Our Western Adventure: Bryce Canyon National Park

Howdy all. Today I am following up on my series about our trip out west this summer. This time I am focusing in on our day at Bryce Canyon National Park, which was almost a 2 hour drive from where we stayed.

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It definitely deserves its own post, don’t you think? I’ve said this many a time over and over, but pictures really do it no justice. Bryce was absolutely stunning!

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One of the things that makes it so unique are the hoodoos, these crazy cool rock formations that are literally everywhere at Bryce.

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You can use your imagination as to what each looks like. The day we went, we were also gifted with a gorgeously blue, clear sky, which contrasted perfectly with the reddish orange color of the rocks.

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We began our travels at the Visitor Center, then drove over to Sunset Point. From there we hiked down Navajo Loop, which is a steep descent down into the canyon. I was SO glad we used that trail for going down, not up! It was basically a series of tight switchbacks that go on and on. From there we went across the bottom of the canyon, hiking the Queen’s Garden Trail. After going across a ways, we made our way up to Sunrise Point. One great thing about Bryce is that due to a much higher elevation, it is cooler in temperature than Zion. A bad thing is that unless you are used to the elevation, you can start to feel it when you hike. Thankfully we didn’t notice it as much until near the end of our longer hike, when heading back up the canyon.

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It is worth it though! Everywhere you turn is an amazing view! For several of my kids, along with my husband, Bryce was their favorite park.

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After our hike, we chose yet another amazing place to have a picnic lunch, then drove around to several of the viewpoints. Each one was spectacular!

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You can easily see at least the highlights of Bryce in a day trip, though I’m sure we would’ve discovered much more had we spent another day there. If you ever get a chance to visit, I’d highly recommend Bryce Canyon. It is truly a one-of-a-kind park that is unforgettable.

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Dear Kids…Fall 2018

Dear Dan, Andrew, Heidi, Joey, and Josh,

Here we are again, ready to launch into a brand new school year. Summer went by in a flash…actually, the last year went by in a flash, didn’t it? Eleventh, tenth, eighth, and sixth grades. WOW is all I can really say. Y’all are growing up way, way , WAY too fast for me.

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So, what do I want to tell you all before you head off on that exciting, sometimes nerve-wracking first day? First and foremost is that I love you like crazy and am so proud of each of you. Don’t you ever forget that. I’m not sure how this flawed, ordinary lady got blessed with such great kids, but hey, I’ll take it. No, I don’t think any of you are perfect (none of us are), but you do make me proud in so many ways that you probably don’t even realize. Keep on being great kids, whether that be with the big things in life or just the little everyday stuff.

Try your very best, whether it be in playing an instrument, learning new math skills, working in shop class, or writing an essay. I realize that not every subject will thrill you, but you are still to give it your best effort. No, I don’t expect anyone here to be perfect, but I do expect diligent work and not slacking off. Keep on reading and never be ashamed of your love for books.

I know I also say this every year, but be kind and respectful to each of your teachers, whether they are your favorite or not. Same goes for each of the staff members at your schools. And your classmates?? Yup, you are to show kindness to everyone, even the kids that get on your nerves (hint—they may be the ones who could use it the most).

Continue to be little lights for Jesus. We are now in the throes of middle and high school and though we try to protect you, I would be naïve to think you are not being exposed to at least some of the temptations and ugliness of this world. Please be extra strong in your faith and stand up for what you believe in. It just isn’t worth it to follow the crowd on so many things. I may be “old,” but I do know some things by this point, and that one I know for sure. You know what is worth it though? Having a firm foundation in the Lord and living for Him, not for the world. Believe me, people will notice and wonder what it is that makes you different. Hopefully you can tell them that it is Christ in you that makes a difference.

Well, that’s it for now. Know that I pray for each of you daily as you venture out and will continue to do so all of my days. Remember that Dad and I are rooting for you. We’re always here to listen, to help, and to love on you, no matter what. Good luck tomorrow. You’ll be just fine, even though you may be a little nervous. I’ll miss you, but am excited for a new year together!

Love, Mom

 

Our Western Adventure: Zion National Park

Happy Monday! If you caught my last post on the Hoover Dam, you will know that we just came back from a trip out west. I am doing a little recap of the different destinations we visited, along with pictures and my take on each one. Today I am delving into Zion National Park, which we visited 3 different days.

