger and “better” homes, I am easily tempted to want more – a bigger kitchen, a garage, a mud-room, a guest room.

On Wednesday, we visited Mesa Verde National Park in Colorado. The ancestral Pueblo people, known as the cliff dwellers, lived here for about 700 years before they left during the late 1200’s. Many of their homes are still standing today. We were able walk down a short path through the woods to the best preserved cliff dwellings in the park, Spruce Tree House.

The little community housing development, made of sand colored stone, clay and wood, looks almost like a miniature apartment building built into a wide, shallow, cliff-side cave. At the outermost part of the cave sit the round, underground rooms called “Kivas” – fire ready, ventilated rooms used mostly for spiritual rituals. The Kivas, situated at the entrance of the caves, have roofs so that the area above serves as a common area or courtyard. They entered the underground room by climbing down a ladder inserted in a small hole in the courtyard floor. We were actually able to climb down into one of these Kivas like the Pueblo people did! The room was very small and very dark – though a fire may have cozied things up a bit.

The front and middle rooms were built a little further back into the cliff side, just after the common area. These rooms, built for 1-2 people, measure about 6 x 8’ and were intended for sleeping and, during bad weather, served as work areas. Spaces at the far back of the caves were used for storage, refuse and, on occasion, as burial sites.

While we were visiting the cliff dwellings and touring the park museum, Christina said, “I’m so glad we live now!” Me too! How glad I am for my 1600 sq. foot palace!

We probably spent about 1 ½ hrs at Mesa Verde. But we spent nearly 2 hours sitting in construction traffic. If we could add up all the time we’ve spent in traffic on this trip, we might gain back half a day! Every national park we visited is under heavy road construction and so are many towns – it is summer after all. But how they handle traffic during construction out here in the mid-west is enough to drive a busy New Englander crazy! They don’t divert traffic or alternate lanes every 5, 10 or 15 minutes. Nope. They simply stop traffic and make you wait…and wait….and wait. At one park they let traffic through once per hour; and trust me, in the parks there is nowhere else to go and no other way to get there! On the streets of Colorado, we waited for 30 minutes to be let through a paving site which had ample space for two alternate lanes of traffic. People out here must be significantly more laid back than we are; Doug and I were so frustrated, I thought we might spontaneously combust!

We ate an early dinner at a roof-top restaurant in Durango. There we met a friendly Colorado native who works as a river guide. When Doug asked him about the traffic and construction, his advice was to “always have something you like to drink in the car with you.” I shared my theory that people out here must more laid back than us New Englanders, because this kind of system would never fly at home. He earnestly agreed, graciously pointing out that the difference between Coloradoans and New Englanders is “pretty obvious”. I loved his honest, judgment free observation. As I considered a more carefree life I kept thinking “but there are places to go and people to see!” I guess 3 weeks on the road hasn’t take the New Englander out of me yet.

Cross Country Day 21 – 4 Corners … Silly, silly mommy

 

Note the size of the houses and the road in the distance to get an idea of the size of the rocks.

A cross country road trip, ours anyway, is a vacation in the car. As we like to say, this is our “land cruise.” A sampling of America. On Tuesday, it was already time to head to New Mexico. Driving through the painted desert and Navajo Nation in the northwest corner of Arizona was stunning. The giant, unpredictable rock formations reminded us of the badlands, but with green desert plants growing on the tops. Some of the rocks were giant “mesas” that took miles and miles to get around. Others jutted out of the earth in all sorts of shapes. One looked remarkably like the Emerald City, (see it on my FB profile page), another like a greek temple.

Earlier that morning I called Four Corners Monument and found out that they were closed Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday for construction. The only three days we are going to be in New Mexico. I can not express my disappointment, not only for me, but for my girls who have looked forward to this for a long time. And why in the world are they closed for construction during the summer season, even the week of July 4th?! My beloved coworker’s voice echoes in my head ” Ours is not to question why. Ours is just to do or die.”

Well, we decided to drive there anyway. We couldn’t even get close to the monument, but just as we were leaving the office lady pulled up and Doug convinced her to let us in to see it for five short minutes. He is quite the negotiator.

The actual monument, where the four corners of Utah, Colorado, New Mexico and Arizona supposedly meet, was

Well, not quite what we had in mind. You can see a couple of the signs in this pic.

completely fenced off with a locked gate and several warning signs. I can not tell you how badly I tried to convince everyone that we could shimmy through the loosely fitted gate. (And we definitely could have fit!) Doug, and even the girls, kept insisting this was a bad idea. I can not imagine why.

