Sunday, September 29, 2019

To North and Back Again

Two years ago, Ed asked the children where they'd like to go on a family trip. They chose Niagara Falls, a place neither Ed or I had ever been. Our vacation plans were abandoned when Ed was diagnosed with cancer a few weeks later, but after Ed's death, the children and I dared to dream again of a trip to Canada.

Our plan was to stay at state parks and tent. We spent three days camping in Virginia to see if we could manage tenting without Ed. I knew an extended trip with six children would be challenging, but figured we'd either rise to the challenge and have a bonding experience OR I'd lose my sanity and stagger home early. 

Then my brother offered us his RV. My children have fond memories of the year Ed rented an RV for a week-long trip, but I was not comfortable driving a RV. Siblings to the rescue. My youngest brother Vaun offered to drive for us. It was one more time this year that I had to swallow my pride and accept help, but by the end of the trip, I wondered how I ever thought I could survive a long trip as the only adult. 

We left early Tuesday morning. The children loved the extra room and flexibility that traveling in an RV brings. 

Our first lunch on the road.

We set up camp at Four Mile Creek State Park, NY right on Lake Ontario.

When we go camping, we always eat as many meals as possible over the campfire. I was glad Vaun was willing to join our tradition. 

We thought about doing some hiking at the park, but we knew we were only about fifteen minutes away from Niagara Falls. We couldn't wait one more day.

We found free RV parking on the far end of Goat Island. This island straddles the Niagara River between the American and Canadian falls. In preparation for our trip, I had talked to many friends who had visited the Falls recently. Without exception they had all stayed on the Canadian side of the falls (where the best views are found) and all mentioned how commercialized it was.

So I was pleasantly surprised to find that Goat Island, on the New York side of the Falls, had been kept very wild looking. We walked out to the Three Sisters Island and watched the pulsing rapids of Niagara River. In the distance we could see the mist from Horseshoe Falls. 

And then we rounded the corner and stood on the brink of the falls, watching millions of gallons of water dash over the falls every minute. The power of the water is indescribable.

We spent the rest of the evening walking Goat Island, enjoying sights of all three falls as the lights illuminated the falls. Since we were above the falls, we couldn't get the full view, but the feeling of power unforgettable. 

We started early  the next morning, parking at Fort Niagara and taking the free shuttle the rest of the day to various spots. The Niagara Power Visa was our first stop.

 This free science museum is provided by the New York Power Authority. I didn't expect much, but figured it wouldn't hurt to stop since it was free. 

We spent two hours enjoying the interactive exhibits and could have stayed longer. I've spent money for science museums that were not nearly this high of quality. And we almost had the whole museum (and their helpful staff) all to ourselves. 

View of the hydro-electric dams (Canada's on the left and New York's on the right.)

Next on our list was to visit the falls up close. We went back to Goat Island to Cave of the Winds. We were given ponchos and sandals and taken by elevator down to the base of Bridal Veil Falls. 

Here was built a series of platforms and stairs where we could climb and enjoy the power and spray of the falls. The Hurricane Deck was the favorite of my oldest four children. They were soaked. 

This was the only tickets we purchased during our stay at Niagara Falls, but it was a highlight to the children.

We planned to travel into Canada the next day, but we kept looking across the water at the Canadian side of the river. Finally we decided to just walk across the bridge and say we walked to Canada. 

This was the first time any of us visited our neighbors in the north (even though Vaun and I were both in several other countries half-way around the world). By this time the little girls were exhausted and the sun was hot, so after taking in the view from the bridge, we didn't even touch our feet to land and headed back through the US customs. (My children were all young enough they didn't need passports to cross the border but they did need birth certificates.) 

It was a rather quiet ride back on the shuttle as most of the children fell asleep. They revived when we stirred up the campfire and grilled chicken. For the second night in a row, it rained. I listened to the rain on the roof of the RV and thanked God that I wasn't in a tent.

The next morning we stopped at Whirlpool State Park and took a walk along the Niagara River. If only we had more time. We could have spent hours here. But we wanted to officially visit the Canadian side of the falls.

Unfortunately, by the time we got through customs and found parking, the light mist was turning into a heavy drizzle. 

The view of Horseshoe Falls (on the right) and American Falls (on the left) was obscured by the rain. After seeing what we could, we decided to move on. 

Our next stop was Welland Canal. Obviously boats can't go up the Niagara River so the canal shuttles traffic between Lake Erie to Lake Ontario. At the St. Catherine's Museum, we learned history of the area. (Museum admission by donation.) 

The museum also has a viewing area of the canal and one of the locks. We arrived just in time to see a large cargo ship go through the locks.

