The Lure of the Ocean

We recently got back from visiting my family near Raleigh, North Carolina. Even though it is winter, I have been longing to see the ocean so we made a weekend excursion to the coast. It was extra special as this was Roland’s very first trip to the ocean. I was excited too, but it wasn’t until I was walking along the beach on our first evening there that I did the math in my head and realized it had been 10 years since I had visited the Pacific Ocean and even longer for the Atlantic.

How could this be? I mean, I grew up in Miami! But, ever since then we have lived in pretty land- locked places (interior Alaska, Vermont, Idaho, Minnesota, and now Nevada). We have spent plenty of time near rivers and lakes, including Lake Superior, but sadly it has been a decade since I have experienced the grandeur of an ocean.

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With that said, we had a great time. It was the off- season so we were able to share the beaches with a tolerable amount of people.  One nice thing about taking a multi- generational family trip to the beach is that it is large and flexible enough to appeal to just about everyone- all ages, interests, and energy levels. Roland had a blast running from the waves (although not quite fast enough as he got soaked in the chilly water). Matt played in the water with Roland while  I enjoyed scanning the sand for shells. All the adults alternated between chatting with each other and taking solitary strolls along the beach, just soaking it all in. Doing fun things together as a family creates bonds that can withstand years apart.

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I know it has been said a million times, but there is just something so special about the ocean. The combination of endless sky, fresh breeze, and the rhythmic crashing of the waves creates the most rejuvenating and calming setting.

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It is the most pleasant case of sensory overload and it is so easy to lose yourself in it all- listening to the birds and waves, feeling torn between searching for the pretty sea shells scattered over the sand and watching the waves roll up on shore, feeling the breeze on your face and the soft sand under your feet. The views go on forever and it all feels so big and open and free.

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The ocean is probably one of the best balms that God has given us to soothe so many ailments: anxiety, grief, stress, boredom, sluggishness, depression. Pretty much anywhere in nature will help with those things, but like I said before, there is something special about the ocean.

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One morning we took a detour from the beach and visited the nearby Fort Fisher. We toured the historic fort area and then took a pleasant walk on a boardwalk through the coastal grasses adjacent to the water.

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I loved the twisted branches on these trees. I don’t know what kind of tree they were, but they sure looked interesting.

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Roland is ever- ready to get back to the water. He had so much fun he didn’t even mind his shoes and clothes being drenched in cold ocean water. (I did not anticipate the mild weather so I didn’t pack appropriate beach clothing).

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I really do enjoy and feel at home in the Southwest. The stillness and quiet of the deserts, rocks, and mountains are peaceful. However, the constant motion of the waves gives off an energy that is so refreshing and mesmerizing. It was definitely a nice change of pace. We all agree that a visit to the ocean should occur more than once a decade.

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“The sea is emotion incarnate. It loves, hates, and weeps. It defies all attempts to capture it with words and rejects all shackles. No matter what you say about it, there is always that which you can’t.” 

~Christopher Paolini

 

 

Ending the Year in a Valley of Fire

We spent the weekend between Christmas and New Years visiting Valley of Fire State Park, located near Las Vegas. While the East Coast was bombarded with snow and freezing temperatures, we explored a red rock wonderland beneath pleasant blue skies. The purpose of this  little getaway was to celebrate our 12th anniversary. I have always sort of regretted getting married on Dec. 30 because it is hard to fit in an extra thing to celebrate during the holidays and the weather usually is lousy. Now that we live in Nevada, we have a perfect winter destination only 4 hours away.

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We stayed in Henderson to save money so the drive to the park was a little over an hour from our hotel. It was a scenic drive through the Lake Mead National Recreation Area to get to Valley of Fire. We got little glimpses of the lake and I really wanted to check it out, but we were already short on time and visiting the state park was our priority. As it was, we ended up hiking fewer miles than I had planned, due to a late start and the shorter daylight hours of winter.

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Valley of Fire is Nevada’s oldest and largest state park (and I would venture to say the most visited.) We loved walking among the red sandstone formations, but we definitely did not have the place to ourselves. I expected the crowds as it was a holiday weekend, the weather was in the 60’s and it was near a large city, but it still took away from the experience. The parking lots and trails were crowded and I yearned to experience this awesome landscape with a bit more solitude, but that is probably rarely an option here.

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The Mouse’s Tank trail took us through a little canyon surrounded by red sandstone walls. It was short and mostly flat so we decided to leave our backpack full of water in the car and just head out. However, it took us longer than we expected since the trail surface was composed of soft sand, requiring a bit more effort. I sure was glad we weren’t walking it during the heat of summer.

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The canyon was pretty full of people, which was not much fun, but seeing where groups of people congregated made it easy to spot the many petroglyphs along the way.

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It was late afternoon by the time we hiked the Fire Wave trail. The winter sun, low in the sky, reflected off the red rocks, making them ablaze with color. In every direction we were surrounded by glowing, rich red sandstone in an array of shapes and designs. The sight was pretty awe- inspiring. It was evident how the park got its name.

