Our First New Years

Last New Years, Shane and I were going to leave a day later than my parents to head to Connecticut. I was excited to head up, and had an audio book at the ready for us. That morning, full of vim and vigor, we packed the car, but by the time we were thirty minutes on the road I was doubled over begging Shane to turn back. I had gotten the flu. So we spent New Years at my parents home, Shane kindly bringing me ginger ale and crackers and I really don’t remember much of the first day.

This year could not be the same! I doubled down on cinnamon and vitamin C and felt confident I would not be too sick to miss out on one of my favorite traditions of visiting my New England family. Family that could now be called our New England family.

So up we drove, listening to the audio book intended for last year, The Bride Collector by Ted Dekker. We left a half an hour before my parents, but by the end of the journey, they were following us as I navigated around traffic and eventually landed us on 95, though not before we passed through the town of Bethel, Connecticut, where we passed three bookstores. Three. Also a library. So many books!

When we arrived, we nestled in to my aunts home and the first night enjoyed hot buttered rums. The next evening was our annual gift exchange. It is amazing that we still keep up this gift exchange despite all us cousins being grown, starting families, and new little ones running around.

I think it is less about the presents and more about the presence. We have one night we spend all together, we blame it on the gifts, but in the end it is the togetherness, the food, the laughs that seem to keep this good thing going.

Many of the gifts, at least on the woman’s end, are handmade. This year, an end table I refurbished was bought by one cousin and given to another, meanwhile I painted a sign that read “Merry Christmas” on one side, and “Count Your Blessings” on the other for my aunt. In previous years, my dad has handmade benches, each year giving one to another cousin of mine. One of my aunts is great at knitting, so her talent is often given as a gift. It is this giving of your own gift, ones creativity or talent, that makes the gift giving so unique in our family.

With the men not often making something, it is fun to see their thoughtfulness. Honestly, to date, a gift card has not entered the gift exchange. This year, my cousin Meg’s husband had Shane’s name and got him a throwing ax. His reasoning was simple, he likes sharp things and he likes throwing sharp things, so why wouldn’t Shane? Shane loved it and got to explain how he has thrown axes at competitions and this started a whole new level of stories to be shared.

We have no price cap. We have no limitations. We have no expectations. We just appreciate what is given, because it is so often given out of love and joy, it isn’t some obligatory act. The only rule, get something for your name gift, for the person Kim’s computer randomly lines you up with. And it works.

“You don’t choose your family. They are God’s gift to you, as you are to them.” -Desmond Tutu

Here Comes the Sun

I can officially say I have experienced a full solar eclipse.

My dad called me mid summer to tell me that he was planning a quick trip to Kentucky to view the full solar eclipse, and he wondered if Shane and I wanted to go. Honestly, I was in the middle of laundry or something when he called and I didn’t put much thought into my, “Well, maybe…” answer. He called a little while later and asked if I had given it any more thought, and I had a cartoon slap the forehead moment, because I had really forgotten about the request, but I quickly looked at my calendar and said I would join, but Shane wouldn’t be able to take the day off so wouldn’t be joining. I had one condition, I needed to make it back to Pennsylvania basically the day of the eclipse because the next day I had to set choreography on students.

So off my parents and I went to Kentucky, stopping at the ever amazing Grandpa’s Cheese Barn along the way for some snacks and staying quite a ways from our actual destination because that was the closest hotel room my dad could find for the event. We heard that traffic may be intense because of the swarms of people who wanted to view the solar eclipse totality. Because of this, my dad had chosen a town off the beaten path, Russellville, Kentucky.

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They’re library was set up with sunscreen and information stands with buckets of ice and water. There was a map at the front door where you could put a sticker representing where you came from. They had a shuttle that was taking people to the library, but we just parked at the grocery store next to it. All through the parking lot and into the library lawn people were set up with their cameras or hammocks or lawn chairs, everyone getting ready for the main event.

We got there early, as though to “save our spot”, even though it was happening in the sky and it wasn’t like someone was going to block our view like a tall person sitting in front of you at the theatre. So with our car parked and chairs set up we took a walk through the town.

