Snow Mountain – Stone Mountain, GA…

Yesterday we went to Snow Mountain at Stone Mountain Park.

Tickets are $35 per person, but we purchased tickets for half off on Groupon. Tickets include 2 hours of snow tubing and unlimited time playing in the snow zone.

I loved riding this huge family tube that holds 10 people. One, I love seeing my kids’ reactions. Two, you don’t have to carry these kind of tubes up the mountain. Carrying/pulling a double tube up the mountain for other tube runs was very exhausting.

We let Manning, Rhythm, Tapestry, Cherish and Liberty go together to different tube runs. Ryan and I took turns watching River and Bravely and taking Jubilee, Mercy and Treasure tubing. All our kids loved tubing and had an absolute blast.

After tubing for two hours, we played in the snow zone. It was more like ice than snow, but our kids had fun nonetheless.

It was cute watching Bravely walk in the snow holding our hands. Her little feet were slipping and sliding, which she loved.

It’s not easy to build a snowman out of ice, but after a lot of hard work, our kids completed a pretty big one.

I think going to Snow Mountain is worth the price at half off, but I would not pay full price for it. The tubing lines can get long, pulling the tubes uphill is very difficult and the snow isn’t really snow. All that said…we had a really good time, and I am glad we gave our kids their very first tubing experience!

A hike up Stone Mountain – Georgia…

Today we hiked up and down Stone Mountain.

There is a marked trail. It is a about a mile one way. It is all stone and rocks.

It’s a pretty strenuous hike, but was doable with small children. Treasure, age 4, had no problem. In fact, she was often ahead of all of us and I had to yell for her to wait.

Adding over 20 pounds of weight definitely made the hike difficult for me. But it was a good and fun kind of difficult. I just watched my footing really well because I did not want to bust it with Bravely in tow.

The mountain had quite a bit of water running down and puddles of water due to heavy rainfall the past several days. It wasn’t slippery, though.

The last little bit of hiking on the way to the top was steep. We stopped a couple times for a short break.

Finally, we made it to the top of Stone Mountain.

We enjoyed looking around at the view. We could see the Atlanta skyline in the distance.

Bravely tossed her glasses somewhere along the way. We asked a lady who worked in the store on the top of the mountain if anyone had turned in a pair of little purple glasses. A man swung around and asked, “Are they little wrap around glasses?” I said, “Yes!” He said, “I saw a man pick them up and hang them from a branch on a tree.” As we hiked back down the mountain we watched the trees as we walked, and sure enough, Cherish spotted Bravely’s glasses hanging from this tree. I am not sure we’d ever have found them if we weren’t told they were hanging from a tree. We are convinced this child has an angel assigned to her glasses.

When we finished our hike, we headed over to the Stone Mountain tram to meet some friends we met at an RV park in Santa Fe, NM in October.

It’s so fun to meet other people who are currently traveling full-time. It is a small world. We end up meeting friends we’ve only known through social media, and we end up running back into friends we’ve met along the way.

Jeremiah and Addy were the first two friends our kids played with at the start of RVing. Our kids were really excited to see them and play again today.

We all loved hiking Stone Mountain and then riding the tram up and down. After over 10,000 steps taken, we were exhausted and ready for a night at home!

Back to Georgia – Atlanta, GA…

We are enjoying a rainy week at Stone Mountain Park near Atlanta, GA.

We absolutely love our spot and our view at Stone Mountain Family Campground.

Every time the rain lets up, we head out for a walk. I even threw on my poncho and went for a walk in the pouring rain yesterday. I had my music going, and I loved every second of walking in the rain. My pants and shoes were soaked by the time I returned to the RV, but I didn’t mind.

Today the rain stopped long enough for us to go on a nice walk around the campground and then to head into Atlanta to visit Centennial Olympic Park.

It is a neat park to walk. The olympic rings, the flags, the torches and the fountains were cool to see.

We walked across the street to ride the Skyview Atlanta Ferris Wheel after we finished checking out the park.

We are learning that many places offer discounted tickets on Groupon. We purchased cheaper tickets than we’d have gotten at the ticket booth right then on my phone.

We loved seeing the great views of Atlanta from the sky. And we thought looking down on Centennial Olympic Park was an awesome view.

Bravely was amazed every time she caught sight of her Daddy. She’d yell, “Hi Daddy!”

