Williams, AZ…

We’ve been staying in Williams, AZ, gateway to the Grand Canyon. It’s been a cold and very fun Thanksgiving week!

On Tuesday we decided to walk from our RV park to downtown Williams. It’s such a cute little town.

We knew snow was likely to come later in the week, so we made sure to do things we wanted to do outdoors prior to the snow.

We loved getting to see all the Christmas decorations. It got us all in the holiday spirit.

Speaking of Christmas, can you imagine preparing gifts and such for a family of 12 in a 400 square foot RV? Me either. Ha! But I’m doing it, and there is something gratifying about the challenge of it.

A miniature Thanksgiving…

We are in Arizona now. It is COLD and we are caught in a winter storm. We originally planned to have our Thanksgiving feast outdoors, but we came up with Plan B when we realized we were in for cold, rain, sleet and possibly snow.

We brought our small picnic table inside so that we’d have enough seating for us all in the RV. We covered both tables with bulletin board paper. Our kids wrote things they were thankful for and drew pictures all over the tables all day long. They loved this so much that all but two of our kids named it as the favorite part of their day.

Ryan and I used our RV oven for the first time. We also brought in our extra microwave from our outdoor kitchen. We tripped the breaker having our big skillet and outdoor microwave plugged into the same outlet. We realized we had no pans, parchment paper or olive oil, but a couple trips to Safeway saved the meal.

Manning had the idea to do a miniature themed Thanksgiving meal since we are living in a miniature home. We all loved the idea, so that’s what we did.

We had Brussels sprouts, miniature hot dogs, tacos, pizza rolls, quiche and wings.

The kids loved the food, and so did the parents. Ha. It was good…and fun.

For dessert we had peppermint bark, cheese cake bites, cream puffs and macaroons.

We spent the afternoon playing games and decorating the RV for Christmas.

After a dinner of leftovers, meat and cheese, the kids listened to an audio book and then headed to bed. The winds started gusting as it had a couple nights before. It got stronger and stronger…27 mph with gusts up to 45 mph. It was loud and rattling our RV. The kids were a little nervous and couldn’t sleep. Since we are staying at an RV Park/hotel combo, we decided to go hang out in the hotel lobby and play games.

So, here we are. Almost 1AM. The wind is lessening and should die down soon. Then we will go get a good night of sleep and ideally sleep in until at least 9AM.

We sure are thankful for our family and friends, our journey of traveling the US in our home on wheels and our God who loves us and you through and through!

If this holiday is happy for you or if it’s hard, you are known, seen, cared about and loved. ❤️

Marina Dunes Beach – California…

We knew we wanted to visit Monterey during our time in California. As we searched for an RV park, we found Monterey to be a little more expensive than we were willing to pay. We found a less pricey, but still expensive spot near Monterey at Marina Dunes RV Resort.

It ended up being a really great place to stay. There was access to the beach, a 500 yard walk, from our RV park.

There were only a couple other people on the beach at any given time. It felt so nice and private. And it was gorgeous.

It was a little chilly, but that didn’t stop our kids from wanting to put on their swimsuits to play.

They rolled in the dirt, buried themselves, built sandcastles, dug holes, found tons of crabs and waded in the water as waves crashed around them.

River is not a big fan of the beach yet. She cried and asked pretty often to go back to the RV. The waves freak her out and she doesn’t care much for getting dirty. Bravely loved watching the other kids play and she enjoyed playing with the sand. She was very dainty in the way she handled the sand.

The ocean was wild. The waves were big and unpredictable. Suddenly water would come way further up than it had before. It was exciting and beautiful.

We all soaked up as much time as we could on the beach…until we felt we should give little River some relief and take her back home.

Monterey Bay Aquarium – California…

We spent the last few days in Monterey. My sister used to live there, so I had visited once before. There are gorgeous beaches, and Monterey has the cutest downtown area.

We had heard from many people that Monterey has the best aquarium, so we wanted to check it out ourselves.

When I looked up ticket prices online, I saw that they allow homeschoolers to come for free on Mondays or any school group of 10 or more children to come for free on other days. I called a week and a half in advance but found out they have a mandatory two week in advance scheduling. We were bummed to miss the money saving opportunity, but I definitely want to pass this information on to you! It would have cost us around $350 to get in, so we chose to purchase a family membership for $250 to at least save some money.

We knew pretty quickly after walking through the doors that it was the best aquarium we’d ever visited.

The displays were gorgeous. The glass was so clear, the lighting was perfect and the way the fish were grouped was very eye-catching.

