The hike more traveled

When was the last time you went on a really great hike? Not a hike that was great because of the workout, or because of the time spent outdoors. I’m talking about a hike that challenged you physically while astounding your senses. What did you see, hear, touch, smell, and maybe even taste that was so incredible? Maybe you’re not really into hiking. That’s ok; maybe this post will change your mind!

It’s possible that I’m finally coming near the end of my blog series on our amazing summer vacation. If you’ve joined the series late, please do go back and check out my preview post, the first installment, and the follow up episode.

Today, I want to talk about my favorite hike of the whole three week trip. Ok, so my two favorite hikes. We visited eleven parks, so I hope you’ll forgive me for need to do two favorites instead of one.

The Water Hike

I must confess that one of my favorite hikes occurred in one of my not-so-favorite parks. Zion National Park in Utah is an amazing park.

hike zion 1

The mountains and mesas are majestic and awe-inspiring. Some of the hikes are among the most dangerous and thrilling of any of the parks we visited. And there is a beautiful river that flows through the whole canyon, a refreshing burst of coolness and refreshment in the midst of the otherwise harsh landscape. I don’t want to discount any of that beauty.

But it was hot. So hot. The temperatures hovered around 100 degrees fahrenheit every day. And it was windy. We had wind gusts approaching 30 – 40 mph. We were tent camping. The dust was red. Everything I owned became covered in red dust. I would visit Zion again, but I would not stay in a tent or come in June.

With all those disclaimers, let me say that hiking The Narrows was an adventure like none other we experienced on our trip. Zion is a canyon based park, and the river that helped form that canyon provides the setting for this most popular hike.

hiking zion 2

I should also mention that the trail had opened only two weeks before our arrival. The river was cold, high, and swift, due to massive snow melt at higher elevations. If the river is too high, the park service will close the trail. I am grateful it was open when we came.

The girls were excited and we tried to get an early start, given the high temperatures of the day.

zion hike 3

The trail was crowded (it really is the most popular hike in the park and the reason many people come to Zion), but easy going in the beginning. It was a fairly level and paved trail. Gradually, the path became more narrow and the pavement stopped. We were hiking alongside the Virgin River as it winds its way through the canyon.

zion hike 4

But the highlight of the hike is when the canyon begins to narrow further, so much so that the trail becomes nothing more than a footpath. Eventually, even the footpath ends and the trail becomes the river itself. My girls thought it was fantastic! We waded right in and continued the hike. The water was a frigid 52 degrees, but in 100 degree heat, it was a welcome change.

zion hike 5

I held tight to my oldest daughter while my husband grabbed on to our six year old. We followed the river for only about 3/4 of a mile (the trails continues for some ten miles). At that point, the water was up to my little one’s shorts and the current was so strong it was a battle to take each step. For safety reasons, we knew it was wise to turn back. We were wet and tired, but it was oh so worth it. How often do you get the chance to hike in a river?! The Narrows is definitely on my list for favorites!

The Wall Hike

I think in terms of sheer grandeur, my favorite hike was Wall Street in Bryce Canyon.

bryce hike 1

We may not have made it to the bottom of the Grand Canyon, but Bryce is considerably smaller, the weather was amazing, and we were ready to give it a go. Some portions of the trails in Bryce were closed due to excessive snow melt that had caused some avalanches, so we were rerouted from our original plan. We started off full of energy and excitement and we were not disappointed. Almost immediately upon descending the rim of the canyon, we found ourselves along an intricate serious of steep switchbacks rapidly descending the canyon.

bryce hike 2

As we hiked lower, the canyon walls rose higher and straighter around us. We were completely surrounded by red and orange rock walls hundreds of feet above us.

bryce hike 4

When we reached the bottom, we were astounded to see a regal Douglas fir growing straight and tall in a crevice at the bottom.

bryce hike 3

The canyon walls split apart enough to allow both sunshine and rain or snow to easily reach the tree, and so it had grown higher and higher through the years. The bottom of the hike was cool and sheltered. There were quite a few people hiking through, but it still felt isolated from the larger canyon. I don’t think I’ve ever seen rock walls quite that color before. I know I’ve never hiked amidst rock walls quite that high before. My pictures simply fail to capture the exquisite artistry of that place.

I will spare you the details of our much lengthier ascent of the canyon. No, we didn’t have to return via the steep switchbacks. But our long, slow ascent was hampered by the altitude and little legs of tired children. We did make it back to the top eventually, and I consider that to be one of our biggest accomplishments of the trip. And we even managed to have some fun along the way.

bryce hike 5

When was the last time you went on a hike? What natural areas are there in your neighborhood or within a short drive that you could explore? Challenge yourself; do something you’ve not done before. See what beauty is yet to be discovered and experienced. Then share a of photo of you in the midst of it!