So what stopped me? Nothing other than my conviction that I would be setting a bad example for my children. I must be getting old; some may call it maturity, but I’m not so sure. 20 years ago…maybe even 10 or 15 years ago, I would’ve been through that gate without a second thought. Oh well. Somewhere in the far, far, far, far, far…..far distance I hear a voice telling me I did the right thing. I think.

Closing up after we left - seriously, we had permission!

Tonight when Christina complained because we wouldn’t allow her to swim in a cold and unclean pool, I told her that sometimes we have to accept disappointment; sometimes we have to do what is best, safe and right, even when we don’t want to and sometimes we need other people to help us do the right thing…like not breaking into construction zones on private property. That got a big smile and no more arguments about the pool.

Cross Country Day 20 – Ain’t it Grand

Monday morning we left our hotel at 6:30 am for the Grand Canyon. Way too early for the girls and me, but the parking lots at the canyon fill up quickly in the summer and we had a 2 hour drive to get there. Today Doug actually asked me to drive – he said he was tired, but I think he just wanted to take pictures. During the first part of the drive, we climbed up a steep, windy 2,000 feet to Flagstaff and then stopped for gas. As soon as I pulled up to the gas pump, a giant wave of vertigo hit me.

Vertigo – my nemesis. If you’ve never experienced vertigo imagine feeling like you are on a boat in the middle of a storm with the waves tossing you to and fro, except in reality you are perfectly still. Once the wave passes, you may consider moving your head to look at something, or bending over to pick something up or tie your shoe. Then another wave hits you, and if your not careful, knocks you off your feet. No day is a good day for vertigo, but having it when walking the rim of the world’s largest canyon seems particularly inconvenient.

There are all sorts of theories about why some people have recurring vertigo – inner ear problems, silent migraines, neck tension. My physical therapist and inner ear specialist believe I have a combination of causes. Joy. Joy! Treatment options vary from migraine and anti-vertigo meds (which make me very sleepy) to some fairly simple, though awkward, PT exercises restore balance to the inner ear. I held off on the anit-vertigo meds but took some advil. Then, while the family went to see the IMAX Grand Canyon movie (I decided this would probably not be a good movie to see while having vertigo), I laid down in the back seat of the car, with the door open, hung my head off the edge of the seat and rolled around. Anyone who saw me must have thought I was crazy. But, as the saying goes: desperate times call for desperate measures. I wasn’t magically cured, but things slowly improved throughout the day. Doug and the girls took turns holding on to me when I walked, saving seats for me on the shuttle busses and picking up anything I dropped so I didn’t have to bend over!

All this may seem irrelevant, except that I believe the distraction may have tainted how we all viewed the Grand Canyon. I feel almost sacrilegious telling you this but, oddly enough, none of us were very impressed; or maybe we expected too much or something more than we had seen in pictures. Perhaps we were constantly worried I might fall over the edge, or we were a little tired from the elevation after spending weeks in the lowlands again, or maybe we have seen so many beautiful, fascinating wonders already.

I like Jacquelyn’s and Christina’s theories best. Christina said that the canyon was so big that all the cliff and rocks didn’t even look real, but rather like a painting. And Jacquelyn thought that the massive size made the reality of the canyon difficult to comprehend. I think they were both right. On this trip we have driven through several canyons (I especially loved the one in Big Horn Mtns.), following rivers and creeks as they carved through the rocks making the way for the very roads we drove upon. Here, after a glimpse of the bright green Colorado River, one might not even believe it moves at all. Maybe if I we had more time (and I was able to walk a straight line) we could have climbed or ridden down into the canyon to feel a different connection. Though one good friend cautioned me against hiking into the canyon unless we had several days, because the canyon is so large, even after miles of walking, the view doesn’t change. We felt similarly, even as we drove the rim.

One final observation: we visited at the canyon in mid-day at the peak of summer, when the sun is at its highest point. That kind of sunlight can wash out a landscape, robbing it of depth and color. I wonder if a visit in the morning, evening or off season is more impressive. Whatever the case, I am still thrilled to have seen the Grand Canyon with my own eyes. Standing on the edge of such an ancient and immense part of creation, humbles and frees me from the clever and persistent trap of self-importance.