Our kids were mesmerized.

Our little girls were so excited when we came across Dory and Nemo. Haha. They yelled, “Dory! Nemo!!”

There are tons of different fish to see. There are some toddler and baby play areas. And there are touch pools where you are able to touch things like stingrays, starfish and hermit crabs.

Our little girls absolutely loved this wave room. They went wild with squeals and laughter every time a wave came over them.

Bravely was a big fan of all the fish. She babbled and pointed, babbled and pointed.

We think the Monterey Bay Aquarium is a must see if you are ever in the area!

Lassen Volcanic National Park – California…

Friday we visited Lassen Volcanic National Park.

It was about an hour drive from our RV park in Red Bluff to the national park’s visitor center. The drive was a nice an easy one in comparison to the last few parks we’ve visited.

We had heard about the bubbling mudpots, so that is what we were most exited to see.

And…the boiling mudpots did not disappoint. They were amazing to see!

Lassen Volcanic is a really beautiful and unique park. There are tons of pine trees, which gave us a taste of home – Texas.

There are gorgeous lakes and fun hiking trails scattered throughout the park.

We even saw some snow on the ground from last winter. Our kids were so excited.

We read and learned about a volcanic eruption that happened in the early 1900’s, and we got to see many rocks that were thrown from the center of the volcano and scattered throughout the park.

We hiked a few trails. They were all different. One had loads of lava rocks scattered about, one was through a wooded area surrounded by trees and the other was around a lake.

There were not many tourists. The park was easy to navigate, and it’s just about a 30 minute drive to cross the whole park.

We all really enjoyed Lassen Volcanic!

Mercy’s 6th birthday…

Today we celebrated Mercy’s 6th birthday!

Mercy started the day by going with her Daddy to select some donuts.

When they got back to the RV, we did our traditional donut stack with candles.

Mercy was so excited about the pink donut and the blue donut with sprinkles she picked for herself.

After breakfast, we read Mercy what each of us had written in her birthday journal, and she opened the gifts we got for her.

Mercy requested we go to Mod Pizza for lunch. We had never been prior to new friends inviting us recently here in California. It’s such a fun and yummy place. Our kids love getting to walk through the line and select the toppings for their own personal pizza. Mercy picked pepperoni and sausage.

She got a special drink and a free miniature cake there as well.

Then Mercy wanted to go to a really fun park with a playground. A quick Google search landed us in the perfect spot for an afternoon of fun.

The weather in California is amazing. It was around 75 degrees all afternoon.

Mercy had a blast, and so did all her sisters and brothers.

Happy 6th birthday, Mercy Rain!

You are sweet, smiley and full of giggles. You are a girl with few words, and you are bold and secure. You are easy to parent. You rarely get into mischief, and you receive correction well. You love to be tickled and held. You adore Bravely. You were the first sibling she laughed at, and you can still get her to laugh hard. You love acting silly with Treasure, River and Jubilee. You are often making small crafts – drawing, cutting, gluing and coloring. You make all sorts of cool creations like phones, computers, houses, people and even clothes to tape on the people. You amaze me with your drawings. You are naturally athletic, and you enjoy being outdoors. You are a happy girl, simply happy. It doesn’t matter what we are doing, you almost always have a smile on your face and are enjoying life. You are really cute and loving. I just love having you as my daughter! I love you so very much! 💕

San Francisco, CA…

We spent the past few days in Napa Valley, which is less than an hour drive from San Francisco.

We visit a new church most every Sunday. It gives us a feel of home. As much as I love the adventure we are on, God is and has always been my greatest adventure. 💞 We visited a great church this past week. We met a precious family who invited us to lunch and to the park after church. That was honestly one of our favorite parts of the week, and we did some pretty awesome stuff. Not a lot beats meeting new friends, though.

Monday we visited the Castle of Love, Castello di Amorosa in Calistoga, CA.

You can pay to take a tour of the inside and taste wine and grape juice produced from the vineyard on the castle grounds. It is more pricey than we wanted to pay, and we were completely satisfied walking around outside.

All of our kids enjoyed seeing the castle.

Our little girls kept asking if we’d see a princess.

We headed to the Jelly Belly Factory in Fairfield, CA when we left the castle.

We arrived too late to take a tour, but we enjoyed walking through the gift shop and trying free samples.

On Tuesday we got up early and left our RV around 7:30AM to go to San Francisco. We were scheduled to take a 9:30AM boat to Alcatraz.

