Colorado or Coeur d’Alene, ID? (RV Series #17)

(Our family is on a five month RV trip. We are journeying West from Dallas, TX and making our way up the Western coastline finishing in Washington state before we streamline our way back to CO for the summer.) After three short nights in Kennewick, WA, we continued further east to Coeur d’Alene, ID. John’s customers were a short drive away in Spokane, WA but we’d always wanted to visit Coeur d’Alene so that’s where we drove to next. Another beautiful drive and six hours later, we were set up on Blackwell Island along the Spokane River.

Blackwell Island RV Park

Blackwell Island RV Park

We popped a bottle of wine, grabbed two wine glasses and walked down to the river. Love was in the air. Literally. Seagulls were mating all over the pier in front of us. Continue reading

Relaxing in Redding (RV Series #14)

(Our family is on a five month RV trip. We are journeying West from Dallas, TX and making our way up the Western coastline finishing in Washington state before we streamline our way back to CO for the summer.)

The words jumped out of my mouth without asking permission: I’m so sick of hotels. What? I asked myself, Who have I become? Just three short months ago, I’d never overnighted in a fifth-wheel. Now, I was missing my rolling house? Wishing to check-out of a hotel?

The RV’s broken axle didn’t seem to be the only part under repair. My softened heart and appreciation for this trip, with all of its up and downs, began affecting my thoughts and words. Amazing change for a girl who swears the Ritz Carlton club level is the standard for family travel. Continue reading

Bird Attack Detours us to CO (RV Series #6)

(Our family is on a five month RV trip. We are journeying West from Dallas, TX and making our way up the Western coastline finishing in Washington state before we streamline our way back to CO for the summer.)

After a great week in Las Vegas, we moved out of the hotel and drove back to the Phoenix RV Park having devised a plan to retrieve my vehicle from Denver. We considered shipping it via long-haul truck but opted, instead, to fly out ourselves and drive it back.

The trip to Colorado would also give us a chance to check on our house remodel at the ranch thus killing two birds with one stone. Now, with the burst water pipe and ensuing floodwaters at our South Denver suburban home, we had another remodeling project on our hands. This stone had better be big, as we need to kill many more than two birds during our brief visit.

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Things I’ve Learned on the Ranch

Dream of owning a ranch? Wish you lived amidst a picturesque setting with 360 degree mountain views? Know what it takes to maintain 99 acres? Here’s what I’ve learned seven months into our ranch ownership journey:

  1. 99 acres seem small when you’re driving but much larger when walking.
  2. My kids hate when community members tell them that ranch work builds character.
  3. Bats are black, creepy, milking mammals, live 20+ years, migrate south in August.
  4. Critter guy that eradicates bats, mice, and cluster flies is my new bestie. Continue reading

Love Me a Campfire

I can’t recall a vacation doing anything other than camping. My earliest memories include camping. Two weeks. Every summer. We’d load the car, hitch up the pop-up camper, and drive from the Dallas heat and humidity to a national forest campsite in Red River, NM or Southfork, CO with one amenity: hand-pumped water. There was no electricity, no showers, and no flushing toilets.

My dad worked full-time. My mom cleaned houses. Camping was their answer to relieve life’s stress and unplug. It’s funny to think that my parents felt the need to unplug back in the late 70’s and 80’s. I mean, really, what were we unplugging from? Three channels on the television? The record player? Lights? Mostly, I remember the trauma of not being able to plug-in and blow dry or curl my hair. In the 80’s, those devices were high-tech.

Upon arriving at the campground, we set about the tasks necessary to set up camp: my dad would level the camper, mom and I would roll the sleeping bags over the beds, we’d set up the camp stove on one end of the wooden picnic table, haul drinking water from the communal spout, and settle into our lawn chairs. My family didn’t hike. We didn’t fish. We didn’t ride bikes. My dad would read or photograph hummingbirds. My mom would walk to each campsite and introduce herself. My younger brother and I hung 2 liter plastic bottles just inches off the ground, cut an opening on one side, filled the bottom with bird seed and peanuts, and lured chipmunks into the spinning contraption for hours of priceless fun. We would also skip rocks across the river or throw driftwood into the flowing water and follow it downstream. Oh, we unplugged.

It’s no secret within our family that camping doesn’t hold the dearest of memories for me. I was cold crawling out of bed each morning. Continue reading

Finding Myself at a Book Signing

Sometimes, you just gotta indulge yourself. And I did. One Saturday morning a couple of weeks ago, while watching The Pioneer Woman cook before me on The Food Network, appeared a TV commercial advertising her book signing appearance that afternoon in Denver. No Way, I thought. Today? I had no plans. Why not?

Frankly, I didn’t know a lot about her, this Pioneer Woman. I’d recently begun taping her cooking show on Saturday mornings but didn’t visit her blog/website until that morning. I browsed through her blog posts providing myself the necessary information to call myself a fan. Turns out, Ree Drummond and I have a lot in common: we both live on a ranch, we both have four kids, we both blog, we both homeschool, we’re both married, we’re both women. We are soul sisters, soon-to-be best friends.