CC Day 19 – A Service then Sedona

This Sunday we visited a church in Arizona – our first church service since home.  Though before  go on, I can not leave Phoenix behind without singing the praises of her roads. Imagine our joy, after leaving the streets of L.A., upon finding the best roads in all of America thus far, right there in Phoenix. Flat, wide, quiet lanes everywhere. On the freeway, in the cities, in the suburbs. My brother Ryan told me that the asphalt is even rubberized, minimizing noise! Sure, sure, they don’t have much rain or frost heaves or salt and sand on the streets; but I’ve got to give them credit for the many wide lanes and noise reduction. So far, the most pleasant city to drive in, hands down.

OK, so I found Cornerstone Christian Fellowship online and they appeared to fulfill our two main qualifications: 1) It was a solid Christian church 2) they wouldn’t mind if we showed up in flip-flops. To be honest, this was not a banner Sunday morning for our family. I am sure we are not the first family to encounter pre-church discord. Then our GPS bugged out on us and we wound up arriving 20 minutes late. Oh, how the battle of getting to church rages on ~ and just think…we wanted to go!

The church was pretty big with two buildings, a cafe, store and something like 5 Sunday services. We caught the last couple of worship songs (which were great) and a time of group prayer for our country (it was the 4th of July, after all). The sermon was an informal Q & A – though the questions had been submitted ahead of time. This was fun, funny and we learned some new things or at least heard them in a new way! We all enjoyed spending the morning with fellow believers on the other side of America on the 4th of July. Kinda cool.

After church we drove up to Sedona. The towering, rust colored rocks of all shapes and sizes, even richer in the setting sun, moved us all.I consider this one of the most beautiful places we have been yet. Sedona is a true oasis in the desert. The flowing creeks, majestic rocks, cooler temperatures (and even trees!) make one almost forget she is in the desert. I have heard that there is some vortex in Sedona; I simply know that Sedona felt wonderfully peaceful to me. Even when our family or the people around us weren’t at peace, something about that place just….well, it’s like the breeze blew sweet and the soothing right through me. If ever you are looking for a unique vacation spot, (sans the ocean, of course), visit Sedona!

CC Day 16, 17 & 18 – Home is…

The last three days top our list of favorite vacation experiences. We didn’t visit a theme park or tour a big city or marvel at the sights of a national park. We were with family!!! Before Thursday, we hadn’t seen my brother Ryan, his wife, Val or their daughters, Autumn and Hailey, since our family trip to Disney World in March 2009. This was also the first time we’ve ever visited them in Arizona. What a treat it was to see them in the place they call home!

When we arrived in Phoenix, our car’s thermostat read 117 degrees! Ryan and Val informed us that this is monsoon season so the air was a humid. To be honest, at 117 degrees, I am not sure I could tell you anything other than, it was wicked hot! Later that night a local weatherman reported “high humidity” with dew points in the mid 50’s. Well, now I understood! In CT, weathermen don’t usually call “high humidity” until dew points reach the upper 60’s. A dew point of 53? I’m thinking that just means I can be outside for more than 5 minutes without having to slather Vaseline all over my face. The weather is like Ryan has always described it: like opening the oven door. Even the wind blows hot. And I mean, hot!

 We stayed at the Sheraton Wild Horse Pass Resort and Spa. Mile points covered two of the nights and we paid for one. This meant three nights in one place – our longest stay of the trip. Upon arrival, Doug upgraded us to a magnificent two room suite (which allowed us to entertain family) with a view of the pools. Yes, pools. This resort boasts five pools, two hot tubs, a water slide, an outdoor café bar and poolside service. We all spent lots of time enjoying the amenities and finding relief from the heat!

 I had such fun seeing my “little” brother in his own home, which he and Val have decorated so beautifully. I feel a need to share with you that, in addition to nine- and two-year old daughters, they also house four dogs and a cat! Ryan and Doug find they have much to commiserate about, as men outnumbered by girls, or as they say “living in an ocean of estrogen”. Ryan and Val also graciously allowed us wash about 2 weeks worth of dirty laundry in their washer and dryer! How nice it is to have fresh, clean clothes again!

