Making Memories Was So Much More Important Than Making Money!

When we left home at 4 am on May 7th and headed to Utah, my original plan was to work in the car in between sights and in the morning while the rest of my family was asleep. But by the time the sun came up that morning, I was pretty sure my plan wasn’t going to work out that well. I was reading in the car, but it was all about Utah and nothing about my work. I also found myself singing in the car with Kim and Kendal, this really cute song that Kim made up to help Kendal understand that we’d be in the car “for a long, long, long, long, LONG time”.

I realized almost immediately that I wasn’t going to get as much work done as I had thought, but for some reason I didn’t really care. We counted farm animals, took pics of State signs when we crossed into a new state, took many potty breaks and stayed for three nights in Pilot truck stops (for free) along the way to Utah and back. Staying at Pilots provided all of us the opportunity to experience for the first time their bathrooms and shower rooms that could put many 5 star hotels to shame!

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By the time we got into Colorado, I had already abandoned the work idea because I was having too much fun Making Memories! When we took this photo right before crossing into Utah, I also knew I had totally underestimated the beauty of what we’d see. In Colorado we experienced rain, snow, sleet, hail, and fog, but were also rewarded with a stunning double rainbow. I was amazed!!

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We arrived in Utah on Mother’s Day May 10th! Though I was sad about not being with my Mom on this special day, Kim and I really basked in the moment and celebrated our joy at being Moms. Tim and Kendal really made us feel special too with cards and presents!! The best part was that I got to use the homemade scrubs and body butter every day that Kim and Kendal made for me as my gift.

From May 10th until we arrived home on May 23rd, the Memories occurred almost every second. Utah was indescribable! It’s been almost impossible to find the right words to describe the massiveness of the sights and the feelings. The landscape changed several times during the day, revealing more and different levels of beauty whether it was sunny, cloudy, at sunrise, at sunset, or even during a storm. Bottom line was, if you blinked you missed something! One of the most frustrating things was trying to capture what we saw in photos and video. The pictures actually came out pretty great, they just don’t capture the awesomeness of it all.

Instead of spending time working or building anything with the LEGO bricks I had with me, I simply allowed myself to experience my feelings, senses and spirit in every way possible. I also enjoyed every moment with Tim, Kim and Kendal. Watching Kendal experience so many new things was the most amazing part of the trip!

We saw rocks and boulders bigger than us, our vehicle and many DC buildings.

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We saw canyons so deep that you had to pause to reflect.

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We saw sand and rocks in a variety of colors – red, beige, black, brown, gray, and even yellow and green!!

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We experienced lots of water in the midst of the desert.

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We saw walls of rock so high your neck hurt from looking up!!

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We embraced, then overcame our fear of heights and took Kendal on her very first hike!! We held on to each other and took turns looking down. We saw things that defied gravity, and crawled over things that had fallen. We drove on roads not intended for vehicles, and walked in washes one quick rain away from a flash flood.

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Best of all, we celebrated Tim’s 65th birthday in Utah, on a day that couldn’t have been better!! We got to see from a different angle the crazy road we had been on the day before, in awe of what we had done. The winding road can be seen behind Tim’s head and seems to go on forever!! His celebration ended at a great restaurant where we experienced a glorious sunset.

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We’ve been to many states and countries, but there was something magical about the five Utah National Parks we visited! So much variety of terrain and scenery all in one state. Every experience was different and every scene better than the one before. I was in awe and overwhelmed and experienced for the first time in my life not working for 18 days in a row. I couldn’t be happier!! Turns out, Making Memories was so much better than making money! It was a family experience that we’ll all treasure forever!!

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Majesty and Light!!

It’s difficult to put into words what this week has been like thus far! We’ve had amazlingly magical moments, yet the pictures don’t seem to do them justice. Imagine standing in a park, looking up and being utterly surrounded by a captivating view. Then add to that the fact that the view changes in every direction that you look.

