Dear Kids…

Dear Daniel, Andrew, Heidi, Joey, and Josh,

Tomorrow you all will be heading off once again for a brand new school year!  I know you are ready to start back up, but may have some butterflies about it too. I know that I always did when I was your age.

As your dear old Mom, here are some things I’d like to tell you before I send you off to start your new grade. I know I’ve said lately that I’m excited for you all to get on that bus so I can have a little time by myself, and that is true. I do like a little time alone here at our house when it’s nice and quiet and everyone is at school. However, know that I do miss you all and am praying for you every time that bus picks you up. It’s like 5 pieces of my heart leave me and then return in the afternoon.

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Guys, I encourage you to do your absolute best while you’re at school. Each of you has been very blessed with the ability to learn things pretty easily and to usually do well on tests. Not every kid has that advantage, so don’t take it for granted. Help other kids as you are able and while it’s okay to be proud of a good grade (and you should be!), no one likes a bragger. Also, just because learning may come easier for you than some other kids, it is not an excuse to slack off. You are still called to do your best at whatever job you’ve been given, and right now that job is schoolwork.

Now, this is what I want you to know about your teachers. They are there to help you learn and be the best person you can be. Teaching is NOT an easy job, and you are to be kind and respectful to each teacher you have, even if they are not your favorite. From what I’ve seen, they really do want what’s best for their students and love all of the kids in their care. All teachers have tough days sometimes and I want you to help make their days a little brighter by being in their class.

With that being said, let’s talk about the other kids in your classes. Every kid is different, and I think you all already know that. Some kids are ones that are easy to be friends with. I used to gravitate towards those types of kids and stick with them. Other kids are not so easy to be friends with, or maybe they are difficult for the teachers and other grown-ups in the school.  Perhaps they are mean or rude or maybe even cry over silly things. Maybe it’s a kid that is dirty a lot or smells, or has other issues. Here’s the thing, guys—you just never know what that kid is dealing with at home. You all come from a pretty good household (I think!) and have two parents that dearly love you, take care of you, discipline you, and teach you about Jesus. Maybe you think every kid comes from a house like that, but they don’t.  Anymore a house like ours is a little rare. I just think that it’s important to remember that when a kid is maybe acting out or different in some way.  Please, please, be kind and show love to everyone, even if they are not especially likeable. Remember how much Jesus loves each of us, and maybe YOU are the person he is using to show that love to another kid.

Here’s another thing that ties in with what I just said: I want you guys to be a “little light” to everyone you meet at school. Dad and I think that you already have been, and we are so proud of you for that! Keep it up. I really do believe that God uses people in certain places and at certain times. For the last years and even now we think that we’ve been called to have our family be a part of the public school here. As I said before, not everyone comes from a family that believes like we do, but I want you to show them love as Jesus has commanded us to do. Maybe that means being a friend to someone who is shy, or holding a door for others, sharing a book, or inviting a kid that’s alone to play with you on the playground. You just never know what impact you’ll have on someone else.

Also, stand up for what you believe in. Our world is a little crazy right now, and sadly, it’s just going to get worse. That makes me worried for you as you grow up. This is part of what I pray about for you all the time. However, you have been taught what is right and what is wrong, and don’t be afraid to say and act on what you believe. I know you can do it!

I love you guys like crazy and will miss you. Have a great first day in your new grade!

Love, Mom

Big Yellow Bus

O Big Yellow Bus,

Will you stop by real soon?

I have missed you, my friend

And am turning into a loon

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You see, I dearly love my kids

But I also love routine

It makes me oh so productive

And also…not so mean

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It happens every year

‘Bout this time of the summer

We’re done with ALL The Fun

It’s really quite a bummer

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I’m sick of hearing “Mom!”

The house is just a mess

My diet is atrocious

The kids….well, too much Togetherness

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Fights are starting to break out

Here, there, and everywhere

The natives are getting restless

My cupboards are looking bare

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So Big Yellow Bus

Will you change up our days?