On our last day, Ryan and his ladies came over for a final swim. As we made our way into the pool area,  we found that the July 4th weekend had transformed our quiet, relaxing, sophisticated resort into something like Spring Break for Adults with Children. The place was a madhouse! Sure, it was nice having someone deliver iced cucumber water to me as I waded in the 3 ½  foot pool. However, dodging splash balls, rubber balls and footballs, (real footballs, mind you, not Nerf balls), children’s feet kicking next to my face and highly intoxicated, stumbling guests, made things a teensy bit chaotic!

For dinner, Ryan and Val took us out for a little local flavor at Joe’s Real BBQ in downtown, historic Gilbert. This counter service restaurant serves down home, comfort food such as spare ribs, chicken, ham, corn, potato salad, cornbread with honey butter, baked potatoes, mac ‘n cheese, homemade root beer, fresh lemonade and a colossal root beer float. You can’t find many, if any, restaurants like this back home. Of all the places we have eaten so far, Joe’s is one my favorites! We finished our night playing a round of Apples to Apples at their home and then saying good-bye. The usual sadness of saying good-bye was eased somewhat by the hope that we will see them all in October at my baby brother, Derek’s wedding.

Arizona was the first place I found myself thinking, “I could live here. This feels like home.” Then I realized that the reason I felt so at home was because I was with family. Being with Ryan, Val and the girls and saying good-bye has made me miss home more than any other time thus far. When we were at Disneyland I met a grandmother who has lived in L.A. all her life; she said she could never leave because her kids live there also. Isn’t that what “home” is all about? Home isn’t a place. Home is loving and being loved. For most of us, that means being with family. For some, it may mean being with your best friend, church body, neighbors or even your pets. I am blessed enough to say that I have all of the above.

As I ponder all this, I can not help but think about a better home, a greater home that calls to each of us. We are all aliens in a foreign land; restless wanderers looking for a place our souls can find peace, security and rest. In a sense, we are all homesick. If this is true, and if being “home” is loving and being loved, then the only place we will ever find genuine rest is in the lap of our Creator ~ the One whose perfect love fills every empty hole, soothes every open wound, heals every scar ~ the One whose love never fails, never wearies, never forgets but passionately endures forever. I love and miss you all and pray that today, wherever you are, your heart is truly at home.

Disneyland vs. Disney World

By now you all know how our family loves Disney World. I actually think, that if given the chance, I would visit every year. My dream vacation, aside from this cross country road trip, is to spend 2 (maybe 3) full weeks in Disney, staying inside the park and seeing everything at a reasonable, enjoyable pace. Disney always feels like a genuine escape; a place one can forget everything beyond the borders and just have fun.

Over the years, I have heard much commentary on the difference between Disney World and Disneyland. Mostly I have been told that the Land is nothing comparing the World and that if you are going to go, you should just go to Disney World. After my first visit to the Land, I see the reasoning behind this sentiment. Disneyland is what I would call “Disney Light” – same great taste but a little less filling. Yet for some families, this may not be a bad thing.

First, as most people know, Disneyland is much smaller than Disney World. Disney World has four major theme parks – Magic Kingdom, Epcot, Animal Kingdom and Hollywood Studios – and two water parks – Blizzard Beach and Typhoon Lagoon. While Disneyland consists of a mere two parks: Disneyland (equivalent to the Magic Kingdom) and California Adventure, a sort of mish-mash of the World’s other three parks.

 A smaller park disappoints in some ways, as there are fewer rides, shows and dining options. Also, because of its sheer magnitude, Disney World possesses an intangible power not present at Disneyland. In Orlando, one feels overcome by and absorbed into a completely new world, a place apart from time and free from the trials. Disneyland does not have this effect.

 The most shocking moment for us was when we entered Disneyland and looked up Main Street toward Sleeping Beauty’s Castle. At first I thought the parks centerpiece was missing! Sleeping Beauty’s castle is a mere dwarf compared to Cinderella’s Castle in Orlando.

Note its height in relation to the trees and Walt Disney's statue!

 Doug and Jacquelyn also mentioned that some of the rides, particularly the roller coasters, were disappointing, slow and less elaborate. Other rides, however, like Pirates and Small World were longer and more detailed. Though some people, like my step dad, would not consider extra time on It’s a Small World a good thing!

 A smaller park does have many advantages, though; and families looking for a “Disney Light” experience may find the Land a little more digestible. While there are still many attractions in Anaheim – too many to see in one day – they all reside closely together. This increases the sense of crowding (which I hate) but also decreases the amount of walking (yay!). A more compact park also means that you can see more in less time, particularly if you approach the park strategically. Another bonus: Disneyland and California Adventure sit directly across the street from one other, making park hopping easy and efficient.