First things first–Zion is stunningly beautiful. You may have read that via other sources or have heard people talk about it. It’s definitely not overrated, and though my pictures are okay, they do it no justice.

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On our first day in Zion, we got there later in the morning, so we had to park in town and shuttle in. We kind of got the lay of the land that day and didn’t go too crazy with hikes. That day we did the Lower Emerald Pools trail (the Middle & Upper were closed due to storm damage), the Grotto, and the Court of the Patriarchs. We had our picnic lunch at the Grotto trail. We pretty much had an incredible picnic spot for lunch every single day on our travels. It was fabulous!

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On our second day at Zion, we met up with some friends who were also out there and did a portion of The Narrows together.

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The Narrows is a hike literally through the Virgin River, which runs through a slot canyon for many miles. We met up early in the morning and shuttled out to the Riverside Walk trail, which goes down to the entry point for the river. You then enter and hike upriver basically as far as you want, then turn back around until you get back to the entry point. I’m not sure how far we went upriver, but it took several hours going up, then not quite as long coming downstream.

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Every turn of the river gives you a new view. You always want to keep going to see what’s around the next bend! I told my friend that it was like a little slice of Paradise down there. It was also a much more comfortable temperature there in the morning, as well as pretty shaded.

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In the picture above, you can see how you are sometimes pretty hemmed in by the canyon walls. Since we went in the  summer, we did not rent any special gear, just wore closed toe hiking sandals, and we were all fine. You do have to be careful and take your time picking around and over a lot of the rocks in the water, that’s for sure. Fortunately the water was not high when we went and there were more sandy areas than I expected.

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I would highly recommend the Narrows for anyone visiting Zion. It is a really neat experience and a great bucket list hike!

We did a bunch of other day trips to other places in between, but then came back to Zion on our last day in Utah. This time we did one morning hike to Hidden Canyon, the trail I was most looking forward to. I had really wanted to do Angel’s Landing, but it was also closed due to storm damage the entire time we were out there, so that was a no go. Hidden Canyon is maybe not as well known, but it could be challenging too.

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One may think that to get to a hidden canyon, you are down low, but not in this case. It is a hanging slot canyon, so you actually walk up about a mile or so (and gain close to 1,000 feet in elevation during that mile) to get somewhat near the entrance to Hidden Canyon. It is a bunch of long switchbacks that take you up, up, up, so it’s no joke. Even super fit looking people were huffing and puffing on their way up, so that made me feel better as we took several quick breaks on the way up. At the top there is kind of a landing area where you can rest and keep going or turn back. Just beyond that is the start of the chains, the part I most wanted to do. My daughter was having no part of the chains and Jeff doesn’t love heights, so the boys volunteered to do this next part with me.

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Several parts had a slightly larger ledge, but you’re mostly holding on and watching your step, because it is a loooong drop off to the side. If there are people coming back the opposite way, you have to get to a wider section and maneuver around one another. The boys did great! Below is a picture that my husband took of us coming back on the one section.

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I would have loved to explore the actual canyon, which you can see the mouth of in the above picture. However, we had two family members waiting on us, so we didn’t tarry too much. It looked really cool in there though.

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Overall, I really enjoyed this hike. As it was our last full day out there, we headed back to our rental and chilled before a long travel day.

A couple of things for people who may want to visit there…

Since we visited in early August, it was mega hot there every single day (as in 104-105 degrees F every afternoon). If you go in summer, take lots of water and make sure to drink it. There are water bottle filling stations at a lot of the stops, so top your water off whenever you have a chance. Plan hikes for the morning hours if possible. It is also extremely crowded that time of year and the main visitor lot fills up very quickly. We had to be there by @7:30 am if we wanted a spot, otherwise you end up parking in Springdale and shuttling in. If I ever go back (which I would LOVE to do) I would try to shoot for the fall when maybe it’s not so hot and crowded. Never the less, Zion is still gorgeous and I absolutely loved it. A beautiful piece of God’s creation, that’s for sure, and I’m so thankful to have experienced it.

 

 

 

Our Western Adventure: The Hoover Dam

Today I am embarking on a mini-series based on our recent trip out west, an adventure that has actually been in the works for a number of years. It was one of those trips that we’ve talked about and wanted to do before the kids all grew up on us, so this year we decided to just go for it! I’m so glad we did, because it was awesome and we had many amazing adventures together.