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Well worth the visit, Russellville boasted quite a history, a cute little park in the town center, historical buildings, some cute shops, and it was alive with people excited to see this once in a lifetime event. It was a sleepy, sort of tired place that the mainstream had forgotten until this solar eclipse event.Eclipse-6
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Besides the image at the top of this post, I won’t include any images of the sun in totality because there were plenty of professionals who got awesome photo’s of that. I was more interested in the reactions of the crowd and filmed a lot of that. It felt like you were at a baseball game, all cheering together for one team and a great play, but way more surreal.  It was like dusk the whole way around the horizon, which just messed with your comprehension of what time of day it was, and it actually got cooler outside! It was such a neat experience that I am so glad to have taken the time to see.

After such a thrilling afternoon, we grabbed a Sonic milkshake and began our trek home, and what a trek it was. Immediately we hit traffic, everyone was leaving Kentucky in the dust and headed home. What road construction we hit the day before and sailed through brought everyone to a screeching halt and taking back roads was barely a remedy with all their twist and turns. Our original route was going to be us going north then traveling east, but we had to change that to traveling east then heading up north. My fingers were zooming in and out on my Google maps and I was giving directions to my dad to avoid “red” areas where there was no movement in the traffic. It quickly became a nightmare, and a trip that should’ve been eight hours literally doubled.

Because I had to get back to teach, we absolutely could not stop, but we kept watching our arrival time change. You know those dreams where you are trying your hardest to get somewhere but you can’t reach the door even though you can see it and there is that panic that sets in that you may never reach it? Yeah. That is how it felt. We all so longed to stop too, because we went past Abraham Lincoln’s birthplace, his childhood hometown, a town called Horse Cave a few miles north of Mammoth Cave National Park, and one of those campgrounds where they have those teepees you can stay in. So many cool places, but we had to keep going.

We made it home around four, maybe five in the morning. Honestly, it was such a blur, I showered then and figured I might as well get a good nap in before I taught. I made it through the day of teaching, and was able to tell the kids that the day before I had been in Kentucky watching the solar eclipse, and that is something I wouldn’t trade for a full eight hours of sleep!

Ricketts Glen, the Almost National Park

I happened to stumble across Ricketts Glen when researching “things to see in PA” for a Christmas present I was putting together for Shane. I knew it was important that he and I make “He and I Time” in our new marriage, so although not married last Christmas, I gave him a gift of various parks I basically made a report out of that we could do short weekend trips to. The only thing missing was the MLA citations.

Most of his vacation days would be used up on our honeymoon, then what was left over was to be split with his family vacation and time off at Christmas time for my family and muzzleloader, so these had to be trips I researched had to fit into three days. Out of all the places I looked into, Ricketts became the first park we traveled to together that neither of us had ever seen before. Okay, so technically Leah joined us on our travel there. Actually, to get even more specific, she and I were in her car belting out musical tunes and Shane followed us, after all, Ricketts Glen was on her way home, so she might as well join us for a hike.

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And what a hike it was! We hit the big one right off the bat, the Falls Trail that guided you down stone stairs and over wooden bridges to view some of the most picturesque waterfalls you could ever imagine. There were a few options for starting this trail, and we began ours from the Lake Rose parking lot and traveled counterclockwise on this 3.4 mile circular trail, it was a suggestion we had seen on line, and it said by doing this you’d be taking some of the steeper parts descending rather than climbing, and it did seem that way. Our other option would have been to begin the hike on the Kitchen Creek Falls Trail to take us to the loop of all the waterfalls, but it would add a few miles and therefor time.

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I won’t go on about each fall, and I’m not going to post a picture showing each one of the 17 waterfalls featured on that trail alone. You really can’t grasp their splendor in the pictures, and it is something you just have to see for yourself. It is crazy to think that this gem of a park was almost a national park, but now Pennsylvania gets to call it its own. Something Pennsylvania should be proud of! It was neat to learn that bit of history about this place too.

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We really hit it out of the park the first evening going on this hike. The next day was filled with other walks, but the seeing all the falls was definitely my favorite part. It was a hike that you could do multiple times on one weekend trip and still see something new.