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The Vacation of a Lifetime – part one

Vacations are what summers are all about! I mentioned earlier that my family planned to take an extended camping trip vacation exploring our national parks. Today, I finally sit down to try to collect my thoughts on some of our amazing journey.

I thought about doing a post for every week we were gone, but there was just too much to cover. So, this will be the first installment of “several” posts about our summer vacation. I hope these posts will inspire you to get out and explore some of the amazing sites in your locale!

Vacation Camp #1

Our first campsite was at Mather campground inside Grand Canyon National Park, South Rim. We had done a few, shorter, camping trips with our girls to get them used to the idea of camping, but this vacation was by far our longest endeavor. Our mantra is “when camping, everybody helps.” The girls were fantastic helpers and we had camp set up, dinner made, enjoyed, and cleaned up all in two hours time. Not a bad start.

Obviously though, the highlight of our vacation was not the speed with which we set up camp, but the sites we explored. I had to laugh when our six year old commented on our first night, “are you sure there’s a canyon here? Because all I see are trees.” She would not be disappointed.

Our first glimpse of the canyon came as we rounded the bend on a hiking trail. The girls had been looking for animal tracks and filling out their junior ranger booklets and suddenly, our oldest looked up and simply said, “wow.”

vacation part one

Honestly, we took loads of pictures, and it is impossible to capture the beauty, the grandeur, the majesty of the canyon. We stayed at that overlook for some time, while our girls sketched their perspective of the vista in their junior ranger booklets. They weren’t wondering about the canyon’s existence any longer!

vacation part one

Our family spent three nights at Mather and hiked many miles during the day. We saw two spectacular sunsets, one at Yaki Point and one at Yavapai Point, and saw glimpses of the Colorado River from the canyon’s rim. We even saw some endangered California condors flying overhead. I can’t help but have an overwhelming sense of my own smallness when surrounded by such vastness.

vacation part one

Vacation Camp #2

We moved on to our second campground in the Kaibab National Forest just outside of the North Rim of the Grand Canyon. I am happy to declare the north rim as my favorite park of our trip. We had wanted to stay within the park itself, but it’s one campground was already full when we attempted to make reservations in late November of 2016, so we settled for the lesser known national forest campground.

The North Rim is the forgotten rim of the Grand Canyon. It is closed from October through May due to the 10-12 feet of snow they receive each winter. We arrived just two weeks after the park opened for the season. It takes 5 hours to reach it from the south rim, and it is not located near any major cities. I was already predisposed to like this park on those reasons alone. I think the north rim offers views every bit as remarkable as the south rim, despite its less touristy nature. You will just have to visit both rims yourself and make your own determination.

vacation part one

As I looked around at the Ponderosa Pine and Aspen forests, I was reminded that I was no longer in the desert. At almost 9000 feet, our campground was significantly colder than anything we’d experienced earlier in our trip. We even had frost on our final morning!

Our first morning there was the only time we experienced any rain on our entire vacation. So we opted for the scenic drive instead. We stopped at several overlooks to just bask in the scenery. We were even able to do some shorter hikes in the afternoon when the weather cleared.

vacation part one

One of the highlights of the north rim was our short, but challenging, hike into the canyon itself. No, we didn’t even attempt a “rim to rim” journey but we did take a tiny portion of that same trek. We descended only about 3/4 of a mile down into the canyon, but it was spectacular. Coming back up was less exciting, but we were all proud of ourselves nonetheless. And we were all reminded that we are used to living much closer to sea level!

vacation part one

The Vacation Continues

We couldn’t have asked for a better start to our vacation. Exposing the girls to the Grand Canyon was the perfect way to kick off our grand adventure. But don’t take my word for it! Add a trip to the Grand Canyon to your bucket list. And if you can only make one rim, go for the north!

I’ll be blogging more about some of the other stops on our vacation. If you want to know any of the specific hikes we did or any of the logistics of our plan, feel free to leave me a comment below!

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The Vacation of a Lifetime?

vacation grand canyon

One of the best perks of being a teacher is the ability to take an extended summer vacation. This year, my family is embarking on a three week whirlwind tour of eleven different national parks and monuments. Our oldest daughter is a fourth grader and thanks to the “Every Kid in a Park” initiative, fourth graders and their families have free entry into all national parks.

 

vacation zion

We’ve gone on a few family camping trips, revised our packing list, planned our meals, loaded our car, and now we are off to enjoy what I hope will be a vacation for the ages as we enjoy the incredible natural artistic wonders of the Grand Canyon, Zion, Bryce Canyon, Arches, Mesa Verde, Canyonlands, Capitol Reef, Pipe Spring, Cedar Breaks, Hovenweep, and Canyons of the Ancients.