The first day involved a flight from Baltimore to the Las Vegas airport. This was the first time our youngest three have flown in an airplane, and they did remarkably well. We definitely had a “you’re not in Pennsylvania anymore” moment right away as we immediately encountered rows upon rows of slot machines, literally upon stepping off of the airplane. They were everywhere!! We flew to save ourselves many days of driving and so we could use our vacation days to really focus on the things we most wanted to see. After picking up our rental car, we decided to take a little jaunt to the Hoover Dam before driving on to our house in southern Utah.

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I obviously knew the Hoover Dam was huge, but it’s really nothing like seeing it in person. It is enormous. We took what was called the Power Plant tour, which lasted about an hour.

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Some of my boys are very into engineering, so I thought this was a neat opportunity for them to learn about how it was built, the turbines, water flow, etc. The tour itself was pretty interesting overall, and you go underground quite a ways for part of it, so a bonus was that most of the inside tour was nice and cool! I was amazed that it was only built in less than 5 years, a really remarkable feat given that it happened in the 1930’s.

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The inside museum part also has some neat interactive things for kids to do. I was really taken with this series of sculptural panels.

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Seeing this clock outside should have prepared me for the different time zones. In Nevada we were 3 hours behind our norm. In Utah it was 2. In Arizona it should be 2, but they don’t observe daylight savings, so it was 3 hours behind when we were out there. Are you confused? Because I surely was for the first day or so, especially as the clocks in our rental were set to several different times as well and we traveled between those three states.

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We honestly did not spend a ton of time outside and walking along the whole thing. For one thing, it was very crowded. Number two, it was literally 111 degrees there when we visited. Number three, we had just traveled many hours with several hours to go, and were ready to be on our way at that point.

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With all that said, I really was glad we made this a stop. It was worth seeing, and I felt like the tour was worth doing as well. Below is a very large sculpture of one of the workers who helped build the dam.

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My next post will be on our experience at Zion, including our hike of The Narrows!

Goodbye 2017, Hello 2018

Happy New Year everyone!

I pray that you have experienced a joy-filled holiday season and are eagerly looking forward to a brand new year. I’m sure I’m not alone in that this time of year makes me pause and reflect on happenings within the past year, plus look forward to some new things as well.

Here are some highlights from our year as a family:

*Our oldest two boys were able to go to Sea Base, a high adventure base in the FL Keys. They had a wonderful experience there, including paddling across the ocean in a canoe, snorkeling, deep-sea fishing, and kayaking. They loved it. Oh yeah, it was the first time they’ve ever flown as well. My highlight was watching a video someone took of my boys’ faces that first time the plane really took off. I was dying!!

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*My husband left his job of many years and began afresh in a completely new career. This time last year we had no idea what the future held in this regard. God is SO good and brought about a new place of work that has been a refreshing change for him, and for us as a family. (Plus now he brings home really cool wood and makes things out of it.)

*My oldest turned 16! And got his learner’s permit! Want to feel completely powerless? Be a passenger in a vehicle where your oldest child is driving YOU for the first time. We’ve been cursed at, almost rear ended, had a line of traffic behind us multiple times, and passed in dangerous ways about every time we venture out. Fun times.

*We are experiencing our very last year in elementary school. We have loved it there, but I’m certain my littler guys are ready to move on. Me too.

*My daughter and I took a day trip to New York City. It was the first time her and I did something like that. Though it rained a good part of the day, we still had fun and got to see many neat things.

*We had a couple day excursion to the Jim Thorpe area. It was a good way to wrap up the summer all together.

Some things we are looking forward to:

*A vacation out west. Yup, this is my main one. This has been on our family bucket list for years and we decided that this is the year to just do it! The plan is to fly (instead of driving many days cross country), rent a vehicle, and spend most of our time near Zion National Park. We also plan to visit the Grand Canyon and Bryce Canyon National Parks, plus maybe a couple of other things. I’m super excited!!

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*Turning 40. This happens in May. Pray for me. My 20’s were terrific, my 30’s have been great, what will the 40’s bring? Who knows?? I don’t really feel “almost 40″…time flies.

