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May 13, 2019

FILED IN: Personal, Travel

After spending time in Santa Cruz, we headed away from the ocean and in toward the mountains. The drive from Santa Cruz to our Airbnb in Oakhurst, just outside of Yosemite, was about 3 hours, but we had some time to spare so we stopped for lunch and then later stopped in another town to grab groceries for our kitchen. (We made breakfasts at home every morning and then packed lunches as well.)

One of the things we didn’t fully understand going into this trip was that, even though we were staying just 13 miles outside of Yosemite, it took about 30 minutes to get to the entrance of the park and then it takes a full 30+ minutes more to get from the entrance down to the valley. We got used to that hour+ drive pretty quickly as we did the roundtrip 3 times! Thankfully, Kevin did the driving because those tight, hairpin turns were so tricky, especially in the dark, fog, and rain!

We arrived at our house in the afternoon and unpacked, then Kevin happened to look up the drive time to get to The Majestic Yosemite for our anniversary dinner reservations that night and we realized we needed to leave much sooner than we had thought since the 46 miles to get there would take an hour and a half to drive (it’s way down in the valley)!

On our drive in to dinner, we were greeted with our first breathtaking sight of Tunnel View:

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Dinner that night was so delicious! (I had the rotisserie chicken, which had to be some of the most amazing chicken I’ve ever eaten. I imagine that’s what Queen Elizabeth II also ate when she was there.) When we were done eating, we wandered around the hotel for a while too (it’s so beautiful) and it was completely pitch black when we left, meaning our first drive out of there was dark and foggy.

The next day was our first full day in Yosemite and I had done some research beforehand for trails to hike. One of the ones that was listed as “strenuous”, but also an iconic Yosemite trail not to be missed was Four Mile Trail, which is estimated to be a 6-8 hour hike roundtrip. In my research, it is closed over the winter, but is usually open in April. Obviously that was the hope, but when we pulled over by the trailhead to park, we saw that it was closed.

Yosemite had had a really bad winter, including a storm in February that brought over 2 feet of snow in just 2 days, causing trees to topple, power outages, road closures, damage to the park campgrounds, and evacuation of many of the residents (one of whom was our server at the restaurant that previous night). That, combined with the 34-day government shutdown in December-January that had put the national parks department behind in winter maintenance, meant that in April, when trails normally start to open, many were still closed because of snow and trees covering the trails. And when I say “trees”, I don’t mean branches. I mean, we literally had to assess our every step and shimmy, climbing over enormous trees that were uprooted or simply snapped at their bases like toothpicks. Then we had to try to find the trail again, which was never clearly marked, in part because of the debris of fallen trees everywhere.

So, after coming back to the trailhead of Four Mile Trail (we ventured in just to see how far we could go, but it wasn’t very far at all; it was gated off), we went with plan B and decided to hike the Valley Floor Loop, which was supposed to be an “easy hike.” Unfortunately, again because of the rough winter storms and government shutdown, the trail was really hard to follow and was covered with fallen trees. We did manage to hike several miles before coming to a dead end in the form of a river. We couldn’t figure out any way to get around it or across it and, because the trail wasn’t well-marked, we couldn’t find a continuation of the trail anywhere around. We had left the physical map in the car and phone service in Yosemite is nearly nonexistent, so what little bits we could pull up of the map on our phone wasn’t helpful enough to get us anywhere as it indicated you cross the river, but there was no bridge and I wasn’t about to dive in and swim across that current.

It was afternoon by this point–we had already eaten lunch earlier as we stopped along the loop to see Bridalveil Fall–and I was tired, but maybe mostly disappointed that two of the trails I had really wanted to hike had proven to be impossible. To save us some hike time and difficulty, we walked back to our car following the road rather than take the slow, tedious trail over and around fallen trees. It still took a while–we did have several miles to walk after all–but we eventually made it back to the beloved sight of our rental car and that night we grabbed take out pizza in Oakhurst, which was either exceptionally good take out or we were just really that hungry.