I hit the shower, mapped the location, and insisted that my own two homeschool kids tag along for the adventure. We drove 30 minutes to the West side of Littleton and entered the bookstore 1 1/2 hours before her appearance. The organized bookstore staff assigned me a group number and line number upon my arrival. Group ONE, number 78.

“How many people are y’all expecting today,” I asked, looking around the store.

“Several hundred,” the clerk replied.

The 77 place holders before me gathered around the two large screens set up in the center of the store, each holding hardbound books. I was empty-handed. Heart racing, I grabbed one of her cookbooks, her real-life romance story, and her recently released children’s book, Charlie the Ranch Dog, and scooted into the crowd facing the screens. With nothing but time on my hands, I sat on the cold, concrete floor and thumbed through the cookbook making small talk with ladies around me. As I flipped the full-color cookbook pages, one particular woman beside me reviewed each recipe aloud over my shoulder often referring to yummy concoctions in Ree’s other cookbook. With time on my side, I switched out the children’s book for the other cookbook and returned to my concrete seat, thankful I had arrived early as newcomers held numbers in the 600’s.

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Robed Greetings

In full Southern fashion, I grew up with the women in my life wearing robes, or housecoats. In case you’re not familiar with the housecoat, let me enlighten you. It’s made of lightweight cotton fabric, unstructured, knee-length, usually short-sleeved, brightly patterned or striped, with buttons or a zipper right down the front. When purchased in the correct size, it doesn’t touch any part of the body except the shoulders, suitable for the Texas summer heat.

Growing up in Dallas, we’d often visit my parents’ extended families in the Texas Panhandle to escape the nine months of summer heat. The state of Texas is so large that we could drive seven hours north of Dallas to the Panhandle to escape the heat and humidity. Evenings up north cool off and humidity levels are less suffocating. In case you’re not familiar with Dallas heat and summer humidity, let me enlighten you. A shower is the only time your skin is intentionally wet. You spend the rest of the day toweling off. Even in the Panhandle, daytime temperatures are warm and air conditioning wasn’t common in the homes we visited.

Mom’s side of the family didn’t wear pants, for religious reasons, making the housecoat an invaluable wardrobe asset. It was bad enough getting out of the shower in the summer and putting on anything with a waistband, but imagine pulling on a fitted, belted dress to tackle the days’ chores. My maw-maw, aunts, and cousins cooked three meals a day using fresh ingredients from their gardens. Everything cooked or baked from scratch. Pie crusts, bread, berry fillings, jams and jellies, gravy, all southern-style meals homemade with love. Cooking, gardening, canning, and cleaning house in their fitted dresses wasn’t practical. So each morning, these women would bathe, put on their undergarments, and don a housecoat. It was their house-dress. They would’ve never worn their housecoat to the grocery store, but they welcomed neighbors’ visits unashamed. For me, the housecoat has always been a symbol of home, comfort, and modesty.

My weekend mornings, as an adult, have always included wearing a robe. I no longer suffer from the stifling Texas heat and humidity, but I prefer the modesty of a robe while cooking breakfast and sipping coffee. I like the soft cotton, unstructured ease it offers after a shower. Two years ago, my husband replaced my robe for Christmas, even including a fresh tissue in each front pocket, just the way he remembered his grandmother wearing and using her robe. Yes, he was mocking me but all in good fun. The following picture isn’t me, but an idea of what he bought me.

Since buying the ranch in Steamboat Springs, we’ve spent a fair amount of time up there with an unscheduled routine. We’re often up early in the morning, but I prefer milling around in my robe and not getting dressed for the day right away. After all, we’re 25 minutes away from the closest ski run and don’t know anyone. Or didn’t. We have welcomed more drop-in visitors on the ranch than I’ve experienced at the doorstep of our city dwelling in the past 19 years. And yes, you guessed it, I’ve answered the door in my robe each time. Who knew that I should get showered and dressed everyday at our getaway ranch? But each knock at the door has brought wonderful, new friends and comfort to my soul.

But how do they know when to visit. No one knows we’re coming. We don’t even schedule our visits. Last Friday morning, my husband’s schedule included picking up his brand-spanking new truck, as every ranch owner must drive a truck. He was bouncing off the walls with excitement to drive the vehicle and suggested we drive three and a half hours up to the ranch for a spontaneous overnight visit. I succumbed. We arrived around dinner time on Friday night. We went to bed early and awoke Saturday morning when our bodies alerted us that ten hours was enough sleep.