Our destination for the night was the Valens Lake Conservation Area. This park was our favorite campground of the trip. We didn't have any success fishing, but the campground had been carved out of woods with barely enough trees removed to park the RV. This meant lots of privacy between campsites. Even though we were only a short walk from the lake, the trees hid the view of the campsites from the lake making the lake seem very private. 

We watched the moon rise over the lake and only then went back to our campsite to build our fire and make our supper. 

Hanging out around the campfire the next morning was delightful. Most mornings Vaun made us chai. What a perfect mix of a Middle Eastern drink with Ontario scenery and my favorite Pennsylvania people.

We had chosen the Valens area to camp since it wasn't too far from some of my Ontario friends. Throughout the day, several friends joined us at the park.

Julianne and her boys joined us in the morning. Sharon brought her family in the afternoon.

Leona's family joined us for the evening. While we moms gabbed about books, motherhood, and homeschooling my children made new Canadian friends. Vaun was a good sport at chatting with my friend's husbands. 

The time we spent with people on this trip was a highlight. Some of these ladies I had never met in person and real-life connections are so much better than email friendships.

Rain threatened all day, but only really rained when we were making mountain pies. Thankfully the pavilion at the park had this huge cooker available.

Saturday we enjoyed another campfire breakfast and leisurely packed the RV. We headed around Lake Ontario, waving to Toronto. We stopped for lunch at a beautiful park by the lake where we were amazed at the cultural diversity. It was obvious that immigration is much higher in this area and I would have loved to hear the stories from the others who were enjoying the park.

Our children were eager to arrive at my friend Regena's home. Their family had been to our home several times so our children didn't need time to warm up. I didn't see much out of them for the rest of the evening.

The next day we traveled with Regena's family to church. The hour-long trip wound through gorgeous woods and lakes. What a way to prepare for worship.

We spent the rest of Sunday with Patricia's family. It was special to share our stories since the last time we met as they also have experienced death inf their family.

I had met Patricia before, but not her children, but our children weren't strangers for long. The beautiful setting of their farm drew the children in. 

On Monday morning I woke up in the RV back at Regena's house. This was the view of the river across the road from their house.

The boys didn't waste time after breakfast getting a canoe in the water.

I spent the day enjoying friendship while doing normal Monday tasks of cooking and laundry.

We enjoyed the famous French-Candian poutine that evening.

This dish includes French fries with cheese curds and gravy. Other toppings such as bacon, sausage, peppers, and onions were also available. The result was absolutely delicious.

On Tuesday our friends took us to Kingsport to Fort Henry. 

We enjoyed learning the history of the fort. It was interesting to hear history from a British/Canadian point of view instead of the American perspective which I've read in history books.

After lunch we hiked to Landon Bay Overlook. This is in the Thousand Islands region of the St Lawrence River. I tried not to watch my boys scramble down these rocks.

Most good things have to come to an end. We said good-bye to our friends in Ontario and crossed the river into the US. 

We set up camp at Wellesley Island State Park. The Thousand Island's region has many New York State Parks to choose from. We picked the closest to our route and were not disappointed. 

Very few other campers shared the park with us that night, but I was told that the summer can be crowded. 

The boys got up early and, with some hints from a fellow camper, finally had some fishing success with this 14-inch bass.

Sizzling fish made a perfect last campfire breakfast. We would have loved to stay longer, but home was calling. We were nearly to the Pennsylvania line when the RV began making ominous engine noises and losing power. We shuffled off the interstate and found a repair shop. They said they didn't work on large motors, and it was after 5:00 anyway. After numerous phone calls, we decided that all the shops in this small town were closed. After talking to my brother who owned the RV, we decided to see if we could get closer to home. 

I ran into the grocery store and restocked our food in case we were stranded in the RV for a few meals and we stumbled toward home. It was a long night. The children soon tucked into their beds. We avoided the interstate and limped through tiny Pennsylvania towns wondering if this was where the engine would totally stop. It guzzled down oil at an alarming rate, but a little after 3:00 we pulled into our driveway. The children all woke and staggered to their beds except the five-year-old who never woke until morning.

Many miles, many friends, many smokey campfires, many answered prayers, and a memorable family trip.

And just a bonus...

Three tips for an amazing vacation (said tongue-in-cheek)

1. Homeschool your children so you can vacation without crowds in lovely September weather.

2. Build friendships with those who live in scenic areas so you soak in glorious views mixed with sweet fellowship.

3. Make sure you have a brother twenty years younger than yourself who has a servant's heart. 

Tuesday, September 24, 2019

The Shunammite Woman - A Woman of Hospitality

We've been home from our delightful family trip to New York and Ontario for nearly a week. I want to share some of the highlights with you, but I still feel like I'm catching up. So I'm going to share an article I wrote a year or more ago for my series on Proverbs 31. 