We realized as soon as we mapped our route that we were going to miss our boat. Having lived near Houston, we know to account for morning traffic in big cities. We figured an hour extra would be sufficient, but it wasn’t. We arrived about 15 minutes late. Thankfully, we were put on standby and caught the next boat.

This was our kids’ first ride on a large boat. They loved it. We were happy to have these great window seats inside. Making sure 10 little ones didn’t fall overboard if outside would have been doable but certainly not easy.

I did take our older kids onto the front deck of the boat, and one by one I gave our younger kids a turn out there as well.

It was beautiful. Looking one direction we could see Alcatraz Island, another the Golden Gate Bridge, and another the city of San Francisco.

Visiting Alcatraz was a financial splurge for us. We felt is was 100% worth it after the experience.

The island itself has a lot of beauty from the landscape to the historic buildings and architecture to the birds flying and walking nearby.

Our kids are learning history that they won’t forget. I am learning history that I won’t forget.

We watched a short video about the history of Alcatraz Island when we first arrived. Then we walked around looking at different buildings and reading about each.

I knew Alcatraz was used as a military prison. I did not know that American Indians occupied Alcatraz for 19 months of protest after the prison closed.

We went inside the main prison after we walked around the island for awhile.

We were given headsets and each listened on audio as we toured the prison. It was such a good, thorough tour.

We felt connected to guards and prisoners alike.

It saddened our kids to learn of some of the crimes the prisoners committed, and it saddened them that these prisoners could not be free. It brought up many topics of good conversation between us all.

Our older kids really appreciated learning so many details and seeing so much in person.

I thought about how beautiful and precious the sunlight beaming in through these dining room windows must have been for the prisoners. A sign of hope, light and life outside of bars. A sign of freedom. They would have needed hope. That is one thing the soul can’t bear to live without. This I know.

We walked out of the prison somber by what we learned and saw. Even we were happy to be back standing in the sunlight outside.

We walked our way back around the island and were captivated by the view of San Francisco across the water.

We took the boat back to San Francisco and headed over to walk the Golden Gate Bridge.

There’s an intriguing cloud of fog that surrounds the bridge.

It was about 17 degrees colder around the bridge than it was just a couple miles away, so we grabbed our hoodies for the walk.

There are great walkways that run alongside both sides of the Golden Gate Bridge, and the railings are high. We did feel safe walking with our kids there. We did have to watch out for people speeding by on bikes, though.

We were able to see Alcatraz Island, which the kids thought was awesome after just being there.

The noise of cars passing on the bridge was loud. It wasn’t a peaceful stroll, but more of a majestic brisk walk. One that was worth it for sure.

We ended the day meeting up with one of my friends and her husband for dinner. I love getting to see friends along the way as we travel. It was so great catching up with Kaitlen and Nathan after not seeing them for 7 years. Not a lot beats catching up with old friends.

Yosemite National Park – California…

Yesterday we drove around 2 1/2 hours from our RV park in Sanger, CA to Yosemite Valley in Yosemite National Park.

It was worth the long drive. The weather was perfect, and Yosemite is a gorgeous place to explore.

We went to the visitor center so our kids could stamp their passport books and buy postcards. We know this is going to take 30 minutes – 1 hour every park we go to, so we just plan for it. We buy a Christmas ornament at each park, also.

We ate a snack lunch that I packed – trail mix and peanut butter crackers – in a beautiful area where leaves were steadily falling from the trees around us.

We decided to hike the Lower Yosemite Falls Trail. It was stroller friendly, shaded and an easy walk the whole way.

It was a really fun trail.

We sat Bravely on this stump for a photo, and she screamed when we took her off. We ended up letting her sit there for about 10 minutes playing with pine needles. She kept saying, “Whoa!”, and smiling.

Our kids loved balancing and walking across many logs along the trail. How many kids can you count in this photo? Look closely, they are all there.

We found a great climbing tree as well.

As we were walking along, we saw several kids and families building small rock towers. It looked like fun, and our kids asked if they could do it. We now know, after posting our rock tower photos on social media, that national parks prefer you do not stack rocks. Having no clue, we naturally thought it was a fine idea and looked for a good place to stack rocks.

We came to a dry waterfall, which we were told is typically flowing during spring and early summer.

As we left the waterfall, we saw the perfect open area to let our kids play in the rocks.

Our kids were focused, working on balancing those rocks, when Ryan told me there was a bear. Sure enough, a black bear was strutting right behind our kids along the yellow arrow in this photo! I whispered loudly, “Kids, bear. Walk quietly toward me.” They took that seriously. They were instantly at me feet. We walked back a little, and then we got some photos and videos of the bear.

