Cole, Alex, & Anna Grace

Thursday, September 6, 2012

A Little More Than We Bargained For

We decided to take one last camping trip of the summer for our Labor Day weekend. Right after school let out on Friday, we headed out to Tallulah Gorge State Park.

 The gorge is 750 feet feet deep and has beautiful waterfalls and gorgeous scenery. One of the most exciting things to do once you hike into the inside of the gorge is to brave the very long and slippery sliding rock at the end of the trail.

We decided to attempt this hike Saturday morning. They only issue 100 passes per day, so early in morning we showed up at the ranger's office at the beginning of the trail to get our permits. The rangers inspected our shoes to be sure we had proper hiking apparel and warned us to bring plenty of water. They also said that they did not recommend taking a 4 year old into the gorge, but we could turn around and head back if it became too difficult.

  The beginning of the hike was quite deceiving. We started inside the air conditioned Interpretive Center where we wound our way down long ramps toward the bottom of the building. From there, we headed outside where we walked on a cushioned trail made of recycled tire material. We were feeling really good at this point! The views from the overlooks were gorgeous and the air felt cool as we looked down at the rushing water.

From there, we found the stairs- 1062 of them to be exact!
But, we were going down and it was not too bad. Anna Grace was a little slow, but we had all day to tackle this hike. The boys waited patiently every time they got too far ahead and Anna Grace did not complain.
The kids loved this suspension bridge that we had to cross. It was very bouncy and was stretched high up in the air above the rushing water.
Finally, after a series of more steps, we crossed through a gate and the really hard part began! We started by crossing over huge boulders at the base of the river and then we had to climb over more boulders to cross over the river. We crossed very slowly and carefully holding onto Anna Grace and sometimes we even had to carry her from rock to rock.
We stopped half way across for a little rest and a drink of water.
This is a picture of what we had to cross. Now that we had made it to the river and crossed to the other side, we had to pick our way along the bank. The path was really rough and was covered in huge rocks.

  At one point we had to crab crawl our way across this huge rock!
The rock was way too slick and steep to try to walk across, so Mike and I kept Anna Grace close and held onto her tightly and she bravely crab crawled along with us. The boys loved every minute!
Finally, after we had conquered the huge slanted rock, we thought that we had surely made it past the really rough parts. After all, how much harder could it get? We continued to pick our way along the edge of the river only to find that there really was no trail at all, but just large boulders that we had to crawl over and around.
Just when we were thinking that we needed to turn around and head back the way we came, we rounded a bend to see the huge sliding rock that we had been searching for. The slick rock had a shallow pool at the top and another huge, deep pool at the bottom. There was a long nylon rope in the water at the bottom of the rock that people were using to climb back up towards the top. Alex wasted no time in changing to his water shoes and running off to slide.
Cole took a while to get comfortable with the water, but he eventually started to slide too.
Anna Grace was not too happy that I would not let her slide, so she and I headed to the top so that she could wade around in the shallow pool. However, what I did not realize was that there was a very slippery slime in the bottom of the top pool so when I went into the water to help her, I quickly fell on my rear! Unlike the kids, I was not wearing a swimsuit, so my clothes were soaked!

  The kids had a blast sliding down the rocks and playing in the water. We had a picnic lunch from our backpack and then it was time to head back the way that we came. However, one of the other hikers told us about another trail that was on the other side of the river that was easier than the one that we had just traveled. The only tricky part would be getting to the other side of the river. I was already wet from my fall, so I figured I could just carry Anna on my hip through the deep parts and carefully pick my way across avoiding the slick parts of the rocks. Mike put my camera and his phone into one of the leftover sandwich bags from our lunch and tied all of our shoes onto the backpack. He lifted the backpack up over his head and waded across. Of course, the boys beat us across so they played while they waited for the rest of us to catch up.

We changed back into our shoes and started up the "easier" trail. However, we very quickly realized that this trail was shorter because it went straight up the gorge and was made up of nothing but fallen rocks! Anna Grace was physically unable to stretch and climb up most of it!  Whoever told us about this "easier" route was clearly playing some kind of joke!
And to make matters worse, we had told others hikers about our new route and many others had decided to follow us out!
Mike and I took turns carrying Anna Grace (mostly Mike). We reminded ourselves that we had the whole rest of the day and we could rest every few minutes. Thankfully, we still had plenty of water, so we just took our time. After what seemed like an eternity, we made it to the top of the gorge! We still had a long walk back to our campground, but at least we were finally on even ground!

By the time we made it back to our camper, we were exhausted and our muscles were aching! I think we will always remember our hike down into the Tallulah Gorge. We had a great time on our adventure, but had we known it was going to be such a difficult journey we would have waited until Anna Grace was older.

Sunday, August 12, 2012

Saying Goodbye

You know when all 3 cell phones in the house are ringing at 1:00 in the morning that something horrible has happened.  In the middle of the hustle and bustle and excitement of the beginning of the new school year, we learned that our sweet 17 year old nephew had tragically taken his own life.  Jeremy was a very troubled teenager and lost his will to live.  Even though he had been having difficulties, it was still a shock to us all.  Jeremy had such a sweet soul and just about every memory that I have of him involves him playing with or holding one of his little cousins.  He loved little kids and even though he struggled so much, he had such a gentleness about him. 