When we got off the Skyview Atlanta, we saw the Let’s Kiss sign and just had to take this photo. Our kids thought it was hilarious, and so did the people standing nearby. Haha.

We hopped back into our van just before the rain started coming down again. It was a perfect afternoon, and we were so thankful for the little break from the rain!

Mining for gems – Asheville, NC…

We have been so excited to hang out with friends this week! We went to church with the Faulks in Texas, and then they moved to North Carolina.

We enjoyed dinner at their house earlier this week, and today they took us to Asheville’s Best Gem Mine to mine for gems.

Each of our kids were given cards to identify different kinds of gems.

The kids each got a bucket of dirt that they shoveled into sluice boxes. They moved the boxes back and forth in water filtering out the dirt. They were amazed at the gems they found.

Liberty found a geode, which looked like a big random rock. The man in charge cut open the geode, and it contained clear quartz crystals inside. We were awestruck by it.

I had never heard of mining for gems and had no knowledge about it prior to today, but it was so much fun! Our kids had a blast and came home with some really neat gems and great memories. We’d definitely do it again!

Thanks for such a fun day, John and Michelle!

Biltmore Estate – Asheville, NC…

The place numerous people recommended and the number one place we wanted to see in Asheville, NC was the Biltmore Estate.

The prices I found on the internet were so high we thought it just was not something we’d choose to do.

Yesterday we stopped by the ticket office to ask about pricing and if there were any discounts available. We were told it would be $63 per adult and $31.50 for each of our four kids ages 10 and over. Under age 10 would be free. $252 is a splurge for us, but it was quite a bit less than we thought it was going to be so we decided we’d do it.

We loaded into our van this morning to head toward the Biltmore Estate. We stopped by the RV office to mail some postcards. A woman staying in the park saw our TX license plate and came over to talk to us because she is from Texas as well. When she found out we were going to the Biltmore Estate, she offered us some free tickets she had that she wasn’t going to use. We were so excited – our WHOLE family got in for free! Thank you, Jeanette!

The Biltmore Estate is the largest home in the United States. It is a 250-room French Renaissance chateau. Construction began in 1889, and the first guests were welcomed in 1895.

We enjoyed walking through the house and seeing each space.

Our kids especially loved the library, the bowling alley and the swimming pool.

I loved the huge organized pantries.

We thought the gymnasium was so fun to see. There were wooden dumbbells and some really interesting work-out equipment.

Once we finished touring the house, we walked around the outdoor gardens.

We saw photos of how gorgeous the gardens look in the spring. There were hardly any flowers blooming due to visiting during winter season, but we still enjoyed walking through.

There is a conservatory on the grounds that is full of beautiful plants.

We appreciated seeing all sorts of unique flowers and plants.

I personally love succulents, so the space devoted to those was my favorite.

When we walked out of the conservatory, it was raining. We walked as fast as we could with small kids in tow – not very fast – back to our van.

Then we drove to Antler Hill Farm on the estate.

There we got to see and pet some farm animals.

I never pet animals at petting zoos. It’s not my thing. But this pregnant goat, who is likely carrying 3 kids and will deliver soon, loved me. No matter where I stood, she kept walking up to me wanting me to scratch her cheeks. Having been very pregnant nine times, I couldn’t resist giving her the love. Ha. So I scratched and scratched her cheeks.

Bravely goes wild over any animal and repeatedly yells, “Puppy!”

River is pretty unsure about most animals. She mustered up all the courage she could, and she petted a rooster. I did offer her a cookie to help her press toward bravery. She was excited she did it, and she enjoyed a cookie at the RV later.

All in all, it was a really good day! We loved visiting the Biltmore Estate.

The Billy Graham Library – Charlotte, NC…

This morning we were just hanging around the RV when it suddenly started snowing. It was a total surprise! No snow stuck to the ground, but it was a great sight watching snowflakes fall from the sky.

After lunch, we headed to the Billy Graham Library, where admission is free.

We first visited Billy Graham’s childhood home. We were able to walk through the first floor, seeing some original furniture and many family photos.

We absolutely loved meeting Rose, a 93-year-old woman who was a caretaker of Billy Graham’s mom. She told stories of the Graham’s, and she gave each of us a card with a bible verse on it. She asked each of our kids their names and individually sang “Jesus Loves Me” with each name inserted in the song. Ten rounds of the same song for one family with unique names is dedication! Rose is really precious and was a gem to meet!