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*Having another driver in the house. It terrifies me a little, yet I am ready for someone else to be able to take on chauffer duties a bit. Even if the oldest just drives himself to work and his own activities, that will help.

*Having kids all on the same bus/school schedule. I’ve had approximately one school year where everyone was in the same building, and that year the twins were in half-day kindergarten, so I still had 3 different bus times to worry about. Since then it’s been 4 different bus times. When they hit middle school this fall, everyone will have the same bus time. I may feel like I’ve gained another hour each day! Woo-hoo!

Well, those are the main things, but really, it’s a lot of little everyday things sometimes, isn’t it? I pray that you will have a blessed 2018, full of lots of those moments that bring joy. May you look forward to what the Lord has in store for you this coming year.

 

 

 

Our Jim Thorpe Getaway

Several weeks ago our family squeezed in a mini vacation. We were looking for something that was just a couple of days, very low key, and not far away. Jim Thorpe was an area we’ve been meaning to explore, so we decided to head there this year. Here are a number of pictures taken while we were there:

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Our first stop was to Hickory Run State Park. One attraction there is this huge boulder field. It’s a great workout to work your way any distance across this jumble of boulders, though I did wonder how many broken ankles and twisted knees it has claimed. Don’t worry, we came through unscathed!

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Our next stop was a hike to Hawk Falls.

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The last thing we did at Hickory Run was a trail called “Shades of Death.” It was my favorite!

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Despite the name, this trail had lots of beautiful sights to behold. It was slightly challenging, but well worth it.

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It was the perfect way to end our adventures at Hickory Run.

After a fast food supper, we stayed overnight at a Holiday Inn Suite. Actually, we stayed both nights there and had a great experience. The free breakfast was probably one of the best I’ve ever had at a hotel. Lots of hot foods and even a pancake machine, which my gang was kind of fascinated with. For this big family, it was well worth it. The free hot breakfast, along with a packed lunch and snacks meant we just had to buy dinner out.

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The next day brought us to the actual town of Jim Thorpe. We first stopped at the Jim Thorpe Memorial, which is where I took this cool statue pic.

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Next we went to town, which is pretty and has plenty of neat architectural building details. There were a bunch of cute little shops and such, but traveling with a pack of boys was not conducive to my checking out “cute” shops. So…we were in the town for maybe 55 minutes and they were itching to leave. Nice, huh? (This Real Family Vacation moment brought to you by the Craig family! You’re welcome.)

Oh well, our next stop was enjoyed by all.

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Our next destination was the No. 9 Coal Mine.

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I was able to get about zero good pictures within the mine, but I can tell you that we all learned a lot and enjoyed our time there. Our tour guide, Larry, was hilarious and made it even better. My take-away was that I would never, ever want to work in a coal mine.

This next picture was from the museum portion of the tour.

I think the sign says a lot, don’t you?

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After the mine we stopped at Lehigh Gorge State Park, which boasts a gorgeous waterfall trail called Onoko Glen Falls. This sign is what we first saw once approaching the trail. A little disconcerting, especially while hiking with kids, but we pressed on.

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Onoko Glen was SO beautiful, though And we didn’t die. Or fall. Or anything like that.

This is a shot looking down some of the falls.

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My photos do absolutely no justice to this place. In person I found it breathtaking.

We wrapped up our day by stopping at a Butterfly Sanctuary and eating at a fabulous Italian restaurant. The third day we were planning to drive to Ricketts Glen State Park and do some hiking and exploring, then head home in the late afternoon/evening. However, a very ugly forecast (which included extreme thunderstorms/hail/etc.) for the whole area convinced us to pack it in and head home early.

Well, that’s it for this trip. Next year we seriously hope to travel out west, specifically looking at Zion National Park and a few others in that vicinity. I am super excited for this to possibly finally happen!

Dear Kiddos…

Dear Kiddos,
We are only a couple of days away from a brand new school year. Are you excited?!? I kind of am, though a quiet house will take some getting used to again. I enjoy it, but boy am I glad to see that bus roll up in the afternoons! It’s not the same without you here.
I can’t believe you’re all as old and as big as you all are. I am blown away that this will be the last year our family will have kids in elementary school… AND that we have not one, but TWO in high school!! And yes, once again I am writing you a letter to prep you for a new school year. Bear with me please. I’ll keep it short and sweet this time.