You always arrive on time

With your lights all ablaze

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I’m ready to greet you again

Each morning and each afternoon

This Mom is starting to miss you

Will you please stop by soon?

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The Path

As some of you may know, our family enjoys hiking together. When we were on vacation less than two weeks ago, we took some hikes as a family, but one especially stands out to me. It was a trail within the State Park where we were staying, and since it wasn’t supposed to be especially long or challenging, we decided to stop and hike it together on our way back to the cabin from another stop. Plus it had the title of “Wetlands Trail,” so we thought at least it would be pretty.

Starting out on the Wetlands Trail was a breeze. The trail was wide, pretty flat, and overall just easy going. A little ways in, however, things changed. Suddenly we were on a skinny trail barely wide enough for one person, tall grasses and thorns were brushing against us on either side, and you really had to watch your step. Out of necessity we were walking one at a time, following the back of the person in front of us, and trying not to stumble, get scratched up, or lost. Since I was not exactly prepared for this hike, I had worn my usual summer footwear (flip flops) instead of good shoes. Also, I am terrified of snakes, so I found myself constantly looking down at where my feet were about to step, as this area suddenly seemed like optimal snake turf. After what seemed like way longer than the supposed 1.2 miles it was advertised as, the trail then went into the woods and up a steep section with all kinds of switchbacks. My little guys soon started protesting and asking for a break and a drink. As this was supposed to be a measly mile of easy hiking, we had not brought much water with us and were suddenly thirsty on top of everything else. My little boys’ cheeks were scratched and we were all panting for breath just a bit and slapping at insects biting us. The trail stretched on much further ahead, but I got us turned around after a short break and headed back for our vehicle. Doubling back we knew what we were in for, and I was glad to see our van waiting for us at the trail head.

Thy Word is a lamp unto my feet and a light unto my path. Psalm 119:105

Walking on that trail got me thinking about all the other paths and trails we have taken together, then how they relate to life in general and especially living life as a Christian in this world. This has been burning on my heart since I walked that trail.

Here are some things I’ve learned about hiking in the past few years and how I think it relates to walking life’s path as a follower of God:

*Be prepared. Usually if a hike is completely miserable, it has been because I have not prepared well in some way. Either I am not wearing the right shoes, did not hydrate well, or didn’t eat something nourishing before I went. Or perhaps we didn’t pack something that we really should have. Sometimes we felt that we were well prepared, but the trail ended up much different or harder than we expected. If you are walking life’s path as a Jesus follower, you need to be prepared for that exact type of trail. Life sure throws us some curveballs, and we need to be ready for them. I’m sure I don’t have to tell you what to do to be prepared for what we encounter along our paths, but here’s a reminder: pray, read the Word, pray some more, fellowship with other Believers, worship Him always and often. We need to be ready for those things we expect AND all the things we don’t.

*Follow the trail and the blazes. One of the first things we taught our kids when hiking was to look for the blazes along the trail and to stay on the path. Usually each trail has a different color and the blazes are marked on the trees. Some of the actual trails have spots that aren’t clear cut and you have to check the blazes to see where they actually are headed. Or sometimes they intersect with another trail and you have to follow the one with your color of blazes (unless you want to hop on the other trail for some reason). I have a terrible sense of direction, so I know that I shouldn’t veer off the trail lest I lose my way. Life in this world can be confusing, and we have so many things we can try to pursue. There is loads of stuff that can distract us along our path and some of it doesn’t match up to the blazes we should follow. Are you wholeheartedly pursuing Truth and the path God has placed before you, or are you distracted and wandering along all the other trails and blazes that come across your path?

*Use the buddy system. We’ve also taught our little kids to not go on a trail by themselves. We shouldn’t either. I just mentioned my awful sense of direction. When we are hiking or just traveling anywhere I am thankful for my husband, who has a very keen sense of direction. When hiking life’s trails, please don’t go it alone. Get to know and fellowship with others that share the same beliefs you do. We can help keep each other on the right path and encourage one another along the way.