What I’ve been most impacted by thus far was our trip to the Antelope Slot Canyon (actually in Page, Arizona). It was almost what I’d call sensory overload, and every single corner of the canyon took your breath away. I had purposely selected the 10:30 am tour as that’s when the sun affects the light in the canyon the most. I’ve said many times that though I’m definitely a church goer and am very active in my church, I feel most close to God outside of the church building. My entire family and many others were in the Slot Canyon with me, yet there were times that I felt totally alone with God. Wherever we moved with our tour guide, the light moved with us. I took in the light and thanked God for all the blessings in my life, and for the beauty of that day. The Canyon was so narrow in places that only one person could sneak through at a time while walking sideways. For me, that was God saying “take time to walk slowly and appreciate the beauty of your surroundings”.

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Even in the dark parts of the Canyon, for me both God and light were present.

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I use the phrase “blown away” a lot when describing an event or a feeling that’s occurred, yet I hesitate to use it here because even that isn’t enough to describe our first six days on the ground in Utah.

In Zion National Park, it wasn’t the light that was overwhelming, it was the sheer majesty of the rocks that was breathtaking. You had to stand in one place and make a 360 degree turn in order to attempt to take it all in. I’ve thought of my Mom almost this entire trip. First, because we were apart for Mother’s Day for only the second time in our lives, and second because my Mom would be having the time of her life if she was with us. My Mom is the lover of all things scenic. When we were on family trips, she’d say “look over there!” and we’d all look!! I can’t wait to show her the many photos we’ve taken.

Even the drive throughout Zion was breathtaking! I’ve purposely included a photo taken from our SUV just to show how from every place within the vehicle you are surrounded by beauty. You can see from the two lane road that winds through the park that you are literally surrounded by the majesty of the rocks. Cars are literally dwarfed by the power and might of nature. There were even places that were scary!!! Well, OK Kim was scared on the roads that had sharp curves and no guardrails. And there were MANY of those!!!

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Where “blown away” as a phrase does fit the trip thus far, pertains to us staying safe. You can be injured easily if you don’t watch every step and when it’s windy you could be blown off a ledge in an instant. We are well aware of this and have taken every precaution to ensure that this remains an adventurous, yet safe vacation. Kendal is never more than two steps from one of the three of us. She loves to run around, but waits for our signal to indicate that it’s safe for her to do so. I wonder what she’s thinking in her three year old brain about everything we’ve seen, because it’s hard for me to take it all in. One of the things that Kendal ensures that we do before every meal is to hold hands and pray. I love that she reminds us to do so no matter what else is happening. So for me, every single thing about this trip reflects Majesty, Light and God. I can’t wait to see what the rest of the trip holds for us!

There’s a First Time for Everything!

How many of your “firsts” do you remember?? We knew that we’d see a ton of new things on our trip to Utah, but I also believe that we all learned a little something about ourselves during Monday’s hike on the Angel’s Palace trail in Kodachrome Basin State Park.

It was a “first” that almost didn’t happen. A couple  we saw in the parking lot shared with us that the hike would be too steep and strenuous for Kendal to tackle and that the trail certainly wasn’t suited for the stroller we had just taken out of the SUV. But thankfully we went to the rest room before departing the area and met a different woman who believed the trail would be just fine for Kendal as long as we helped her when she needed it. So off we went on Kendal’s first hiking adventure. 

It didn’t begin all that well, with Kendal announcing every few steps that she was afraid, primarily of snakes and didn’t want to continue the hike. But we asked her to trust us and told her that we would protect her from anything bad.  

Soon after, with much encouragement and acknowledgement from Kim and Tim that she was doing an amazing job, Kendal became our ” hike leader”, fearless all of a sudden as she marched along while counting off “one, two, three, four” like a brave soldier. Make no mistake that while the trail was very well marked, it was by no means easy. There were steep uphill parts that on the way back down other hikers more experienced than we were chose to come down on their butts. We instead held hands or stood watch until each of us had tackled the tough parts.

   
I believe that Kendal learned that if she puts her best foot forward and leans on those who are there to support her, she can tackle anything. I believe that Tim and Kim shared a very special father / daughter moment as they walked the last 100 yards on the trail together. It was very high up and very narrow so Kendal and I watched from afar.  They took pictures of each other and pointed out amazing sights into the valley below. It was heartwarming to watch them. 