The Shunammite Woman – A Woman of Hospitality

She perceiveth that her merchandise is good: her candle goeth not out by night. Proverbs 31:18

I'll leave the light on for you.” Whether we are arriving home late or planning to visit an unfamiliar place, those few words speak of a caring person who is expecting our arrival.

In his years as a traveling preacher in Israel, Elisha met with various responses. In one town the youth mocked his baldness. But in the town of Shunem, he was always welcomed to one particular home for a meal. Since Elisha often traveled through their area this Shunammite woman asked her husband if they could build a little guest room for Elisha.

I can imagine the Shunammite's joy in preparing the room with freshly washed linens, a warm blanket, and a bowl of dried fruit. The room contained a bed, a table, a stool, and a candle; nothing lavish or fancy but comfortable and adequate. Surely Elisha appreciated the privacy of his own space to study and rest instead of sleeping in a crowded inn or camping under a tree.

Jesus warned against giving hospitality to be rewarded. (Luke 14:12-14) We gain heavenly treasure when we serve those who cannot return the favor. 

If I give hospitality for what I can get back, I'm likely to be disappointed. No one may notice the effort I made to wash the windows or try a fabulous new cheesecake recipe. The Shunammite didn't expect Elisha to return the invitation. She simply noticed a need and filled it. But God blessed her abundantly for her service. Elisha noticed her barrenness and promised she would have a son. Years later, after her son died of an illness, Elisha brought him back to life. “And whatsoever ye do, do it heartily, as to the Lord, and not unto men; Knowing that of the Lord ye shall receive the reward of the inheritance: for ye serve the Lord Christ.” (Col 3:23-24)

At least five times in the New Testament we are commanded to show hospitality. Too often I confuse hospitality with entertaining. I may think that hospitality means a lavish meal, a lovely table, and a spotless house. Nothing is wrong with any of those things, but they are not necessary for hospitality. 

Far too often my children have heard me bark orders when company is coming. In trying to impress my guests, I become impatient and frustrated. God's love may shine more brightly through smudged windows and a simple meal—at least to my own children.

Hospitality is not limited to company meals and overnight guests. Hospitality is God's love demonstrated in our home through hands of service and can be seen in various ways. Pouring love into foster, adopted, or a handicapped child. Inviting an addiction-plagued neighbor for a Bible study. Holding a sick child half the night. Sitting in the lawn overseeing the neighbor children playing in the yard. Making a meal to send to a tired mom. Preparing a snack for my hungry offspring. Putting aside my projects to make the house is tidy before my husband arrives home.

All Christians are called to be the light of the world. Our world doesn't need more interior decorators, gourmet cooks, or perfect hostesses. But the world desperately needs more women who are shining the light of the gospel of Christ from their homes. I put my light under a bushel when I'm worried that my meal isn't as good as my friend's or when I hope for recognition for my service. I hide the light of Christ when I serve out of obligation or speak unkindly to my children while scrubbing mud off the kitchen floor.

When our homes are filled with God's love we have a treasure to share with the world. 

Let's hold our light high and not allow the darkness to consume it. 

Let's open our homes and hearts to the needy around us so they can see Christ.

Friday, September 6, 2019

Homeschooler's Friend

I was thrilled to see the Homeschooler's Friend in my mailbox this week. Not because I was eager to read it, I had seen each of the pages countless times already, but because it was the fruit of many months of effort.

At the beginning of the year I was asked by Christian Light to join the editorial staff of Homeschooler's Friend. This magazine contains practical help and encouragement for homeschoolers. My role is to plan the content and communicate with writers willing to produce articles for the magazine.

I've enjoyed every aspect of this project. I appreciate Joe and Becky who were willing to hand off their vision for the magazine to other hands. Christian Light allowed me to introduce some of my own ideas to the pages. Busy homeschool parents have shared their wisdom through articles and interviews. Jennifer, my co-editor, puts the shine to the words and polishes every comma. (We both think that the other has the hardest job.) LaShonda makes the pages beautiful with her graphic design skills. 

Homeschooler's Friend hasn't been a huge time commitment for me but did give me a welcome creative diversion during Ed's decline this spring. I get to do something I enjoy, while feeling like I am encouraging other homeschoolers, and even getting paid for my time. I've learned more about the publishing process. Right now the fall issue is showing up in mailboxes while the winter issue goes through the editing process, and I'm actively working on the content for the spring issue. Since most of my life is on repeat mode (like laundry and meals), I appreciate a long-term project with deadlines to check off.

Homeschooler's Friend is sent free to Christian Light's homeschool customers. If you'd like to be added to their mailing list, email your request to homeschoolersfriend@ (no spaces.)


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