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First, I’d like to remind you to be kind and respectful to each one of your teachers. There will be some that you love and some that probably won’t be your favorites. You know this already. Each one is to be treated with the utmost kindness and respect. Teachers have one heck of a tough job these days, so please do your best to brighten their day. Look for ways to help them out in any way you can. You have no idea what a big influence you may have on them!
Try your absolute best, even if you have a subject that doesn’t come easy for you. We are at the point where you older guys are required to take some subjects that may not be such a piece of cake. Don’t be afraid to ask for help! A teacher would rather you ask for help than see you struggle and not admit that you need a bit of help or need something explained in a different way. Dad and I are always here for you, in whatever way we can assist. Yes, we are old and our school days are long past, but we’re not total dummies either. Please don’t forget that we are always on your team and are cheering you on.
Now onto your classmates. Oh boy, what can I say? Pretty much what I always have, and that is to be a little light to everyone around you. Treat others the way you’d like to be treated. It’s very cliché but oh-so-true. Boys, respect the young ladies around you and be good role models. Act like the godly young gentlemen we have strived to raise you to be. Daughter, continue to be a godly young lady. We are SO glad that you all don’t try super hard to “fit in.” It’s not worth it. Be who you are, but more importantly, remember WHOSE you are. No matter what.
You guys are awesome. We are so stinking proud of each one of you. I pray that you will all have a great school year! Dad and I are here for you.
Love you all SO much.
Mom

****To read the letter I have posted the previous two years, click here.

Taking a Different Path, Part 2

I’m back again, this time with Part 2 of our story. (If you haven’t read Part 1 yet, take a minute to do so. That way you can have a clue what I’m talking about!)

I pick up at the point where my husband went to his first ever interview since deciding to leave his job of many, many years. He had been injured that very morning, but went ahead with the interview, and did NOT get the job. Bummer, but we figured it was not meant to be.

Within the next week there was a big meeting to discuss future plans within his company. Since all of the head honchos were there at the same time, he shocked the lot of them by telling them he meant to leave the company, plus some reasons why. Within the next several weeks he was convinced by them to at least stay on through the holidays, which he finally agreed to do (He is truly my better half—he was so much nicer and more gracious than I think I would have been.)

In August we took a big family vacation to Maine. It was truly a time of refreshment for our family, and also the time we sat our kids down and told them what was up. We had a time of honest sharing and praying over the whole situation. I asked Jeff what HE would really like to pursue as a future job, not taking into account wages, benefits, etc. Topping his list was anything involving wood, a longtime passion of his (when we had free time, which was not very often). Other then that he had no one thing that he was honed in on trying.

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Post-vacation, Jeff went back to work, but with a very clear sense that he no longer belonged there. Before we knew it, the holiday season was again upon us, historically their company’s craziest time of year. In the back of our minds was always the question of “what in the world is going to happen to us after this?” However, working oodles of hours doesn’t allow one to complete a job search very well. I watched my husband working himself to death, trying to do a good job and making sure the company was well prepared for his leaving. He would leave super early in the morning, come home maybe by dinnertime, and be sound asleep by 7 pm every night. He was working like a madman and I was feeling like a single parent.

Well, Christmas soon came and I nervously wrote out our situation in our Christmas card letter, asking folks to lift up our family in prayer. At this point he hadn’t applied or sent a resume anywhere else yet, and I started to get very nervous. On January 2, the kids went back to school, but Jeff had a day off. He had by then compiled a list of possible places to apply and I helped him sharpen his resume. Many of them had no job openings listed, but he took a chance and sent or dropped off a resume anyhow.

For the place at the very top of his list, he physically stopped in to drop off a resume. The owner of the company, who often travels, happened to be there and ended up giving my husband about an hour-long tour of their facilities and talking with him. The owner told him they had no openings, but they were thinking about maybe hiring someone else. He took his resume and Jeff came home wound up, excited about this particular place. About two weeks passed and we had no leads, other than one other place that was maybe interested in him. At this point he had already given his company a final date, even though there was not a new job lined up. I remember one day I was feeling incredibly anxious about the whole thing, having no idea what our future held. I was lifting the whole thing up to God, and had a clear comfort from Him: “My daughter, don’t you fret. Trust me. I’ve got this.” Immediately I had a calm that can only be attributed to coming from Him. I laid my trust in Him and recognized that His plan would be revealed in the right time.