  
I learned that it’s never too late to conquer a fear. I’m not a big fan of heights but I really want to experience the adventures on this trip from every possible angle. So I too then went that last 100 yards and am ecstatic that I did. I saw things I would never have seen from my original vantage point. I believe Kendal’s first hike on our first full day in Utah set the stage for all of us to fully experience every extraordinary thing that awaits us, both on this trip and beyond!  

 

A Fellowship to Remember!

Three months ago in Charlottesville, I met a man named Eldon Hochstetler. Though I’m typically bad with names, his has been stuck in my head and heart because he was one of the most gentle souls I’d ever met. When he asked me if I’d be willing to come and speak to his group of  young workers at one of their monthly meetings at a nursing home, I instantly said I would. Last night was that night! 

I pride myself on researching in advance the places I’m scheduled to speak, but due to all of our vacation planning and packing I never got around to it, and in all honesty I’m glad I didn’t. I put the address in my GPS and headed off to Mountain View Nursing Home in Aroda, VA. I had thought it was close to Culpeper but it turns out it was at least 25 miles from there off a very winding and uphill road. 

When I finally got to the to the nursing home, it felt as if I was already on vacation!! I was literally on top of a mountain with a stunning view! After having spent more than two hours in traffic getting there, I sat in my car for more than two hours just taking in the view and unwinding.

I began to see some of the young people that I’d be speaking to walking around the property. I believed they were Amish or more likely Mennonite. I text Kim to say “this is going to be cool!” And Cool it was!! Inside and out Mountain View Nursing Home was gorgeous and welcoming! At 6:30pm I went inside to get prepared for my 7pm presentation. 

Eldon, who is the nursing home’s Administrator, came out to greet me with a big hug. Then moments later, many others greeted me as well. It was like an episode of The Waltons! So warm and genuine! It turns out that the employees of the nursing home are Mennonites from around the U.S. who apply and then are selected to work there as part of their “service to God”. They were some of the happiest and most committed workers ever.

Almost 50 workers and 15 family members of residents packed into what appeared to be a family room right off the kitchen. Everyone seemed to have a wonderful time. They were attentive, inquisitive, participatory and very appreciative! There were also about five women in the kitchen preparing something while listening to the presentation.

When the presentation was over as I was signing books for those who wanted them, Melanie Cogburn, a nurse with whom I’d been in email contact over the last few weeks announced that we’d all be sitting down for “fellowship” together. I had planned on being on that winding road by 8:15, but I wasn’t about to pass up the fellowship that had been prepared in my honor. 

We spent almost 45 minutes getting to know each other and eating and drinking everything they’d made from scratch, including my first ever Whoopie pie!! It was a time I’ll always treasure! Finally at 9pm I began my ninety minute trek home. I was sorry to leave, because the entire night was totally fulfilling and peaceful. I felt renewed though my actual vacation has yet to begin. I knew I wouldn’t get a lot of sleep last night due to the early hour I have to get up, but after an evening of genuine love, service and sharing with new friends, sleep is truly overrated. I’m so grateful to Eldon and his group for giving me a fellowship to remember! 

  

“Sooooo, Black people go camping??!!”…

YEP, I was actually asked that question this morning. Who knew that a trip to the store to get last minute camping supplies would result in a reflection and discussion on vacation time and race.

With everything going on in this country today, the last thing I intended to do today was write anything having to do with race, because I think plenty has been written on that topic of late. But I feel compelled to share this story. As my very friendly and observant African-American cashier rang up my items, she noticed that I had all the ingredients in my cart to make S’mores. She smiled at me and asked “are you going to make S’mores on the gril?” I responded, “Actually no, our family is going camping in Utah and will be making them with our granddaughter over a campfire.”. The cashier stopped ringing up my items, turned and looked at me and asked that question “sooooo, Black people go camping??”. She stared at me, waiting for my answer. “Ummmm, Yes, they do… well, at least our family does”. Her next question was “so you sleep in a tent and everything?”. I shared that we have a camper. “Nawwwwwwwww, get outta here!!” she said. So I showed her the photo of our camper. She squealed “wow, check it out!!!” She then called over other cashiers, who weren’t busy given the early hour I was shopping. At once I became a spectacle. The other cashiers ooohhed and ahhhed as well and agreed with my cashier that they’d never known any black people who’d ever been camping.One cashier asked, “You like camping?… Did you used to be a Girl Scout or something?” I said that I had been a Girl Scout as a kid, but that I couldn’t afford to go on the camping trips they sponsored.