Next, we walked over to the building considered the library. It’s not an actual library full of books, but there is such a good tour.

The tour starts with Bessy the cow talking and singing. Our older kids were given questionnaires to fill out throughout the tour that they could exchange for a gift at the end.

We were guided through several rooms. We watched some short videos. We learned about Billy Graham’s life, family and ministry.

The part I loved most is that the tour is ultimately about what Billy Graham was all about…leading people to salvation.

It was comfortable. It wasn’t awkward or pushy. Anyone can go and appreciate how this tour is put together.

Parts of the tour are self guided. We were able to view many belongings of Billy and Ruth Graham. We were able to see what they were all about and what mattered to them most.

The tour ended with a short video of testimonies of people from all different cultures whose lives were changed by God.

Then we were directed to exit the tour through the cross and were told that prayer was available for anyone who wanted it. Those who wanted prayer could simply let a staff member know. Again, they made this very comfortable with no pressure.

A few staff members were intrigued by our big family. We talked for a few minutes and then a man prayed a prayer of blessing over our family.

We didn’t expect to feel so encouraged by just visiting the Billy Graham Library, but we left feeling full. We absolutely loved our time spent at the Billy Graham Library!

Patriots Point – Charleston, SC…

Monday we visited Patriots Point.

Tickets are $24 per adult, $16 per kid ages 6-11 and free for kids ages 5 and under. General admission includes USS YORKTOWN Aircraft Carrier, USS LAFFEY Destroyer, USS CLAMAGORE Submarine, 3 Acre Vietnam Experience, Medal of Honor Museum and 28 Historic Aircraft.

Since we’d already toured the USS Midway Aircraft Carrier in San Diego, we decided to walk through the destroyer and submarine first.

There is a good amount of climbing up and down steep stairs. Our kids did fine, but we definitely weren’t comfortable letting our little ones go up or down unattended.

Our younger kids simply enjoyed the adventure of walking into different kinds of rooms, climbing stairs and touching most anything they were allowed to touch.

Our older kids liked seeing and learning about the weapons and how this destroyer defended itself.

One of our kids’ favorite parts was seeing the living quarters and thinking about how people lived in these spaces.

After going through the destroyer, we walked over to the submarine.

Our kids were especially excited to see what this was like.

The thought of it being submerged under water had our kids completely intrigued.

This was a short, easy and interesting tour.

Treasure was determined to climb every ladder and to do absolutely anything we’d let her do. My mom says she’s a lot like I was as a kid. 😁

Lastly, we headed over to the aircraft carrier.

It was still fun and fascinating even though we’d previously toured an aircraft carrier.

USS Yorktown is similar to USS Midway, but it does have some different and unique qualities.

One thing that our kids thought was super cool is that this carrier pulled Apollo 8 out of the ocean after it fell from space.

Tapestry pretended to preach in the carrier chapel, and our boys pretended to be soldiers.

Our kids have loved the bunk beds in both carriers we’ve seen. I suppose a room like this with so many bunks makes a lot of sense for a big family.

And this would make a good family movie room. Ha.

Viewing the planes was fun and interesting.

We made it to the flight deck as the sun was going down.

We got to see some beautiful views of the Charleston Harbor and Ravenel Bridge.

That was a great ending to our time at Patriot’s Point!

Celebrating fourteen years of marriage – Charleston, SC…

Today Ryan and I celebrated our 14th wedding anniversary.

It has been fourteen years packed full of some of the most meaningful and beautiful life moments – pregnancies, babies, adoption and birthdays.

When we said our wedding vows to each other fourteen years ago, we followed each vow with the words, “by the grace of God”. That is exactly what has transpired and how I would describe our marriage. We have struggled but pulled through – by the grace of God. We’ve hurt each other and always chosen to forgive and love again – by the grace of God. We’ve worked through every conflict – by the grace of God. We’ve grown to love each other more and more – by the grace of God.

I would have never imagined 14 years ago that Ryan and I would wake up surrounded by ten children today. I am so thankful and wouldn’t have it any other way!

To start the day of celebrating, Ryan had me stay in bed while he made a surprise breakfast of chocolate banana crepes. They were delicious, just like the crepes we had on our honeymoon in Paris. We exchanged cards and gifts.

Then we headed to downtown Charleston. We love specialty coffee so we hit up City Lights Coffee. It did not disappoint.

We enjoyed walking through the city market.