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Despite the disappointing hikes that day, the views of Yosemite were, as expected, exceptional. April was a great time to visit as the falls were in full swing, melting loudly over the rocks. The weather was cool and sometimes rainy when we were there and we were glad to have brought layers as well as winter hats. We were also both glad to have it be slightly chilly and not humid and hot like it is during the summer (and also, not crowded!).

There were many things we loved about Yosemite, but I’d be especially remiss to skim over the stunning granite of El Capitan. We had just watched “Free Solo” as well as “The Dawn Wall” a few weeks before traveling to Yosemite so the sheer massiveness of seeing El Cap in person was a little bit mind-blowing. The last day we were in Yosemite, we finished it out by parking our car by the road and making our own path, hiking up to the base of El Cap and touching the granite ourselves, which can strangely be described best as a bit silky. Standing at the base, I tilted my head up and all I could see were low-hanging clouds of dense fog covering the top, which just made the massive rock seem even more breathtaking.
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May 9, 2019

FILED IN: Personal, Travel

Last month was our 10-year wedding anniversary so Kevin and I had planned a trip out to California. While we spent most of the time in Yosemite, if we were going to be that close to the ocean anyway, I wanted to sidetrack to it. It’s bizarre; having grown up in the Midwest, there’s no real reason that the ocean calls me so, but for some reason, things seem so much better, everything makes more sense, the world is calmer, by the waves. Does anyone else feel that way?

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November 15, 2016

FILED IN: Personal, Travel

A week ago, Kevin and I headed out to Colorado for an engagement session (it was so gorgeous; see it here!). This was the first time that we have both left Henry overnight since he was born, save that one time last New Year’s when we got the flu and my mom took Henry to their house to keep him away from us since we were both unable to even stand up. I won’t lie; leading up to the trip, I was sick with anxiety. I knew he’d be fine at my parent’s house, but leaving him was nevertheless incredibly difficult.

Thankfully, once we hit the ground in Denver, we kept our schedule really, really busy so I was able to stay distracted. We flew into Denver Thursday night, grabbed our rental car, and headed to our hotel for some sleep. Friday morning, we got up early and grabbed some breakfast on our way out of town as we headed to Rocky Mountain National Park. The weather in Denver was unseasonably warm (low 70s during the day!), but thankfully we had thrown in some hats and gloves because the temperatures out on the trails and up in the mountains were much lower. We started our hike at the Bear Lake trailhead, where the early morning temperature was about 19 degrees. It stayed pretty brisk with the combination of the day warming up and us climbing higher, but back down at base, it felt great in the mid-40s!

We hiked all morning and ate lunch on the trail before heading back. In the early afternoon when we got back to our car, we drove to another trailhead, Fern Lake, to hike some more. By the time we reached The Pool, we knew we were losing sunlight and that it would get cold really quickly. We had gotten that far though, so we decided to hike another 1.8 miles to the falls. Little did we know that it was a really difficult hike with a steep incline and very rocky path. When we finally made it to the falls, we were able to rest for only a couple of minutes before quickly heading back down. We joked that we felt like the people who climb Mount Everest; after all that, they can only stay there for about 5 minutes before going back down. I also thought that maybe we should’ve planted a flag up there.

We got back to the car just as the sun was starting to dip. We were sore everywhere. My kneecaps were burning. I’ve never experienced that before. My shoulders and neck were sharp with pain (we had to constantly be looking down at our feet to watch our next steps). We ended up hiking almost 16 miles through the mountains that day with over 33,000 steps (my total for the day was 34,114 steps). As with any extensive hiking, even with our bodies being done, the views we had seen during the day were absolutely spectacular. And the snow that I ate to refresh myself on the trail was delicious, even if a bear may have peed on it.