The smaller more condensed layout extends to the area surrounding the park as well. At the Land there are only three hotels within the resort and they are mega-expensive. No value resorts here. But a slew of independent hotels surround the park for relatively reasonable rates. We stayed at a Sheraton outside the park (using mile points) and we were only a 10-15 minute walk from the park entry. All hotels appear to offer a shuttle service as well. For $13/day for the four of us, we used the shuttle service, which ran every 15-20 minutes. Those of you who have been to the World know that whether you are inside or outside that park, travel time is always a minimum of 20 minutes and can be more than 30 minutes if transferring from one mode of transportation to another. (The only exception is when visiting the theme park your hotel is based in; for example if you are staying at a Magic Kingdom resort you have a short ride or walk to that park, but visiting other parks typically takes much longer.)

So if you are interested in Disney but don’t think that you or your children can handle the magnitude of the World, Disneyland may be a good option for you. I think you can see all of both parks in two days at a fast pace, three days at a moderate pace and 4 days at a more leisurely pace.

The shows we saw at the Land were equal in quality to those in the World, and the smaller park enabled closer viewing. For the most part, this made the viewing much better. However, at the Land, “prime viewing” for night time shows must be bought or fast passed. For example, at Fantasmic one must purchase a pricey dessert tray ($59/$49 person) to gain entry to the closest sidewalks. For World of Color, a person must either eat dinner at an expensive restaurant ($40/person), purchase a picnic dinner ($15/person) or wait in a line (up to 90 minutes) for “fast pass” reserved seating. Unfortunately, unless one resigns to watch from the side or back, (which distorts the images projected on the water), viewing for World of Color is entirely reserved. The Land even has reserved seating for parades!!! I think this method is probably the product of limited space combined with L.A. mentality – out here, people seem accustomed to paying for what they want.

I personally missed the freedom of open space and the “first come, first served” mentality at Disney World. There, even the cheapest among us can stake out prime viewing early in the evening. Don’t get me wrong! We have paid for our share of dinners at Epcot’s Rose ‘n Crown, but that was because we chose a nice, leisurely dinner in front of the fireworks; not because we had no other options. Perhaps, if we had another day to spend in Anaheim, we would have waited for the fast passes or bought the $15 dinner; but with such limited time, we opted for the 10:30 showing of Fantasmic. At this time of night, the crowds were thinner and we were ready for a rest. We did not have reserved seating but we were just behind them with a perfect view. Strangely enough, this was our first Fantasmic experience and we loved it!

 The only other difference that stands out to me is the general lack of Disney camaraderie at the Land. At the World one has a sense of being part of something grand, even a sense of community. Don’t expect to do very much pin trading in Anaheim and “cast members” are not nearly as cheerful, magical or “Mickey-fied” as those at Disney World. (Though, our waitress was wonderful!) Basically, the Land has more of a general amusement park feel. As Doug put it, “Disneyland is not quite Six Flags, but it’s definitely not Disney World!”

So here’s my summary of recommendations:

1)If you are going to be in L.A. and you love Disney, go! It’s worth it!

2)If you are looking for a “Disney Light” experience, go! This is the perfect place to get your feet wet.

3)If you want a genuine Disney experience, the whole shebang, go to Orlando. It’s the real thing, baby!

CC Day 15 ~ Disneyland!!!!!

Day 15 Disneyland!!! Many of you are probably wondering why we chose Disney over Universal Studios. Well, we love Disney and with limited time we decided we would rather spend our day at the happiest and most magical place on earth. We also had nearly $500.00 of Disney cash – so the visit was basically free! Fellow Disney fans out there are, no doubt, waiting for my comparison of Land vs. World. Don’t worry, I’ll get there.

We began our day by hopping on the shuttle at 7:00 am. We were at the Disneyland park by 7:15 and it opened at 8:00. We attacked our day by visiting attractions not available at Disney World, that we hadn’t experienced before and/or have long waits. Then we hit some of our faves. After riding Finding Nemo, Matterhorn Bobsleds, Alice in Wonderland, Pinocchio’s Daring Adventure, Mr. Toads Wild Ride and Indiana Jones, we went across the street to the only other park, California Adventure. There we rode Toy Story, Mickey’s Fun Wheel, California Screamin’, Soarin’ and Monster’s Inc.; after which we went back to Disneyland, got fast passes for Buzz Lightyear and rode Winnie the Pooh.