In mid-January, Jeff had an unused week of vacation time from the previous year to use or lose. He used it to keep on the job hunt, still not having much luck. That same week he got a call from the wood place he was most interested in. Could he come in for an interview that week? Sure! He went in for the interview and was offered a position that very same day. (Of course, he said he would consult with his wife first before making a decision.) I really felt like he should go for it, and it was set that he would start in February. He went immediately from one job to the other, without any period of unemployment, so that was a huge praise.

Well, that’s the long-winded back story on how my husband decided to leave his career and start completely fresh somewhere else.

How has it been? Well, strange for him to start out as the new guy who knows the least, especially coming from somewhere where he had worked there pretty much the longest and knew all the ins and outs of the company. Great in that he now is home for breakfast with his family every morning, has about a 10-15 minute commute, and has great hours. Oh, and a long mandatory lunch break. We’ve been sneaking little lunch dates at least every other week together. Not so great is a huge initial drop in income and navigating new insurances and the like. I had to learn about COBRA and  rollover benefits and fun little things like that. We’ll survive, it’s just a matter of adapting for awhile. With money we had diligently scraped up and saved, we paid off our mortgage 2 years early, so that’s been a big burden lifted. (Another praise item–one of our kids had an injury needing stitches at the ER. It happened the same week we all became insured again! Thank you Lord that my boy wasn’t hurt worse–and for that timing.) But it’s all been worth it to see my husband not completely burnt out and passionate about learning new things. His new company does some very interesting things and has “interesting” customers that he tells us about at dinner. He now has more time for us and is toying with different wood projects. (Let this shock you–he is now on Pinterest! It’s too funny, actually. Never saw that one coming….)

Thank you to those who have prayed for us these many months. I give God the glory for lining things up the way only He could do, and we are completely trusting Him for whatever the future may hold.

Taking a Different Path, Part 1

I have shared approximately zero about this topic on my blog yet, but today’s the day. Those who know us personally know that our family (well, my husband specifically, but it affects us all!) has undergone a big life change in 2017. My dear man, back in mid-February, chose to leave his career of nearly 28 years.

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Here’s the back story….

Jeff has been a butcher all of his adult life, and for the same company too. He had learned and mastered many different roles within the company and enjoyed his work. It was where we had both envisioned him working until retirement. Back in 2015 he lost a finger–ironically, not at work, but at home on a lawnmower belt. At that time the surgeon informed him he was not to work for 6-8 weeks, as the risk of infection was too great to be handling raw meat and other such things. So, very unexpectedly, my husband was off for a good portion of a summer. At the time, though it was a complete bummer that he was now minus a finger and temporarily out of work and a paycheck, it wasn’t the end of the world, could have been much worse, and I had the strong sense that it happened for a reason. Why, we had no idea, but I really felt like when that happened it was a catalyst for a change of some kind.

He went back to work with gusto at summer’s end and things were basically back to normal. At the end of 2015, after a very stressful holiday season with many long hours, one night he was nearly crying and told me “I can’t go through another holiday season there.” We felt a change coming but had no idea what that was yet, so we just prayed about what that may look like in the next year. He trudged through the beginning of 2016 and worked as normal. I felt the call to begin working part-time and got a job as secretary at our home church.

One evening in July, Jeff was feverishly working on something on the computer. I could see the frustration etched on his face and asked what he was working on. “A resume” was all the response I got. Though I knew this was likely coming, I was still a bit in shock.  He had seen an ad for a wood distribution place that he apparently was interested in and planned to send a resume to. We both slept little that night, tossing and turning and praying. He sent it in and got a call for an interview the next week.

The morning of the interview he went to work early, before anyone else was in yet. As he was pulling out a rolling metal cart out of the smokehouse, it tipped over and landed on top of him, about 1,000 pounds between the cart and the meat on it. I was later sickened when I heard that a metal bar or pipe was firmly lodged right on his windpipe. Miraculously he was somehow able to wiggle out with just some burns on his face and neck, bumps and bruises, and a sore back. (I was also a little ticked that he didn’t tell his wife until late that afternoon!) The poor guy went to a job interview with a bandaged face and neck, a missing finger, and limping badly from his ordeal that morning. He didn’t get the job….

Stay tuned for Part 2, Coming soon!