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As we were leaving the park, we came around a corner and saw a whole herd of elk grazing on the side of a hill. We pulled the car over and I grabbed the camera. As we were watching, we noticed that on the opposite side of the road, out in an open meadow, there was an even bigger herd of elk. It was so exciting to see (on our last trip to Colorado, we didn’t see any wildlife at all!) and also fascinating to hear them. Did you know that sound similar to orcas? Two young males played together, sparring in fun with their small antlers. One large make tried to mount a female; she rejected him without a thought. We were so incredibly close to them.
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The engagement session was on Saturday afternoon so, after sleeping in a bit on Saturday morning, we decided to keep the day a little more low-key while giving our bodies a chance to rest a bit. In search of more animals (particularly bison), we went to the Rocky Mountain Arsenal right outside of Denver. We saw deer, birds, and prairie dogs, but it wasn’t until we were nearly leaving that we finally saw some bison! They were pretty far away, but we were still excited. What we didn’t know was that later in the day we would see some very, very closely out in Daniel’s Gate Park where I was taking engagement photos.
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After the arsenal, we went to the Red Rocks. It was so beautiful there, but we were also very fascinated with everyone who was working out in the amphitheater. The way the rows are set up are perfect for a vast variety of working out and lots of folks were running back and forth through the rows starting at the top and snaking back and forth all the way to bottom. Others were doing box leaps row to row all the way up; still others doing side lunges up and down, inclined and declined pushups, stair runs, and planks. It was incredible. I wish so badly we had something like that around here.
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We headed over to Daniel’s Gate Park to scope things out prior to the session and came upon these bison. We couldn’t quit figure it out since they were behind a gate; were they privately owned? (We assumed so.) And then we started discussing things like, “Do people out here raise bison like Iowans raise cows?” Unsure. The jury’s still out on that one.
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After the engagement session, we headed back to our hotel downtown and ordered pizza for pickup from a place in the pedestrian mall. Our hotel was right there so we were able to enjoy some late evening walking through downtown. We grabbed our pizza and stayed in that night watching football and relaxing.

The time change was Sunday and I still hadn’t adjusted to Colorado time so I woke up at 4:30 (what my body would’ve thought was 6:30). Since neither of us could sleep, we ended up getting up and finding a place to grab breakfast that early on a Sunday. We walked to Snooze (a glorious recommendation from Sally & Erik!) and enjoyed the most delicious breakfast!!! If you’re ever in town, please try it! I got the pancake flight and Kevin got the breakfast pot pie. They were both amazing.

Our flight left Denver at 3:55 and we needed to get the rental car returned a little before 2. We figured we had time for one more quick hike before stopping over at our friends’ house on the way out of town. On a recommendation from Sally & Erik, we drove about an hour to hike up Saint Mary’s Glacier.  The hike to the lake was only about 3/4 of a mile, but it was really rocky and absolutely freezing cold. The starting elevation was over 10,000 feet and the car said the temperature was 29 degrees. With the wind chill, it was much closer to 10 to 15 degrees. It sort of took our breaths away, the cold.

We didn’t stay long at the time since it was a) freezing and b) we wanted to grab some lunch to take along to James & Sky’s. We grabbed some food and got to their house around 12:30. James was gone, but it was just so great to see Skylar and meet their brand new baby, Forest (who is absolutely gorgeous and perfect in every way!).
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We were only able to stay about an hour before heading to the airport. By the time we returned our car and got the shuttle the airport, we knew we were running slightly behind. Thankfully, the airline opened a row specific to our flight since so many people were waiting to get through so we made it to our gate with about 5 minutes to spare before boarding began (and just enough time to grab a coffee!). By this point, all of our activities and commitments were done and I could.not.wait to get home to see Henry again. My body was just aching to hold him.

Our flight landed a couple of minutes early and we grabbed our bags and hit the road to go pick up Henry. My parents had taken him to their church Sunday evening and mom had him out in the back when we walked in. He saw us from across the foyer and popped up off the floor and starting running to us, shouting, “Oh yeah! Oh yeah! Oh yeah!” That hug was the best ever. Traveling after kids is a whole different ballgame than traveling before. I was so glad we were able to enjoy beautiful Colorado, but it felt equally delightful to be home again, reunited as a family.

