Navigating our Independence

It’s difficult to read maps sometimes, either when you don’t have all of the facts, or if you are inherently directionally challenged like me.  It also helps to understand scale.  We (ahem, I) made a few mistakes when mapping out our destinations and misread some of the mileage, but what a journey we had. In all, we covered almost 1,600 miles, and countless more going in and out of the 6 National Parks, exploring all they had to offer. IMG_3796 It was epic and exhausting.  It’s time to face the sad fact that all good things come to an end.  The longest drive planned was jammed into one day so we could maximize every little bit of Lake Tahoe before we made the descent into life as we know it.  We agreed to the almost 8 hour drive by our family fist bump.  It’s how we counted down time, every hour we crossed in the car together.  That’s a lot of fist bumps.IMG_3741

There is little to take in across Nevada but it is the state the helped us stay connected a bit longer.  I’ll be forever grateful for that 500 miles to Utah, savoring the time before it ends.IMG_3779

We will make our way back to Tennessee to celebrate our nation’s independence but I will still be reeling in the beautiful independence I experienced with the each of the people I call mine.

Happy Independence Day!

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Full Throttle

IMG_3643Lake Tahoe was a refreshing surprise as we rounded out of the grasslands of California and rediscovered the dense woods and roaring waters again.  There were plenty of cabins as we made our way closer to the lake and it did my heart good to know we were going to be in cold weather and surrounded by mountains.  IMG_3646

Camping in the woods is so special.  The trees allow for the perfect resting spots of enos tied up.  The canopy of comfort I feel under the trees with a fire going is just good for the soul.

Lake Tahoe is embraced by all of us full throttle.  There are so many lake activities to take in and we do our best to enjoy the ability to unwind, without the looming feeling of getting back into the truck. . .that will come later.   We wiggle travel plans around to stay one extra night here so we can just be by the beach and be together without any agenda. The real El Capitan has arrived and he has a contender. . .I’ll take both.

We log in a lot of firsts for the kids. . .first dinner cruise taking in the sunset, first time on a wave runner and first time parasailing.  It’s a wonder to watch the wind lift all three of our kiddos up into the air. . . they have their own personal experience flying together and all we can do is take in the backdrop of the mountains as they fly high above us. That’s what every parent wishes right?  For their kids to fly high and live life to the fullest. . .sure there are supports and there is cheerleading and there is a moment of nail biting too, but in the end, we want to say we helped our kids soar.

That is what I’ll remember most about Lake Tahoe. . .you only live once.IMG_3701

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Inspiration

IMG_2038There has been a lot of build up to this leg of our trip since it involves seeing El Capitan.  Our kids have watched the documentaries called the Dawn Wall and Free Solo featuring this area and they are pretty well hooked on climbing.  Yosemite creates a space of inspiration, particularly since we learned a 10 year old just climbed El Cap as the youngest climber a couple of weeks ago. The greatest surprise in Yosemite for me, however, is the sweeping views of waterfalls.  It seems at every turn, particularly coming out of tunnel view, you are hit with the most breathtaking expanse of rock and water that come together in perfection.   Once you see the view, you can walk up to experience it and feel the water wash over you.

It was the perfect cleansing to my soul and I could have sat under Bridalveil Falls forever.  For my family, El Cap was the crown jewel and we spent two days walking the base of the towering rock and climbing the nearby boulders.IMG_2007IMG_1998

Everyone wanted to feel bold on the rocks.  I felt a deep respect.  Scaling these monoliths are dangerous at best, but there is something inspiring to think about making it to the top or getting over the ledge. There is teamwork and encouragement.  There is gravity and nature at work too.IMG_3626

For us, it’s about being together, whatever the challenge, and taking in the views together.IMG_2024IMG_2026

We spent a lot of time in Yosemite walking and climbing (and admittedly I spent a lot of time driving the parking lots to find a spot, because yes, it’s very crowded).  There is no shortage of sights and it’s a park that feels perfectly on display. IMG_2032

However, with all of the water, it’s not forgotten that this park suffered in a mighty way last year due to a forest fire.  The drive to Yosemite Valley is a clear reminder of what fire and heat can do and again, a deep respect sets in for how we take care of ourselves and our outdoors.IMG_1942