Heaven, right? It gets better. John decided to take the kids snowshoeing to the back of the property where it joins the national forest. He wanted to situate his new infrared cameras amidst the trees to capture unique photos of moose, elk, deer, fox, and other wildlife wandering near the camera lens. That left me, alone in the house, drinking coffee in bed, no agenda for the morning. I know better, uh-huh, a knock at the door. I slipped my arms into the dark red sleeves of my robe and zipped it up the middle. Thirteen stair steps down and I answered my front door, in my robe. A young couple in their 30’s stood before me, smiling, hands extended to welcome me to Routt County, referring to our off-the-beaten path area.

As the three of us stood in the modest foyer, I in my robe, they told me how she’d been the head wrangler of this previously-run guest ranch and the two of them had met at a mutual friend’s wedding at the ranch. Her beloved sheep-herding dog was even buried on our newly acquired property. Their memories were heart-felt and sincere. I apologized for answering the door in my robe, having not gotten ready for my surprise visitors. They didn’t seem to mind and I wasn’t ashamed. I was glad for my lazy morning interruption and introduction to more friends, more shared memories and history of the landmark guest ranch. I was glad I answered the door. In my robe.

My Little House on the Prairie

In the summer of 2011, about four months into our homeschooling journey, I declared a thought aloud to my husband. “I think I’m ready for my little house on the prairie.” Yep, the one in your mind’s eye; where the land takes precedence over the understated house. He wasn’t surprised by my comment, but understand, we mostly gravitate to beach destinations. In fact, we had recently returned from Mexico, and were searching for a second home in Tybee Island, GA. But something was stirring inside of me and our internet house hunting search quickly changed to zip codes beginning with eight.

In the Fall of 2003, we set our sights on a storybook-esque, three-bedroom, rolled-log cabin set on 16 rolling acres just outside of Breckenridge, CO.

We envisioned weekends away from our primary residence in south Denver hunting, fishing, boating on the nearby lake, driving ATV’s or snowmobiles, and sitting out on the small deck basking in God’s creation. We thumbed through the novel-sized HOA regulations and all the aforementioned activities were illegal on the property except basking. Ugh. At the time we couldn’t afford more land and less rules, so we closed the storybook cover on the dream.

Shortly afterwards, God planted adoption into our hearts and we soon understood why He steered us away from the cabin in the woods.

Fast forward seven years, our thoughts turning back to that adorable cabin but hoping to find it on more land with no HOA and within driving distance from our primary residence. I’m still a beach girl at heart but, with no plans of buying a private jet, spontaneous weekends a car ride away fit the bill while keeping our home in the city, close to the mall.

After some day-long car trips, due diligence, and prayer, we signed the closing papers on my little house on the prairie. Well, little houses, plural. The previous owners ran a commercial guest ranch, but 16+ years of painstakingly hard work and the depressed economy forced their exit.

We fell in love with the land, 99 rolling acres 25 minutes outside of Steamboat Springs, CO, surrounded by 360 degree mountain peak views. Across the street, we can enjoy summer water sports on Steamboat Lake or ice fishing in the winter.

The main house, a three-bedroom, rough-sewn wood house is a simple abode, however, in addition to my little house, the purchase also included a rolled-log lodge complete with a commercial kitchen, a two-car detached garage, a tack shed and loafing shed for horses, and nine, yes nine, fully furnished cabins along with four apartments to house the ranch hands.

We have no intentions of operating a guest ranch but rather hosting family, friends and community events from time to time.

Freed by our homeschooling schedule, we’ve enjoyed a significant amount of time on the ranch after having just closed on it two months ago. Last weekend, we went for an overnight to check on the fireplace renovations in the main house. Saturday morning was perfect. Blue skies. Forty degrees. Snow covered ground. Perfect for my husband to take the kids on their first snowshoeing expedition. Perfect for me to drink coffee in bed while watching chef’s cook on TV. Perfect for praising God for his provisions, faithfulness, for keeping promises. He has repaid us for the years the locusts have eaten. (Joel 2:25)

Often times, I’ve resented the sacrifices we’ve made adopting/raising three kids. I’ve never sugar-coated the truth. It’s been hard. I recently shared coffee with a prospective adoptive mother and my advice to her: it’s the best thing if it’s God’s will for your life and you’re willing to yield yourself to Him daily. Yielding. That’s the hard work and sacrifice. I faced the fact that I’ve called myself a christian for years but didn’t walk my talk. I wanted a savior, not a Lord over my life.

In my selfishness, I considered the past seven years of our adoption journey as the years the locusts have eaten. But no. The years the locusts have eaten were, for me, the christian years spent with one foot in the world; missing out on the true freedom Jesus Christ offers. Since having adopted these kids, I’ve jumped into God’s arms with both feet. The trials, suffering, difficulties, valleys that made me seek Him alone; that’s the repayment, the grace, the mercy. Adoption is the vehicle that God has used to draw me to Him in intimate friendship. The work continues. Thankfully, I’m still making forward progress. He has my whole heart and I praise the name of the LORD my God (Joel 2:26), basking in His creation in my little house on the prairie, without rules or restrictions.