Then we walked over to Waterfront Park.

There are a couple of neat fountains and a pier with great views of the Charleston harbor.

Our kids enjoyed playing in the fountain. I held Bravely up to touch the water and it splashed all over her face and mine. Haha. That we were not expecting.

Our kids really liked the big porch swings hanging along the pier.

We loved seeing the great views of the Arthur Ravenel Jr. Bridge that we had driven across numerous times.

After checking out Waterfront Park, we walked over to Rainbow Row.

Rainbow Row is a series of thirteen colorful historic houses. We loved all the color.

We drove to the Workshop for dinner.

Six vendors share space in this cool food court, offering a fun mix of street foods.

Ryan tried a popular Philippine dish.

I had chicken tacos. I almost never pass up street tacos when it’s an option. These were good! Our kids had grilled cheese or hot dogs with fries. We all shared a few desserts.

Ryan, Bravely and I all have horribly sore throats, but we all had a great day anyway.

I am so thankful for the fourteen years we’ve had together. And here’s to many more years of love, laughter…and kids – by the grace of God!

Is it all just for fun?

I’ve been thinking about this post for awhile. It’s something that has been stirring inside of me.

When we sold our house and set out in our RV to travel the United States, we had a slew of different reactions from friends, family, acquaintances and strangers. Some responded with silence. Others responded with statements like, “Are y’all crazy?” A few said, “What an amazing learning experience and what great memories your kids will have!” Many said, “Awesome for you, I couldn’t do it.”

We’ve gotten many questions about the practicalities of traveling as a large family in an RV: “How do you make money on the road?” “Where do all the kids sleep?” “How can you live with one bathroom for 12 people?” “How do you cook in such a small space for such a big family?” “Don’t you all go crazy with the lack of space?” We’ve only had a couple people ask the best and most important question – in my opinion, “Why? Why leave a perfectly good business and a beautiful 5,000 square foot house and move your family of 12 into a 400 square foot RV to travel? Is it for education? Is it all just for fun?”

As much as Ryan and I absolutely love traveling and think it is fun, we would not have chosen to uproot our family and largely let go of worldly security just for the purpose of fun. We do think it’s amazing to be able to give our kids the gift of history, science, geography and psychology in person, but still, we would not have uprooted only for that purpose.

Our family life has had ups and downs over the years. We’ve had marriage battles, sicknesses, major health issues in our extended family, losses, financial struggles, broken relationships, church hurt, loneliness that came the larger our family became, judgement spoken to us and about us, personal failures and heartbreaking pain to walk through. We’ve also had great relationships with family and friends, marriage growing in love, the joy of birthing and raising 9 precious children, the beauty and growth of adopting an awesome Chinese son, miracles, breakthroughs, an amazing church home for over a decade, a very successful business, financial security, nice houses, good vehicles and nice worldly things. Our life was far from cookie cutter, but the portion that most resembled perfection is the part we’ve purposely chosen to leave.

We want our children to see what the world has to offer and to see what they can offer this world. We want them to see what the world needs and to understand what they need. We want them to feel different climates, view a plethora of landscapes, learn about different job opportunities and experience different churches. We want them to learn and know that life isn’t just about chasing a career – that making money is important and necessary – but that love, relationships and people are more important.

We’ve stood in line behind the woman whose daughter was sexually abused and is battling an eating disorder. I was there to listen, care, encourage and pray. We had an older woman faint on the tram we were riding up a mountain, who Ryan was able to help catch and hold. We were warned not to go down to the river because there were homeless people camped under the bridge. We taught our kids that these were valuable people just like us who we should treat just like we do each other or anyone else. We walked on down and got to sit on a log by the river chatting with a really nice man who happened to be homeless. I’ve had heart to hearts, teaching my oldest about sex trafficking and the heartbreaking effects of it. He’s now scheming in his mind how he may be able to help rescue girls and women. Our wild big family has brought smiles to faces and joy to hearts. One of the Disney photographers taking our photo was brought to tears and told me that we made her day. I hugged her and she grabbed my hand. I told our kids, “You never know what she’s going through. She may live alone and never get touched, hugged or held.” Our kids have brought several people to tears and many to smiles by singing and playing music sitting outside our RV. We’ve had people encourage us, pray for us, take us to lunch, give us or our kids money. We want our kids to see that traveling or staying put, these are the moments that matter most. These little life moments that may seem insignificant are the big moments. They are more important than standing on a platform, writing a book or posting a blog. They are more important than college, knowledge or climbing any corporate ladder.