It is also a glorious display of resilience to know so much can survive after a fire and how new growth can begin (photo taken at Kings Canyon National Park). IMG_3534For today, we’ll savor the sweetness of what fire can also bring to a moment. IMG_3634 IMG_3594

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Living Large

IMG_3017There are always a few alter egos that pop up when you spend a lot of time with people, particularly when you are all trapped in tiny quarters.  We’ve discovered Stuart’s ability to capture the spot on voices for Yogi Bear and his sidekick Boo Boo. Wilson is a mean match for Shrek as she shouts out “Donkey” and Parker has a nasally voice he created all his own.  We crack up every time these egos pop out.  The laughter it creates diffuses any tension in the car, whether from our long drives or from hunger pains (and the In and Out Burger stop before Yosemite campsite was added bonus to settle the cravings).IMG_3415    The biggest ego in the car that has emerged is hard to ignore. . . Sancho.  His mustache is fierce and he can channel the attitude to match. He has his own theme song, thanks to Sublime. IMG_3519

Laughter is the medicine for the soul and we’ve experienced more of it out here than we have anywhere. It may be because we are delirious or it may be because we have stripped a lot of the unnecessary out.  IMG_3157We are left with ourselves.  We have to figure out the nuances of moods and irritability.  We have to embrace the boredom.   At some point, all of our true selves rise up and it forces us to pay attention to the good, the bad. . . and the gross.  I’ve determined that more than 85% of our connection on this trip centers around potty talk, literally bodily functions, and it fuels the giggles of our 7 year old like no other.

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This trip has been about going big.  Going big with voices or going big with the sights we have seen, we are taking in some of the grandest views nature has to offer.  From the biggest hole in the ground, to the hottest place on earth, to the largest living sequoia tree, we are living large together. IMG_3460 Laughing hard. Eating plenty. Driving tons. It’s hard to grasp the size of what we are taking in and pictures don’t quite do the sights the justice they deserve.  We try to wrap ourselves around the base of one tree and we can’t even fit.  IMG_3467These trees are so massive and so old.  They say their rings tell their age and scientists have told us their stories. IMG_3462Touching one up close is a story all in itself. It’s a story of a family on a road together.IMG_3484

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Death Valley Detour

IMG_1771We came out of Vegas feeling on top and ready to take our chances on Death Valley.  There is not a lot of wisdom to offer in this post other than the journey through Death Valley is one not to be repeated.  At least that’s how our family will remember it.  We came to check the box on the National Park stamp, which we did, but we should have turned right back out of the and never looked back. IMG_3592We mapped out the trip the night before and we were still unclear about the approach, but I was confident my route called for 6-7 hours if accounting for stops.  I had us going Vegas to Death Valley and then Death Valley to Sequoia National Park.  If you broke the trip into two stretches when typing in the information, we would be golden. I wanted that park stamp.  Spoiler alert: don’t use a map this way.

IMG_3333Aside from passing the signs that alert you to Area 51 and alien sightings, we were convinced a wind tunnel was taking up spirits as we drove.  Wild mustangs greeted us at the road that led to the park entrance.  IMG_3221We should have known they were signaling us to stop, but we were so close now.  The entrance was the equivalent to a pay phone booth, lack luster at best. We came for the sand dunes and got a beautiful hot glimpse at the overlook called Zabriskie Point.  IMG_3359For the two hundred steps I might have taken, I was already in heat stroke mode and my cell phone literally told me it was over heating in my hand as I took a picture of Wilson climbing to the dunes.  Meanwhile, we discovered upon our arrival at this first landmark, that we did not have service and knew that we would need to find someone to guide us to the right route to Sequoia National Park.  We pressed on to the Visitor’s Center where the thermometer topped out at 114 degrees as we drove by it but we felt the solid 112. IMG_2992We were told to follow the road through the park to pick back up on our journey.  For the next 3 ½ hours, we would pass one car and have no cell service.  Our truck would signal it’s overheating and kick on a fan.  The elevation went from 200 feet below sea level to 5000 elevation.   The signs on the road would say things such as “turn off air conditioner next 14 miles” or “no gas for 40 miles.” That’s crazy talk National Parks.  The only map working was our satellite in our truck.  The gravel road we took out to find civilization was long and hard to travel.  Surprise Canyon was the scenic backdrop to our constant laughter but it’s no surprise to us that we won’t be back anytime soon.IMG_3398