 

vacation canyonlands

Obviously, that means we are “off the grid” for a bit while we’re on vacation. Rest assured, I will be taking a travel journal with me, and my camera. Stay tuned for more blog posts to come on our adventures.

vacation arches

What’s your vacation dream?

In the meantime, get out there and enjoy the world around you. Leave me a comment to let me know what amazing things you’ve discovered!

vacation capitol reef

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Where is the art in your neighborhood?

On our Facebook page, we occasionally share fun venues with interesting art related events. We try to highlight cities where our subscribers live. If you’d like us to feature your city, let us know!

This past Saturday, my family participated in a fantastic art event at Laguna Gloria, our local contemporary art museum here in Austin, Texas.

We have previously visited Laguna Gloria and greatly enjoyed it, so we were eager to return. My children LOVE all things artsy – particularly if they can get their hands dirty and create some masterpieces.

finished art projects

It was a rainy day in central Texas, but we braved the rain anyway. After signing in, we were given a map and an explanation of all the events that were going on and immediately headed off to an indoor venue where the girls could enjoy some paper, markers, chalk, and an opportunity to create their own book.

Creating some art

After a stop for some free snacks and beverages (including some specials for the grown ups!), we embarked on a tour of the working art studios. The first stop was the claymation studio.

claymation art

Our girls made their own clay sculptures that were then incorporated into a claymation video using the free app Stop Motion Studios. They are super excited to try some movie making at home.

From there, we paused a bit to watch a portrait painter. The girls were enthralled to see the portrait come together before their eyes as a patient model sat so very still. Our oldest in particular has a new appreciation for what “Miss Laura” does.

We then had a chance to watch and create our own silk screen prints.

silk screen art

The girls were fascinated with the tiny, almost invisible, holes in the silk that enabled the jackalope scene to be printed on their paper.

Our last stop of the afternoon was in the pottery studio. The girls were able to use carving tools to create a design on a clay tile. The tile was then inked and the girls were able to use it as a stamp to create their own unique card. Our youngest has already turned it into a lovely birthday card for her older sister – but shhh….it’a  surprise!

stamping art

We were there for several hours, and still didn’t experience all there was to see. There were seven open studios in all, but some had multiple exhibitions and activities going on. Despite the weather, over 1000 people showed up to enjoy all the art to be had. It was a fantastic day for our family, and it was all free!

Finding your neighborhood art

What art venues are there to be explored in your city? In our internet age, it’s easy to find fun (and often free) events in your own neighborhood. Where will you explore this week? Share your stories with us! And if you’re even in Austin, you can’t go wrong at Laguna Gloria!

 

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Musings on a Muse

“Muse” has become a popular way of describing the source of inspiration for one’s creative endeavors. But originally, the Muses were seven sisters who were thought to preside over songs, poetry and the arts in general.   Euterpe has been of particular interest to me lately, as she is often portrayed with a flute and is the representative muse of lyric poetry.

flute muse

I have played the flute since I was a young child. However, since my college days, I’ve not had many opportunities to play. Over the Christmas holidays, I attended a concert at my local public library with a harpist and a flautist.  After the concert, I introduced myself to the flautist and discovered that she teaches flute at the local university where I live and leads a flute ensemble there.

Finding my muse

Fast forward a few weeks and I find myself every week with 3 other students and one faculty member rediscovering my love for my flute and having an amazing time playing beautiful music together. It’s never too late to return to your artistic loves. I feel energized, free, less stressed, just happier overall because I have that outlet again. I’m so grateful for my husband encouraging me to seek out the opportunity to play again and for my new musical friends who’ve welcomed me and been patient with me as I get the rust out of my playing ability. I’ve found my muse again.

flute and situ muse

I’ve also learned to play a new instrument – the sikus (also called Andean panpipes). There is a separate little ensemble that play Andean folk music, and I was welcomed warmly as I learn to play this new instrument.

Apparently, you can teach an old dog new tricks. I’ve been so impressed by the humility of these students as they listen and learn from one another. I’m looking forward to playing with them throughout the year.

 

Finding your muse

So what inspires you? Who is your “muse”? Is there a long forgotten hobby or passion that you’ve stuffed aside? Maybe there’s something new that you’ve been thinking of learning. What’s stopping you? When we create, we showcase the beauty and creativity of the One who created us in His image. Share your muse stories  – your “musings” with me!

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Are you spoiled rotten?

After looking at so many definitions of the words “Spoiled Rotten” I’m not sure if it is a phrase that means something good, or something bad. I thought I knew!