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We walked a couple yards off the busy trail to take the family picture below. Matt was busy preparing the camera while I was acting as a place holder for the picture. After a couple minutes I turned my head and saw a bighorn sheep, not that far away, staring right at me, probably wondering what these weird people are up to. (The camera was already occupied so we didn’t get a picture.) It was pretty cool to be able to have a private, memorable experience in the otherwise crowded park. I wonder how many dozens of people walked right by without ever noticing the creature was there.

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Even though we didn’t end up spending a ton of time there and we had to share it with too many people, Valley of Fire was still a pretty special spot to celebrate our anniversary and to say farewell to 2017.

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I hope in this new year, you are able to set aside some time to spend out in nature and fully experience the pure joy and wonder of God’s handiwork. Happy New Year!

 

“Then here’s a hail to each flaming dawn,

And here’s a cheer to the night that’s gone,

And may I go a roaming on, 

Until the day I die.”

~Anonymous (carved into a rock on Mount Katahdin, Maine)

Christmas Joy

I have been down and out with the flu for the past week and a half, but on Christmas Eve my need for fresh air outweighed my lack of energy. My family and I put on our jackets and left the dull confines of the house and took a short walk by Comins Lake.

I was surprised to see how much it was frozen over. Our nighttime lows have been well below freezing, and sometimes in the single digits, but it warms up quite a bit during the day. I wouldn’t try walking over the lake, but when we threw rocks on it, it seemed pretty solid.

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It was around 50 degrees and breezy when we went out. The blue- gray ice with patches of snow seemed to mirror the moody, partly cloudy winter sky. Scatterings of dried yellow grasses and light green sage brush added pleasant colors to the frozen lake shore.

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We only spent about half an hour meandering by the lake, but it was just what I needed. It had been two weeks since I had spent any meaningful time outdoors and a dose of nature at that point was just as important as any other medicine I was on. When I got back to the car, my body was a little tired, but my mind was happy and my soul was refreshed.

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It is amazing how spending just a short amount of time outside in a peaceful spot can make your whole outlook so much brighter. This Christmas as I celebrate Jesus’ birthday, I am also grateful for God’s first gift to mankind- the gift of Creation. He gave us this amazing world that not only sustains us, but is also abundantly full of beautiful places that have the power to make us feel alive and free, happy and at peace. I believe it was always His intention for us to have a close relationship to nature. I know it calms my nerves, fills my heart with joy, and it is where I most often feel His presence.

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I hope that this Christmas and in the upcoming new year, you not only have some beautiful moments in nature, but that you also open your hearts and quiet your minds so that you can more fully experience God’s presence and love for you.

Merry Christmas!

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John 1:1- 5

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was with God in the beginning. Through him all things were made; without him nothing was made that has been made.In him was life, and that life was the light of all mankind. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.

Venturing Outside

Venturing outside the warm comfort of my home to take a short hike during the long winter months is no easy task, but it is vital to my sanity. I first have to figure out which areas of the forest are accessible or completely snowed in. Then comes the hour long process of getting the three of us in our winter gear and actually out of the house. It requires some extra effort, but the fresh air and the quiet beauty are worth the trouble.

We paid a visit to the very large and completely frozen Cass Lake.

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To get to the lake we first had to climb over a large snow dune.

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We admired the vast snowy landscape, but it was about 16 degrees and extremely windy out on the lake and I couldn’t feel my cheeks so we headed back into the protection of the woods.

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The winter landscape is mostly made up of varying shades of white and gray. Without the flowers and foliage that adorn the other seasons, things can get monotonous. That is why I got pretty excited about this area of the forest. The mix of green, red, and white tree trunks added color that could only really be appreciated in the winter.

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After a week of above- freezing temperatures the snow became crunchy, compacted, and unstable. It made taking a casual walk a bit nerve- wracking. We would take one step and sink in only an inch and then the next step we would sink up to our knees. And then every once in a while there were the hidden snowdrifts that would engulf us even more and we just about had to climb out. It kept things interesting.

Getting outdoors in the winter can be more difficult, but spending time in nature is rejuvenating, regardless of the season (and trudging around through deep snow is great exercise!).

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Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening

Whose woods these are I think I know.
His house is in the village, though;
He will not see me stopping here
To watch his woods fill up with snow.

My little horse must think it queer
To stop without a farmhouse near
Between the woods and frozen lake
The darkest evening of the year.

He gives his harness bells a shake
To ask if there is some mistake.
The only other sound’s the sweep
Of easy wind and downy flake.

The woods are lovely, dark and deep,
But I have promises to keep,
And miles to go before I sleep,
And miles to go before I sleep.

~Robert Frost

 

Winter Skies

It could be said that the earth is the body of Nature while the sky is her face. The sky is where she puts her moods on display and they are ever- changing, from minute- to- minute, day- to- day, and season- to- season. Winter, I feel, is the moodiest of all seasons and I tend to absorb those moods as my own. There can be endless stretches of  gloomy clouds and fog that require extra motivation to leave the warm comfort of my home or to even roll out of bed in the morning.

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Then, the clouds finally drift away and the brilliant blue sky appears. On days like this, household chores are put on hold in order to savor every last minute of sweet sunshine. The cool air and sunny days are energizing and it is almost impossible not to match Nature’s cheerful mood.