It’s safe to say our family had a lot of jokes about dying in Death Valley. We think it’s why there is so little said about it, likely because many people don’t make it out. There is no cell service, little if any water, and lots and lots of miles of dry heat that feels suffocating. It’s easy to feel turned around and we felt we had been going in circles to find our way out.  The one thing we all agreed on, Death Valley was a place like no other.  It was as unfamiliar as it was familiar.  It’s the road that takes you nowhere and everywhere.  From what looks like Ayers Rock in Australia, to the dunes of the Middle East, or even the volcanic mountains of Guatamala, you can see it all in Death Valley (one pic is what we took and one pic is pulled from Google to show how Death Valley is as scenic as it is barren).   IMG_3425IMG_3422IMG_3427It’s a vision like no other but we came out alive.  That’s all that matters for today.

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Outdoor Classroom

IMG_3366When traveling by road, you have far more opportunities to take in the wide variety of landscapes that stretch across this great country of ours and learn from all you see and experience.  Each state we cross allows for different habitats to be on display. IMG_2992It’s fascinating to think those who came before us had the vision to plow through the elements to establish roads and interstates to connect us to the land. IMG_3387It was no easy feat.  The accounts of lives lost to winter, disease, and war feel present in the shadows of the valleys we pass.  There are small tributes to the loss of these brave men, women and children noted in the road signs honoring our veterans.  Several more signs dot the states touched by the Trail of Tears where Native Americans were pushed out of the land they called home.  We do some of our own searching and study this uncomfortable history of ours while driving comfortably to a cool 70 degrees of air conditioning. IMG_3239 Because of the hard work put in before us, we get to choose where we might want to settle.  We get to explore without the intense fears of how the West was conquered.  We’ve crossed the windy flat lands of Kansas and felt the leftover lava rocks in New Mexico. IMG_1589We stood soaking in the layers of rock at the Petrified National Forest, contemplating the foundation we have built and if it is strong enough to hold up against time.IMG_2966  We’ve wondered how anyone could walk through the miles of cacti scattered across Arizona. We’ve trekked over the rocky hills and made our way into the shifting desert sands of Nevada.  IMG_3378IMG_3370We will land under the California cover of the forest trees that grow higher than any trees in the world.

Studying history is not only important, it can be uncomfortable.  Pain and hardship seem to be recycled in the themes of the West.  It was not easily won.  The aftermath of all of the effort arguably left more lives to suffer than we had means to track, because not all lives mattered back in the days of old.  Studying the landscapes help us understand just how much more to appreciate how far we have come. IMG_2988 Like the layers of the Grand Canyon, we can build a story of what happened. Knowing what happens gives us a clearer understanding of what we can change going forward.  We don’t have to repeat history, we can change the future. Einstein said, “Wisdom is not a product of schooling but of the lifelong attempt to acquire it.”

There is no shortage of learning on the road if one has the desire to access it.  We take in the road signs and study the maps and stretch ourselves to discover more of what took place around us.  It’s a classroom like no other.  It’s 360 degrees of being exactly where we need to be while remembering to honor the paths of those who traveled before us.

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Gambling on Love

IMG_3257One of the greatest gifts of marriage is to be seen as you want to be known.  We will make our way through Las Vegas with all of its distractions of bright lights and big bets.  I think about how we tackle 24 hours there as a family and I want to take some time to think about gambling on love.