In the bottom yellow circle are some of our kids rock stacks, in the top circle is the bear. It was freaky and amazing all at the same time! It is one of those great after stories, if you know what I mean. Ha!

Ryan had been dying to see a bear. He just knew we’d see one. He was searching the mountains as we drove into Yosemite. Never would he have imagined we’d have this experience, though!

Just as we moved on from the bear, we had four deer come right up to us. We stood and watched them for awhile.

We would have loved to explore more, but we knew we’d be heading down the narrow winding mountain roads in the dark if we didn’t leave soon.

On our way out, we did stop to see the waterfall, Bridalveil Falls. It was beautiful!

Then we made our long drive back down the mountains and watched the sunset as we rode.

King’s Canyon & Sequoia National Parks – California…

Monday we filled up with gas and headed up the winding mountain roads to King’s Canyon and Sequoia National Parks.

We don’t always research ahead of time, but I’m so glad we did a little this time. We were planning to just visit Sequoia Monday and to visit King’s Canyon another day. During our research, we found out that vehicles over 22 feet long are not allowed to drive through a portion of Sequoia. Our van is 21.99 feet long – no joke. We decided we didn’t want to chance it.

We entered the parks through King’s Canyon at the Big Stump Entrance. There we learned from a ranger the best way to navigate through to Sequoia. The ranger told us the portion not recommended for vehicles over 22 feet has 120 hairpin setbacks. Yeah. We were definitely glad we did not enter where we’d originally planned.

We didn’t see much of King’s Canyon as we were set on seeing the big sequoia trees. It was about an hour and a half drive to get from our RV park in Sanger to where we wanted to stop in Sequoia National Park. Once we entered Sequoia, we knew it. We were amazed by the massive trees!

We parked at the Giant Forest Museum and walked the Big Trees Trail. This was a perfect trail to walk with kids. It was stroller friendly, and there were so many huge sequoia trees to see along the walk.

The base of this tree is the size of our family spread out holding hands in a circle.

Each national park is so different. Mesa Verde was fascinating. Zion was gorgeous everywhere we turned. Joshua Tree was interesting and had such unique plants and trees to see. Sequoia left us in awe.

Pictures really can’t show the greatness of these trees.

The weather was nice and the park is so shaded by all the trees.

There were interesting trees and logs that were hollow laying alongside the trail. Our little girls loved these.

After we finished the Big Trees Trail, we drove a short distance to the General Sherman Tree parking. The General Sherman Tree is the world’s largest tree, measured by volume. We walked a half mile trail that was easy to do with kids but not stroller friendly. There were quite a bit of stairs going down.

This is the footprint of the General Sherman Tree. The base is over 36 feet in diameter.

The General Sherman is massive, and it was amazing to see.

We had to leave through the same entrance we entered to avoid those 120 hairpin setbacks. We hoped to stop in King’s Canyon as we made our way back, but we lost daylight quickly.

We saw the sun set and fade as we rolled, literally, down the mountain. No gas needed for probably 15 miles.

Album Release…

Many of our kids started piano lessons at pretty young ages. Eventually we added some guitar lessons. Then ukulele, drums, bass, electric and mandolin.

Our boys’ guitar teacher, Paul, had the idea of helping our oldest five kids start a band. He taught them weekly and really helped them learn to become a team – to play together and work together. He taught them how to play different instruments. They named their band More Than Conquerors.

The practicing in our home started to sound better and better. Before long, Ryan and I were amazed. We enjoyed music made by our kids booming throughout our house daily. Now we enjoy it booming outside the door of our RV. Many of our neighbors seem to enjoy it as well.

Our kids in the band are young – Manning (12), Rhythm (12), Tapestry (11), Cherish (10) and Liberty (8). It’s not super polished, but we just love the album they’ve released of 6 original songs.

They worked together to write the songs – music and lyrics. And then they worked hard practicing and recording with their teacher, Paul.

Manning is the lead vocalist and also plays both the acoustic guitar and the electric guitar on the album. Rhythm plays bass guitar, electric guitar and sings. Tapestry plays drums and sings. Cherish plays keyboard and sings. Liberty sings.

Jesus (In My Time of Desperation) and Love were written by all 5 of them. Your Love Surrounds Me and Heaven’s Going to be So Fun were written by Manning. Sing Loud was written by Manning, Tapestry and Cherish. Fear Is Not the Boss of Me was written by Manning and Rhythm.

You can check out their album on iTunes or most other popular music streams. It’s also available for purchase and download here.