Don’t get me wrong. We are all for education, college and trade schools. We are for hands-on learning. We are for money-making, careers and investments. We are for owning houses and vehicles. We are for getting planted and staying put in a local church. We are for settling and establishing a home. We just want our kids to know that life isn’t about “me”, “my dreams”, “me getting a bigger house”, “me getting a better car”, “me rising to the top”, “me competing against others”, “me accomplishing big things”, “me being a great minister”, “me being the sweetest, most self-sacrificing community volunteer”, “me being a great musician”, “me being the best worker”, “me being the amazing worship leader”, “me”, “me” and “me”. Because we all probably have or can get lost in those mindsets. It is, for the most part, the American way…the normal way. And at the end of the day – and surely at the end of this life – those things leave us empty-handed and barren.

Of course, we could and can teach our kids these things by staying put, but we see this as a great way to really show our kids different cultures, climates, people and places. We are able to be so hands-on in our tiny living space, and we are able to have so many more experiences and conversations together than we did in the normal daily grind in our big spacious house.

And that brings up another thing – the daily grind. We are teaching our kids that just because something is the norm for most people, it doesn’t have to be the norm for them…unless they want it to be. There are many jobs that aren’t 8-5, many that allow one to work from home, many that are enjoyable and many that include their passions. They don’t have to go to work 8-5 while their kids go to school – then spend the evening cooking, doing extracurricular activities and homework, and tucking their kids in bed – having barely seen the kids or engaged with them all day. We want our kids to know that can be their norm if that’s what they choose, but that it’s not mandatory they choose that as their norm. There are endless opportunities and options to be sought, found and lived.

Also, we’ve had possessions and plenty. I like stuff. Our kids like stuff. Don’t we all like stuff? Stuff can be good, stuff is nice to have, but we can live with less and still be happy. We want to show our kids that exchanging having a lot of things for more experiences and memories with those they love can be worth it and bring greater happiness. Even in the excitement of traveling, we keep reminding our kids that God is our greatest adventure and our greatest joy. Traveling does not compete or compare to life lived in Him and with Him.

Lastly, we are traveling in attempt to show our kids that true and lasting security is not found in a house, a job or a steady routine. Security can be found wherever we are. Security is God, the only stable and unchanging solid One, and He is always with us and for us.

If you’ve rolled your eyes, felt jealous or thought we were making a crazy decision, I understand. I drooled a bit watching others travel full-time prior to us setting out on our journey, and I’ve been painfully aware of lack in certain areas of my life at times when I see someone else experiencing the very thing I seek but don’t have. Those are things much more deep than a desire to travel. It’s easy to look into others’ lives and see all they have that we don’t. I can see how it’d be easy to look into our life and see that we are so blessed with health, marriage, kids, finances and currently a traveling lifestyle. For those things, we are more grateful than I could possibly express. But there is pain in this life for all people, and that pain has not passed us by.

We are still healing from a great unexpected loss we experienced not too long before we set out traveling. There are situations we’ve experienced over the years that delicately involve people and feelings, not just our own. Many times we’ve walked through those things with God alone or with God and a trusted few because we’ve valued not hurting or dishonoring others over having our pain seen, validated or cared for. I consider myself not to be a crier, but I can assure you God has collected many, many more bottles than 1 of my tears over the years. I’ve experienced deep pain and deep heartache. I’ve also made poor decisions, unintentionally hurt others and had to deal with the pain of sorrow and regret. If we could sit down for a one-on-one conversation, I’d tell you some of the darkest places I’ve been. And you wouldn’t wish to have my life. If I sat with you and heard your deepest pain, I wouldn’t wish to have your life either.

This morning we visited a church and heard a sermon on trials and pain. I felt that stabbing feeling in my chest, and I tried to ignore it. At the end of the service a handful of people went up front and wrote on pieces of paper pain they needed release from, and then they pinned those pieces of paper to a cross. I was one of those people.

I’ll leave you with this quote I heard this morning, “Our pain can either be a jail that imprisons us or a school that empowers us.” May you be empowered by the pain you’ve bore to take flight. May you know that even though people may not see, understand or care, God sees and deeply cares. May you care for the pain those around you have gone through and are going through, and may you inspire them to take flight as well. ♥️