 Finally, it was time for lunch! We ate in New Orleans Square at the Blue Bayou Restaurant. Here the atmosphere is that of a dinner along the river in New Orleans at night. Paper lanterns and candles light the room, while the boats from Pirates of the Caribbean ride sail by. This was one of the day’s highlights for sure!

After a spin on Buzz Lightyear, we got fast passes for Splash Mountain and returned to our hotel room for a much needed nap. Had we not set the alarm for 5:30, we most certainly would have slept through the rest of our night! After dinner in the hotel lounge (also free!) we returned to California Adventure to catch the stage musical, Aladdin, which was fantastic. We especially enjoyed Genie (hilarious) and when the characters rode the flying carpet up to the balcony and mezzanine levels.

We then returned to Disneyland for Storybook Land (which we found is best seen at night, when all lit up!) and It’s A Small World. Here Christina found a hidden Mickey which was formed by the shadow cast by a light shining on three balloons that were part of the set. So cool!

We then rode Splash Mountain and Pirates before settling down for a great view of Fantasmic on the Rivers of America. We warmed up with hot cocoa and popcorn while waiting for the show to begin. Believe or not, we have never seen Fantasmic – we loved it! We completed our evening by riding the train to Tommorowland, taking one last spin on Buzz and doing a little shopping. We left the park at midnight and crashed as soon as we hit the beds! I think that’s everything but maybe not. This is a really long post so my Land vs. World comparison will have to come later. But if you’re a Disney fan and you’re considering a trip to the Land, don’t miss my review!

CC Day 14 – L.A. by Jacquelyn

Hello everyone! It’s Jacquelyn again:)

     Tuesday the 29th was our day in Los Angeles.  Neither of my parents had any real interest in seeing the city, so this day was mostly for my sister and me.  I had heard over and over that LA and Hollywood were so unimpressive that my expectations were not very high.  This was a good thing though, as it allowed me to enjoy the city rather than be disappointed.  Since I was expecting so little, it was actually pretty nice:)

            When we first got into the city we walked down Rodeo Drive (certainly not to shop, but only to look).  We entered a few stores but felt out of place whenever we did.  The street outside, however, was full of tourists just like us. For me, the buildings themselves were more noteworthy than what they were selling.  One clothing store on the corner required an elevator to enter it, another store had two spiral staircases with a chandelier hanging in the center, and finally there was the runway at Louis Vuitton.  Contrary to what you may first envision, this runway wasn’t for models but for purses! The purses rolled out from behind a gold, beaded, miniature curtain and appeared in the store’s window, spun around to face us, and disappeared under another curtain.  While we couldn’t actually shop in the stores, it was impressive to just walk down Rodeo Drive and see the stores.

            After lunch at a flatbread restaurant, we went shopping in the more affordable stores of the city and then headed for the Hollywood sign.  We drove up neighborhood streets (with people who we figured were so sick of tourists like us) until we saw some other people taking pictures in front of the sign.  Picking a location slightly further down the road (and across from an overlook so we weren’t too close to anyone’s house), we got out and took our pictures with the Hollywood Sign.

            After driving through the city a little longer, we headed for our hotel through LA’s rush hour traffic.  Arriving around 6 pm, we enjoyed the hotel’s complimentary appetizers and drinks.  To close out the night we bought our Disney passes for the following day and went to Build-A-Bear in Downtown Disney.

CC Day 13 – Nature and Man

Good news! The Sequoias look big without a sip from Alice’s magic bottle! At first the forest looks like any other pine forest but then suddenly one finds herself among trees towering over 300 feet and as wide as 40 feet in diameter. Giant trees line the road in certain parts of Seqouia National Park, but walking among the groves is the best way to experience them. We visited the General Sherman tree and trail first. The General Sherman Tree is the largest living organism in the world and is an estimated 2,200 years old. While Jesus walked on the other side of the earth, this tree was just a sapling. Each year the Sherman tree grows the same amount of wood in an average 60 foot tree!