The bare white branches of winter look especially striking against a clear, bright blue sky. Without leaves, the intricate shape and form of trees are on display and the warm sunshine coaxes me to stop and admire.

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Then there are the rare, breathtaking sunsets that just stop me in my tracks. As I stand there in amazement, I imagine God has lifted a veil from over the sky so that, just for a moment, his glory shines through to his children on earth. It is an experience that both humbles and heartens me.

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When the sun fades away on a clear night, we do not have to live in complete darkness. The moon and stars emerge, and they are beautiful reminders that we are not alone. They provide us light, comfort, and wonder until the sun once again brightens the world.

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14 And God said, “Let there be lights in the expanse of the heavens to separate the day from the night, and let them be signs to indicate seasons, and days, and years. 15 Let them be lights in the expanse of the heavens to give light on the earth.” And it was so. 16 God made two great lights: the greater light to rule the day and the lesser light to rule the night. He made the stars also. 17 Then God set them in the expanse of the heavens to give light on the earth, 18 to rule over the day and over the night, and to divide the light from the darkness. Then God saw that it was good. 19 So the evening and the morning were the fourth day.

Genesis 1:14-19

Snow

I have a love- hate relationship with snow. Snow makes driving slow and stressful, it creates the chore of shoveling, it makes you cold and wet if you don’t dress properly, and it just makes life a bit harder overall. With that said, I really do love snow. I love watching large snowflakes leisurely make their way down to the earth just as much as I love watching millions of smaller snowflakes swirling violently in a storm. I love watching the winter sun shine on freshly fallen snow, creating a field of crushed, dazzling diamonds against a bright blue sky. What I love most, though, is a clear night, when the full moon reflects off the snow and I am able to see almost perfectly without the aid of a light. My own backyard becomes a magical otherworldly landscape. All is quiet; it is just me and the trees and the snow, with the moon lighting the way.

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In all my life I have never seen anything that embodies the word “pure” more than a blanket of freshly fallen snow. The power of a blizzard, the gorgeous glistening snow in the sunshine, and the peace and wonder of experiencing snow on a moonlit night all point to the majesty of God. His creative and unique gifts to us add beautiful layers and dimensions to life.  Being able to observe our world through the change of seasons adds so much richness and excitement to my life and gives me a greater appreciation of God’s masterful craftsmanship.

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“…Though your sins are like scarlet,
    they shall be as white as snow;…”

Isaiah 1:18

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Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things.

Philippians 4:8

 

 

First Snow Adventure

We have been blessed with a mild autumn here in Minnesota, but that has come to an abrupt end. Our first snowfall for the season is not a light dusting of snowflakes; it is a full- blown blizzard. There was no working up to it over a period of weeks. Just a few days ago it was 67 degrees and sunny and now we have a foot of snow, 20 mph winds swirling more snow around, and little visibility. Winter is here, folks!

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There is always something so magical and exciting about the first snowfall so I was determined to get out and enjoy it. However, taking my two large dogs and four- year- old son out for a walk felt like an arctic expedition (granted, we were out in an actual blizzard). First, the preparation to take a step outside took close to an eternity. I had to put on an extra pair of socks for Roland, take off his pants and finagle him into his snow bib, shove on his enormous snow boots, and finally put on his jacket, hat and gloves. I believe there was more winter gear than child. Then I quickly threw on my own clothes and leashed up the dogs who had been pacing around and whining the entire time. At this point my energy and patience was zapped, but I did not do all that work for nothing so I opened the door and we stepped out into the snow storm. Roland was uncertain about walking through the foot- high snow on our deck and getting down the steps was treacherous, but we eventually made it into our own back yard.

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After a bit, we got a rhythm down and Roland actually started to enjoy himself. We passed through the front yard, which was my original destination, but Roland said he was up for walking farther so we continued on. We walked through the one set of tire tracks down our quiet street so the going was easier. After we walked a while, I noticed the wind picking up and the visibility decreasing so I decided it was a good time to head back home. When I turned around, I realized the wind had been at our backs going out and now it was blowing stinging snow and ice in our faces. My spirits plummeted. Roland was doing surprisingly well before, but how was I ever going to get him home in this? He is not especially tough in inclement conditions. The weather had never been great, but now it was deteriorating quickly. Our gloves were wet and we could barely keep our eyes open because of the blowing snow. I yelled at Roland to walk right behind me so I could block the wind for him. Every few seconds I turned to make sure he was still following, but he wasn’t keeping up. He was trying to walk with his eyes closed, his entire face was covered in snot, and he looked overall pitiful. What was I doing taking my four- year- old son out in this weather? We were close to our house, but I felt like we were journeying through an arctic wasteland. We needed to get home quickly so I gripped both dog leashes with one hand (I had to control 200 lbs. of frisky dogs with one arm) and grabbed Roland’s hand with the other and trudged on. In a few minutes were we safe at home.

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Just as we finished stripping our dripping wet clothes off, Roland asked to go outside again. I gave him my “You have got to be kidding me!” look.

We settled on some hot chocolate and watched the snow swirl around from our nice, warm home.

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