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Clarion River Float

Last weekend was filled with waterfalls and small hikes, and this weekend was spent floating down the Clarion River. Our starting point was Ridgeway, Pennsylvania, and we pulled out at the Halton bridge. It is a two day trip in which we always camp overnight at Pine Tree Island. Shane and I were two of a handful of adults on a youth groups trip.

I have been going on this same trip since I was a small child, nestled in the middle of my parents canoe munching on trail mix. Then I got to enjoy the trip with friends as a member of my childhood churches youthgroup. Through college I still wet along as a sort of leader because we never had an abundance of female leaders on the float. I still go as that female leader, and Shane, this year and last, joined us.

I love the Clarion River float with the youth group. I still live for capture the flag in the dark and don’t mind running full speed in the dark woods. I love sitting around the campfire enjoying everyone’s company. I’m blessed that I can still be a part of this long tradition, and love that Shane can come and enjoy and help out too.

Sunday morning, one of the church’s interns gave a brief message about God creating the beauty around us, and how even when we are right in the thick of it, sometimes we miss the general splendor. We forget how wonderfully creative our God is, and we don’t always make the connection that this creative all-powerful, most powerful being loves us. It really is a breathtaking thought.

God, the creator of the universe, whose creativity surrounds us, loves me and loves you.

It made me think deeper into this idea of God’s presence and the idea of kavanah. Kavanah means “intention” or “direction of the heart”. Each time we pray, we should have this intention or direction of the heart, because as rabbis put it, “A prayer without kavanah is like a body with out a soul.” I read that Abraham Heschel described it as an “attentiveness to God” or the ability to “sense the preciousness of being able to pray”.

That idea of kavanah just so matched the awh that the intern was speaking of. Every morning we get up, not always acknowledging that everything around us was made possible by God, and we are blessed to speak with him. That time we share in prayer is precious, is beautiful, and should be a time we are attentive to him too and not just assume it is me time.

We floated the last day in the pouring rain. Rain on the river creates a different kind of silence than any other. One where your imagination can run wild, but also one where there seems to be a buffer between you and the worlds distractions. The outlook for this week appears to be many more days of rain, and I don’t know if that is how the weather looks in your area, but if it is, and if you can, crack open a window, let the breeze flow in, and let that sense of kavanah fill you.

Luke 19:40 “I tell you,” he replied, “if they keep quiet, the stones will cry out.”

The Pace of Nature

“Adopt the pace of nature: her secret is patience.” -Ralph Waldo Emerson

This weekend was one where Shane and I could sit back and adopt that pace. Back before the wedding bells, during our counseling and through books and conversations I had, it was made pretty clear that Shane and I should carve out time for just us. Knowing we both find relaxation in nature, I gave Shane as a Christmas present a packet of information I had gathered on state parks and sites neither of us had been to. This was the weekend that I would get to work out my planning skills and Shane and I could get away together.

Our spring has been hectic, but not by any fault of our own. It just seems that the pace of life really took off on us. Before we got married, things seemed to drag on as I planned what centerpieces should look like, he picked out our honeymoon location, and we figured out groomsmen outfits. Then we said “I do” and time has gotten away from us. This spring has really been a time of learning for us, and there isn’t a pause button on life to help us get our bearings, just each others hand to hold as we keep moving forward.

Even the week leading up to our little getaway was jam packed. Leah came down for a visit getting in on Tuesday, a day I was still working, then Wednesday she and I started our morning with a Bible study, a craft store stop, then off we went to the zoo followed by a concert that had been meant for her and Scott. The next day was a slow morning that included the gym, grocery shopping for the camping trip, then an evening of just enjoying everyones company and some ice cream. Friday was some last minute packing, a few more business calls for Shane, then it was off to Ricketts Glen State Park to get in a hike before Leah had to head back to Connecticut.

Back at home, thinking back to the weekend, part of me wishes we could’ve been there longer, but looking around, I know I can’t suspend reality for forever. There is so much to do at our little homestead, but being out in nature is a good reminder that great things take time. Trees don’t touch the sky in one morning, rocks carved out by water don’t happen overnight, even a good breakfast burrito cooked by the campfire need not be rushed.

“Let your hope keep you joyful, be patient in your troubles, and pray at all times.” Romans 12:12