So does “Spoiled Rotten” mean:

a) food that had spoiled, became rotted and is no longer edible

b) indulging a child, pet, or someone by giving them what they want, whenever they want, in excess

c) someone who didn’t do anything to deserve a showering of gifts

d) your other definition here: _____________________________

e) a badge of bragging when the giver overindulges another

Then if you look up the definitions of the words “spoiled” and “rotten” separately, you are bound to get confused!

Hopefully, this post today, is not nearly so confusing. It’s really about a sister loving a sister in an extraordinary way, giving from the heart and receiving graciously.

So here is the set-up: my sis Leesa said, “drive an hour and a half to Sarasota so I can treat you to lunch for your birthday.” She knew full well that this would not make sense to her uber logical, older sister. I mean if it’s my birthday…well, you finish the thought. Anyway, I love her and trust her, but on the drive I kept thinking, “what could be so special”, huh?

Oh how I was spoiled

She whisked me off to a enchanted cottage in downtown Sarasota called The Garden Room cafe at Shoogie Boogies. What a name, but oh my, oh me, what a splendid, charming place!

For me, it was as if I had gone down the rabbit hole as Alice in Wonderland and voila! I expected to see the Red Queen ready to escort us from one lovely room to another. A totally unexpected retreat from daily life.

The lovely hostess and owner Kathryn Kittinger was welcoming and delightfully prepared, for my birthday luncheon, a cozy table for two in the corner.

The food was yummy…really perfect; we both had mushroom soup (light, yet creamy). I had a fluffy broccoli and ham quiche, Leesa had the most marvelous looking crepes!

But the best part was just being together. Two sisters laughing, talking, sharing, just having a leisurely time of it! It really tickled me and she knew it. So elegant, so fun, great conversation with the closest and one and only sister!

Are you spoiled or a spoiler?

Plenty of giving gets done in our society, but it’s more on a tit for tat approach. Real giving can be an unexpected delight for the receiver. Jesus pursued me to give me an unexpected gift of not only eternal life but a life that is abundant with His presence. If you haven’t received that gift, the way has been made for you already:  “Yet to all who did receive him, to those who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God—children born not of natural descent, nor of human decision or a husband’s will, but born of God.” John 1:12-13.

Soon you’ll learn a lot more about Kathryn Kittinger’s (Photographer and Creative Entrepreneur) amazing life and how she came to be in Sarasota and open this peaceful restaurant. Look for my next interview with her to really “over-the-top” encourage you!

In the meantime, have you ever been graciously spoiled by someone? I’d love to hear about it!

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No Fun Allowed!!!

Yes, guilty as charged, I do take myself too seriously! How about you?

My recent experience at Lisa Whitener’s pallet knife workshop got me really thinking about having fun.

No Fun Allowed

Then I read,  what Dr. Seuss said, (Theodor Seuss Geisel),

“Nonsense wakes up the brain cells. And it helps develop a sense of humor, which is awfully important in this day and age. Humor has a tremendous place in this sordid world. It’s more than just a matter of laughing. If you can see things out of whack, then you can see how things can be in whack.”

I needed that, everyone needs a little nonsense in their lives otherwise their own self importance gets in the way. I think when we get too full of ourselves, we aren’t all that fun to be with.  We give ourselves and others a brain cramp. 

Fun, on the other hand has an enlivening effect.

No Fun Allowed
Lisa Whitener on “fun”

I had a chance to talk to Lisa about her philosophy on art and being creative. She also had some nice encouragement for you, our readers. Listen to what Lisa has to say about making life and art fun.

 

There are a whole lot of reasons that we become self absorbed. One underlying cause is our pride. Pride will make you worrying about what other people think. They are going to think what they want whether you do the right, wrong, best thing anyway. Accept that you’ll never please people. Allow yourself to please God with simple faith in Him (Hebrews 11:6).

Here are a couple of nonsense goodies that can help you:

  • Buy some bubbles at your local dollar store, blow them on the porch or in bed, laugh.
  • Concentration is good, but recognize frowning does not help you do a better job. 
  • Turn off the tv, don’t be in bondage to media where everything is a crisis. 
  • Ditch the “I’ve got to be perfect” syndrome, it’s boring and paralyzing.
  • Joy is good for relationships. Play with your cat, dog, friend or mate.
  • Develop a fun attitude by being intentional and grateful. Fun is a stress reliever, watch a funny movie or video. 
No Fun Allowed
My thanks to photographer Suzanne Wallick for this lovely picture

It’s ok to be quirky, embrace that you’ve been wired by God to be in his image and as is everyone else, so relax.  

Are you having fun yet? If not, start today! I’d love to know how you have fun and SHARE the fun – leave a comment here or share on Facebook or Instagram.

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