IMG_2953I’m grateful to be with someone who has eyes only for me. It’s evident in how he holds me up with his words.  He speaks with a passion when he talks about our love. He is driven by his commitment to deepen our connection of understanding.  He is affectionate and heartfelt.  I continue to learn how to soak in that unashamed love.  I’ve always been more guarded.  I have to work to silence the negative voices in my head that often take what he says and spins it opposite. When I focus on the truth of what he is saying, it’s the healing balm I need to go out and conquer the day.  It’s what a strong and healthy relationship should do; it should strengthen the connection, sharpen the affection and make one another better.IMG_2950

I share this because I believe in finding deep joy in the marriage relationship and feeling side by side.  Choosing the right relationship is more like a sure placed bet where you cannot move the chips.  It’s all in on one person.  It’s an unwavering commitment to do all you can because you can’t fold.  Joy in marriage is not a discovery process that unveils itself with the morning sunrise after saying  a Vegas style “I do”.  It’s sometimes a heavy trudge through the leftover words laced with hot lava.IMG_1599

It may be the vigorous climb back together to the top of a weather worn mountain with no ropes.  It’s looking for signs, however small they might be that love is still in this place.

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It’s taking the hard places with you to remember just how resilient the two of you are and that you could not do this with anyone else.IMG_2963.JPG

 

There is no perfect guidebook for a marriage and there are plenty of missteps.   We’ve taken the pages of our own experiences and tried to study some of the steps we made so we can focus more clearly on how to make our next move. . . to grow closer, not further apart.  Considering we are in our forties, I’d say we’re half way up the trail.  We’ve held on for dear life and we’ve walked stretches alone.   However, our marriage goal has always been to get to the top together.  It’s vital for couples to share the same goal and almost just as vital, is for couples to have the same rules of engagement.IMG_2931

We’ve often talked about marriage being an effort of 50/50 but we see it as a long journey; a series of efforts where the end goal of living life together is to FEEL like it was 50/50.  I want to believe I can look back over our lifetime and know we were giving each other the best of what we could and that over time, it was balanced.  We know we haven’t matched up at times and some of our seasons were out of sync for too long.  But we know that’s how careers are made, how vacations get curbed or new ventures are begun.   There have been stretches of 90/10 or 40/60 and we can identify those seasons pretty well now looking back.  Thankfully we learned to fight fair and love even deeper as we unloaded the hurts of those desert stretches of misguided attention and lack of shared vision.  We acknowledged the distractions of work and children and definitions of success.  We allowed those arguments to be heard and then we tucked them into the folds of our journals, and scripted our history so we would not repeat it.IMG_2949

Now, we focus on each other and the road ahead.   Who knows, we may even renew our vows in Vegas just to relive the fun of saying I do, because if I do say so myself, the view sure looks better when sharing it with a partner who’s all in.IMG_1660

 

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In Awe

Before we see the Grand Canyon, we spend an afternoon in search of wildlife at Bearizona, a tucked away park that cares for rescued animals in Williams, AZ.  We weren’t sure what this safari park would have, but from all five of us, this park delivered.  From close encounters to watching animals in a near lifelike habitat, we felt we experienced more in our two hours here than we have in the wild.  It provides all of the fun but none of the danger.  Let’s be clear as a mama, that’s important.  From burros to wolves and bison to bears, we had our glory taking in the sheer power of each animal up close.

 

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In some ways we all want to be rescued and live our best life so I’m glad they have created this great place where you can recover, rest and heal and live into the way you were meant to be, scars and all.

After high-fiving how we came into Arizona, with a little Memphis celebrated out here too, we wake rested to take on one of the many wonders we came to see. IMG_1673It’s hard to even describe the Grand Canyon and all of its massiveness.  The approach into the South Rim is something quite hidden and nondescript. IMG_3181You can drive down the infamous Route 66 with all of its relics captured in time. IMG_3075
You pass small Western towns, beckoning for one last walk down memory lane of things that once made people smile.  You see the train tracks that conquered the West before cars even did.  Then, you take your own walk up to the rim and you almost have to catch your breath.IMG_3194

We are limited in how we can even take in the view.  It is so expansive and so grand. IMG_3214We soak in the day walking along the South Rim and have our own small celebrations about seeing this for the first time.  We get the necessary souvenirs.  It’s a centennial year for the Grand Canyon and we are happy to splurge on the National Park passport, the sticker for the airstream, and the t-shirts to represent.  Money well spent.IMG_3220

When you take in a day like we did, you have to expect the crash.   We spend our time over dinner reflecting.  We heard about the fears each of our kids have over dinner – fear of dinosaurs, until we shared they no longer exist, so it switched to pythons.  Then we heard about the fear of squirrels and the fear of planes.