The funeral for Jeremy was yesterday and his 18th birthday was today.  We knew that it would be yet another terrible day for the family.  However, one of Jeremy's friends came up with the idea to gather friends and family together at the grave site to release balloons  (Cole and Alex were both worried about the effect that releasing balloon would have on the environment but I assured them that this one time it would be ok and we would do extra recycling to make up for it :-) ) 

Mike's brother who was grief striken just a day earlier found a renewed energy and a purpose to keep him busy. He brought banners and huge tanks of helium and one of the teenagers brought a birthday cake.

 It was an amazing sight to see people coming from all corners of the graveyard towards Jeremy's grave with arms lifted high carrying balloons.

 Family, friends, and people from all over the community gathered and wrote messages on the balloons.  We celebrated Jeremy's life, and finally, we all sang "Happy Birthday" to sweet Jeremy and released the balloons into the air. 

Please pray for our family during the coming days and weeks- especially for Jeremy's parents and sister who have a very difficult road ahead of them as they have to learn to live without Jeremy in their lives.  Please pray for God to give us the right words when Cole and Alex ask questions about their cousin's death.  This is the first time that they have dealt with the death of a family member.  We just hope that something good can come from this tragedy.  God is amazing and we pray that He will use Jeremy's story to reach others. 

Thursday, July 26, 2012

Sand and Waves

Now that summer is winding down for us and the school year is quickly approaching, we took a beach vacation with my mom and step-dad. They rented a house just south of Myrtle Beach for us to spend the week. At first, the kids and I were the only ones to join them, but later in the week, Mike surprised the kids by showing up late one night.

We spent most of the time playing in the sand and the water. 

The kids got new boogie boards and even Anna Grace learned to ride the waves with the help of her big brother and Daddy.

We had a really relaxing week of just spending time at the beach and then playing in the pool whenever we needed a change of scenery.  There were lots of games of "Monkey in the Middle" that even my mom and step-dad joined in on. 

We ate most of our meals at the beach house, but we did eat out a few times.  We loved this really great place to eat at Myrles Inlet that had a long boardwalk connecting lots of fun restaurants. 

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

Gifts to the Orphanage

Just a quick post today.
The kids and I have been working on putting together a box of gifts to send to Anna Grace's orphanage. Last summer, I decided that each summer we will send some things to the children in the orphanage along with some pictures and an update on Anna Grace. We had fun gathering together new clothing and toys for the little babies and Cole gathered some of his little Bakugon toys for the older boys in the orphanage. We are really hoping to be able to go back to visit Anna Grace's province and orphanage someday, and we hope to keep a relationship open in the meantime.

Monday, July 9, 2012

Camping, 4th of July, and More Camping

We have been enjoying summer in our camper during the last few weekends. We have to come home during the week so that Mike can go to work, but when the weekend comes around, we are back off in our camper. The weather has been so hot, that we have been looking for cooler weather in the mountains. The kids have enjoyed splashing in the cool mountain streams and we have found some really amazing waterfalls.
Alex is the most adventurous of our kids (though Anna Grace would do more if I would let her) and he is the first to try a new sliding rock, rope swing, or swimming hole.
Once Cole gets brave enough to join in the fun, he has a great time, but he typically watches the fun for a while before he gets up the nerve to join in.
Both boys really had a great time swinging from this long rope into the cold mountain river water.
Our campsite was right next to a little stream stocked with rainbow trout. Mike thought that it was really cool that he could throw little bits of hashbrowns or whatever he was cooking and the trout would come right up to the edge of the stream to eat.
We had to leave our camper at the campground to go home for the week so that Mike could go to work, but we still had a good time during the week celebrating the 4th of July.
A local business in our town hosted a 4th of July celebration at the park, so we packed a picnic supper and a big blanket to eat and watch the parade and fireworks.

At first, Anna Grace was scared of the fireworks. She has a fear of all loud noises including the flushing of public toilets. Last year, we skipped fireworks with her all togther. But, after a few minutes, she came around and decided that the fireworks were not so scary.
Finally, when the work week was over for Mike, we headed back to our camper in the mountains. This time, Mike's parents joined us at our campground. We were able to spend time with them and eat meals together in between our adventures.
We started the weekend off with a hike to a 100 foot waterfall. The hike was really long and very hilly, but the views and the cold mountain water at the end made it worth the trip!
Anna Grace had fun trying to catch the little minnows swimming along the edge of the river while the boys climbed on the rocks and played in the deeper holes at the base of the waterfalls.
One of the falls that we went to was supposed to be a sliding rock. It turned out to be a short slide followed by a huge drop off into a deep water hole! Alex took one look at the waterfall and said, "I'm doing it!" In order to get to the top of the water fall, he had to scale the side of it hanging onto a long rope. Mike had to climb behind Alex and give him directions, but it did not deter him.
He was so proud of himself when he made it to the top!
As soon as he landed, he wanted to go again!
On Saturday, we took the kids on a little tubing trip down the more calm part of the river. I don't have any pictures of that trip since I don't have a waterproof camera, but all 3 kids had fun and it was much more relaxing than our Friday hike! These are just a few pictures of the kids playing in the creek around our camper.
Mike and I really hope that our kids will remember the fun times that we are having in our camper and enjoying the beautiful world that God gave us.