I found our discussion so interesting, because this very week I was most intrigued by a posting on the National Park Service’s Facebook page in which they announced a new initiative created in attempt to get more African-Americans to visit the National Parks. The article shared that in spite of the massive growth in visitors to the parks over the last few years (292 million people in 2014 alone), African-Americans continue to be the most underepresented demographic visiting the parks. In attempt to raise these numbers, they’ve enlisted the help of several retired African-American NFL players who are avid campers and hikers, including one who has hiked down to the bottom of the Grand Canyon several times. I thought the initiative was a great one, as did several others who commented on the FB posting. BUT some of the other comments were personally heartbreaking and disturbing. One person wrote “who cares if they come, it’s a stupid initiative, spend the money on something valuable”. Another wrote “We don’t need them messing up our National Parks like they do their neighborhoods”. I stopped reading the comments at that point.

Going back to my discussion with the cashiers, one of them asked me if I ever see other black people camping. I was very honest and explained that last summer was our first foray back into camping after a 20 year absence. I said that we rarely saw others who looked like us when were were tent camping years ago, and since we purchased our camper last summer and camped almost every weekend, we only saw one interracial couple. I added that not seeing others who looked like us hadn’t disssuaded us from going, and that the fellow campers we’ve encountered on our trips have been beyond friendly. They looked astonished! I wasn’t sure if it was because they were stunned that we could actually have fun with people who are different from us, or that those different from us would actually be welcoming to us, or that we wouldn’t want to spend our vacation time just with people who look like us. That seemed like a great place to end the discussion. As I left the store, all of the ladies yelled “have a great trip” and I yelled back “thanks, we will”.

On the ride home from the store, I thought a lot about my discussion with the cashiers. I am very aware that we are probably going to be very much in the minority this summer wherever we go in the camper. I am also aware that we did two things over the past couple of months that we did very consciously. First, we intentionally removed the word “bullet” from our camper that just happened to be the model name of our camper. I never liked the word because I’m not a huge fan of guns and bullets for obvious reasons. The second thing we did was to purchase a Ford Expedition to tow our camper, as it is safer and a vehicle intended for towing travel trailers like ours. What is significant is that we traded in a Cadillac Escalade for the Ford. If we experienced anything unusual this past camping season, I’d say we got some interesting looks as we drove up with the Escalade towing our camper. I think some campers were initially afraid (due to sterotypical movies and videos) that drug dealers had invaded their campground. It probably didn’t matter to anyone that Tim used the vehicle for his sedan service business. Thankfully, once we would say hello people would seem to relax and dispel the notion that we weren’t good people. Now that we have a more “camping-like” vehicle, I’m guessing we’ve erased one stereotypical notion about African-Americans and Cadillacs.

I wonder what my Mom would say if she understood that Tim and I are camping again. I think she’d be thrilled. She loved taking us when we were kids to the National Parks in the DC area, and would be excited that we were continuing what she started. But when I think back to my grandmother Alberta, she’d agree more with my cashiers from this morning!! I’ll never forget the very first time I announced that Tim and I were going camping! My grandmother was terrified for us. She said “they have bears in those woods, and you’d be their first target because they’ve probably never had dark meat before!!!!” Lord have mercy!!!! But we went anyway and never had a bad encounter with a bear, and we hope to continue that trend this trip!!

So here’s to the Veney / Sewards road trip in our Memory Maker that begins this Thursday!! I pray that we have adventures that we will never forget, and that we will meet other adventurous people who can share in some of the awe-inspiring moments with us. I also pray that our race won’t be a factor at all.