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We listen and we give in.  And when faced with wonder and standing in awe, sometimes you just have to lay down, give in and let the moment wash over you. . .sweet dreams until tomorrow.IMG_3225IMG_2979

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Blue Skies Ahead

IMG_2916IMG_3061Road trips and summer have become synonymous to our family.  Summer brings a sense of time and togetherness, despite the hurdles of capturing the most of it between summer camps, sleeping in and football workouts.  We have kept our two week stretch of time together sacred.  This year is no different, although it feels even more necessary now.  The two week time we capitalize on is oddly enough called dead period in the football world where everything, everyone must stop and just be.

IMG_2943If you understand the climate in Memphis right now, tempers are rising around injustice and senseless deaths.  It’s heartbreaking. I can’t help but think about the lives of the people I’ve known – Glenn, Terrence, Marcus, Xaviar, and Susan – all who died in just this past year.  Their lives were taken too soon by the unsteady hands of cowards holding guns.  It is all so unnecessary.  Yet, it’s the truth we have to sit in as a community and we have to figure out how to move forward.

It makes me want to bring the people I love closer in and hold on tight as if I can somehow protect them.  It’s why I love packing our family of 5 into our 30 ft airstream trailer even more.  Sadly,  I remember a summer all too well nearly 17 years ago where my life could have been taken too by a young teenager holding a gun against my pregnant belly.  As I enter into this summer, I have struggled with the blues.   This music city continues to sing some of the saddest songs on repeat.  As I navigate the next two weeks of dead week, I will reflect on a lot, but I plan to hit the road looking for blue skies ahead.IMG_2920

That’s the hope isn’t it?  That behind every cloud is a silver lining?  It’s quite something that my little silver lining has become life on the road in our silver bullet, however short or long the travel may be. It’s the perfect place of peace, comfort and reflection.  There will always be clouds hovering, but my faith reminds me the sun burns bright wherever I might be.  IMG_3012Today is the present we must open.  I’ll likely unwrap each day with some caution, but I expect to find healing in the space of just being.

In living in the extremes of my thoughts, I’m excited that the trip we have planned for this summer is about going big.  We will see some of the grandest sights in the world, including the Grand Canyon, the Sequoias, and El Capitan, a giant monolith in Yosemite.  We will check the box on seeing 5 National Parks.  We will enter every campground blaring some version of AC/DC and rocking life together.  IMG_3066

We will live boldly as we see more of God’s creation than we have all seen. We will love big and laugh hard.  We won’t be singing the blues these next two weeks if all of our plans fall into place. . .because this trip is all about getting our kicks on Route 66.IMG_1676

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Shedding Weight

I’ve spent a lot of time carrying around unwanted burdens. I often feel like I am carrying the weight of the world on my shoulders as I navigate my own life experience and come up against the stories of suffering in others. This can create a deep sadness in me. I can feel alone and often wish I was wired differently.

Thanks to my brother in law, I’ve discovered rucking. For those of you who don’t know what it is, it involves walking with a weighted back pack. Choosing my weights, I can carry whatever load I’m up for. I pick how heavy my burden is for the day and if I do say so myself, I’m becoming one mother rucker.

If only choosing our burdens were that simple. If only we could rise up in the morning and decide what was worth carrying around then take off the weighted emotions when we were ready. It may not be we can accomplish this exactly, but as I come to know myself even better, I know some burdens just aren’t mine to carry.

I know certain paths to take to help keep my head clear. I choose not to watch dark movies that highlight the worst of human nature. I avoid the news and have learned the right type of news will land in my space without searching for it.

I live in such a way where I’m constantly aware of the tracks I leave behind, mindful others might be paying attention to my actions. Our tracks can tell people who and what we are, even where we are headed. I have never wanted to add to someone’s burden if I can live with discipline and thoughtfulness. I don’t always get it right, but I’m trying harder to let go of the weight in healthier ways.

Some people can place things in our path to disrupt our harmony, to add to our burden or to make us change our course. It’s even more important to me now to know myself well enough to know what I can carry so I can be the best I can to those who need me most.

I’m watching my weight.

This time, no scale is necessary. I can pack on the pounds I choose . . . and ruck on.

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