Did you know that Sequoia trees have bark as thick as 31 inches and are resistant to fire, chemicals, insects and fungi? They are vulnerable, however, to falling over because of their shallow root systems and lack of tap root. We actually walked through some trees that had fallen many years ago. One, in particular, the Fallen Monarch, was completely hollow on the inside and all that was left was a long, cylinder of bark. Truly, someone could have lived inside this tree. It certainly was bigger than the Ingalls’ sod house or shanty!

 Walking among the massive, chestnut colored tree trunks, filled me with a sense of quiet wonder. How I wish they could speak. I half expected one to bend over and whisper something in my ear. What a mysterious, magnificent creation we inhabit. We also visited the Grant Grove, which was our favorite of the two. There is much more freedom to walk in and among the trees there; this grove is also less busy and therefore a little quieter. The General Grant Tree is the widest of the Sequoias, at 40 ft. in diameter. The park has many other groves on and off trails, but we did not have time to visit those. I wish we could have stayed longer; I think I might have walked among the groves all afternoon and never grown tired of them.

We left the park and drove straight to Santa Monica Pier. The contrast between the quiet, peaceful trees and the lights, music and sounds of boardwalk amusement struck me immediately. The natural wonder and the man-made frenzy. Is one intrinsically better than the other? Or is that personal preference? Can all people benefit from time in nature? Or just some? Would people be more content if they spent more time appreciating God’s creation?

At about 7:45 pm, We all dipped our feet in the Pacific Ocean and felt some sort of accomplishment, I guess. We truly made it to the other side of the continent. I wish the weather had been nicer and then maybe we would have gone swimming or lingered on the beach; but the gray sky and cool temperatures made the experience somewhat anticlimactic. Perhaps because the experience was nothing at all like I had anticipated. Nonetheless, we made it!

We did a little shopping, rode the ferris wheel and then ate ice cream and funnel cake for dessert, or well, maybe it was dinner. A typical ending to our very atypical days on this wild adventure!

CC Day 12 – Confessions along US 1

Today we drove down the California coast on US 1. Unfortunately, we were plagued once again by the fog. I wish I could tell you that I was like Ma Ingalls, ever cheerful, never complaining, looking for the good in everything. But I wasn’t. Nope. Not at all. 

Most of you, unlike my poor family, have been spared the ugliness of my cranky side. Even if I don’t say a word, the intensity of my emotions can fill a room, let alone a four door sedan. Painful self-awareness of my crabbiness and the impact it has on those around me, along with feeling powerless to change anything, only makes me angrier. Doug tells me to trust God and I snip back that it has nothing to do with trust, but that I just don’t like what He (God) is doing at the time. Soooo mature.

As I stewed in the car, mile after mile, fuming at the fog that seemed to be almost mocking me (just a glimpse inside the head of Nichole), I contemplated my feelings. What was really bothering me? I realized that what I wanted most was to change the situation or at least to run away from it  – anything to stop feeling so miserable. But here I was, stuck on this drive and I couldn’t change a thing. Sounds a teensy bit like a control issue to me!

This last year, God has been revealing to me that my response to any situation I don’t like is to fight or to flee. If I am afraid, hurt, uncomfortable, angry…any situation where I feel something I don’t like…I either fight to change it or I run away. There is no middle ground. Apparently acceptance is not one of my strengths. Who would’ve thunk it? I can hear a question from one of Andre’s sermons, “Are you trying to deliver yourself or are you trusting God and waiting on his deliverance?” I love how God never abandons us to ourselves. How He continually calls us to a higher place by challenging us to go deeper in our relationship with him.

As the evening wore on, we drove up into the California hills and I apologized to my family for my bad attitude. I am so grateful for their love and understanding.

You should know that we did see some breathtaking views along US 1 along with a beach full of enormous, active and loud elephant seals. Did you know a male elephant seal can weigh up to 5,000 lbs.! In the spirit of Ma Ingalls, let me say that I have seen the sunny, bright view from US 1 countless times in movies and ads, but today was the only time I have ever seen the coastline covered in fog. In many spots, we rode beneath the fog, which covered the hill tops just above us in a misty blanket. Yet we could still see the cliffs, rocks, sand, surf, birds, roads, people, everything, in between the fog and water. The experience brought back childhood (and parenting) memories of playing beneath a fort made from blankets and living room furniture.

On the way to our hotel we watched an orange sun set over the golden hills and Ma Ingalls’ words kept coming to mind. “All’s well that ends well.”

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