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*Look for the beauty around you. If you keep your eyes open along a trail, there is usually much beauty to see and experience. That trail that I mentioned at the beginning of this piece? Even though it had its challenges, I saw some extraordinary wildflowers that I didn’t see anywhere else in that entire park. I was glad that we went on it. Sometimes the toughest trails we’ve experienced have led to the most beautiful bits of scenery. They have been worth the hike. Some of the most awe inspiring moments of my life have been on the heels of or in the midst of my toughest moments. I have never felt closer to my God than when walking through the most challenging times.

*Watch out for snakes! I mentioned also in my opening bit that in that rough section of trail I was wary of snakes. A man we met earlier in the week had cautioned us that many copperheads had been seen in that area this summer. His warning kept sounding in my head as we walked through, especially as I had mere flip flops on my feet. My feet were completely unprotected!  Friends, I’m sure you know where I am headed with this. Satan is out there to take us down at any opportunity he can, and we need to be ready for him. He is a crafty serpent. You may be at a place on your trail that seems easier at the moment–in those times we sometimes need to be on our guard the most!

Proverbs 3:5-6. These are amazing.

Well, I really hope and pray that this resonates with you in some way. It really was impressed upon me to write this piece, if anything for me to take these things to heart. God bless you and keep you as you hike your own trail!

Little Cabin in the Woods

Today I am sharing some pictures of our recent getaway in the far western woods of Pennsylvania.

For the third year in a row, we have rented a cabin at a Pennsylvania State Park, choosing a different park each summer. The cabins are all built pretty much alike and serve as a very simple and extremely economical vacation spot for families. I highly, highly recommend them!

This year’s destination was Raccoon Creek State Park, a beautiful location for a week away from the normal hustle and bustle of our everyday lives.

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There were many hiking trails were within this park, which we took advantage of. This is at an old mineral springs location.

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Andrew had bought a hammock with his own money before we left. We strung it in the woods behind our cabin and all had turns reading and resting in it. (Confession: One afternoon I took my phone and watched something on Netflix while I was tucked down there. Shhhh…don’t tell my kids!)

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Plenty of time for playing games–this was en evening where my gang played one of their favorites (and mine), Dutch Blitz!

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We discovered some coloring books that are geared for any age at an Ollie’s over the line in Ohio. (Actually, we took a little drive, hitting West Virginia, then Ohio in a short time from where we were.) Apparently “adult” coloring books are now a thing? Anyway, Heidi got herself a book of paisley designs and a pack of markers, so I got to spend some time coloring! I have to admit, it was pretty relaxing, and you know I love design and colors.

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At the same Ollie’s we also happened upon a cheap Bocce ball set. Our small group had introduced us to this fun game just this summer, so we couldn’t resist getting a set for our family as we had a perfect commons area in the middle of our cabin loop. Warning to all: These two pictured above are little and cute, but they are KILLER Bocce Ball players!! I’m not too shabby myself either;)

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Whittling lessons with Dad.

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Found this neat rock perch on one of our hikes.

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My five guys, taking a break along a trail.

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Lots of beauty to be spotted, but I am so thankful to capture this image especially. SO glad the bee was still for me for at least a second or two!

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Our only real outing was to a place nearby called Old Economy Village, a historically preserved old community from the 1800’s, located along the Ohio River in the town of Ambridge. This was an image from their wine cellar.

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The old shoe shop.

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Checking out the General Store. Our tour guide was an absolute gem and literally spent over 3 1/2 hours taking our family, plus one other older couple, around to each area. She had the kids do a number of activities along the way to get the whole experience. I think we could have adopted “Miss Cora” and taken her home with us!

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Our kids even got to experience school in an old classroom.

Overall, it was just a nice restful week with nowhere we had to be, no one else really around, and no to-do list for the day.

Perfect for the year we’ve had and a quiet respite before Jeff is released back to work and back-to-school time begins.