July 21, 2016

FILED IN: Personal, Travel

After getting settled in, water sliding, eating really gross smoothies, and zip lining (all in part one here), we were ready to go hiking on Saturday! Carla volunteered to stay at the house with the toddlers (Henry & Winston) while they napped so the remaining crew headed over to Old Man’s Cave. It was absolutely beautiful there with little creeks, a waterfall, and lots of foliage and rock formations.

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Back at the house, Winston napped like a champion and my typically great napper Henry woke up about 10 minutes after we left to go hiking. (Sorry Carla!) There was a stroller-friendly hike at Ash Cave so we went back to get Henry, Carla, and Winston and head back out for a quick, easy hike before dinner. Sadly, I left my camera at the house for that one, but really could’ve used it because there was a small wedding going on in the cave and there was no photographer. Had I had my camera, I would’ve taken some photos for them!
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After dinner Saturday, we headed outside for some much-needed updated family photos. Megan took the reins on it since she’s much more skilled with family photos, but I kept my camera handy so we could swap off. You know what’s really awesome about our family gatherings? Having two professional photographers on hand. I’m embarrassed to say our standard for vacation snapshots has gone way up.
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That evening, we started a campfire and pulled out the necessary ingredients for s’mores. I should mention that we had the most wonderfully perfect weather while we were there. It was warm (but not as hot as expected), but the nights were cool and I was glad to have thrown in a long-sleeved shirt.

As I mentioned before, the next-door property was a wild life hunting preserve. There were plenty of natural wildlife roaming around our house (non-threatening animals like deer, frogs, lizards, etc.), but beyond the fence were wild boars among other scarier animals.

So as the evening turned to night and the conversations turned to scarier stories (why do we tell scary stories at night outside??), we started getting really jumpy. At one point a mouse ran across the brick and we all screeched. But it was nothing compared to when a cat jumped out of the bushes nearby (with those beady eyes!) and sent us scattering. It was midnight by then so bedtime was looming anyway, but that cat did it for sure. (My younger brothers had also gone to bed by that point and we were leery they had ulterior motives to sneak back out to scare us.)
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Vacation ended Sunday afternoon. We spent the morning slowly packing up, having a short devotional, and then playing games in the rec room. Henry went down for a nap and we waited to leave until afterwards. He had done really well in the car on the way out (albeit with an iPad in hand and Super Simple Songs on repeat) so we were hopeful for a successful trip back home as well.

We stopped for dinner about 2 hours into the trip, then he fell asleep around 8:30 that evening. Our plan was that if he fell asleep, we’d try driving the whole way back home (instead of grabbing a hotel room). Kevin blazed the trail (bless him and his driving skills) and we made it home around 11:45 Sunday night. I carried Henry in and laid him in his crib and the kid sprawled out with all the love of finally being in his own bed again.

The vacation I had anticipated for so long is over, but I’m truly so grateful for the wonderful memories with my family. I just wish we didn’t live so far apart.

July 19, 2016

FILED IN: Personal, Travel

My parents are celebrating their 45th wedding anniversary this fall. For over 5 years, they’ve been talking about doing a family vacation. We didn’t plan it soon enough for their 40th and it kept falling through the cracks with both my sister’s (also a photographer) and my wedding schedules and everyone else’s work. There are 22 of us total with 10 of those being kids so you can imagine how hard it is to coordinate 12 adult work calendars. Finally, over a year ago, we nailed down a date so we could all block our calendars. Since then, I’ve been looking forward to spending a long weekend with everyone.

My parents rented a huge house called Tanglewood Manor near Hocking Hills State Park in Ohio. The house itself was out in the middle of nowhere with no cell service at all. (Our phones actually read “no service” up in the left corner where the bars usually are.) The house was equipped with wi-fi so we could have some access to the outside world, but the only way to call in case of an emergency was on the house phone in the living room. (Which was a little iffy since the next-door property was a wild life hunting preserve; we saw them haul in a wild bore at one point!) There were plenty of rooms (the house can sleep 40 people!), nearly all with private bathrooms, so we were able to spread out. It also came with 2 dining rooms (one for the kids; one for the adults), a large kitchen that was stocked with everything you could need (pots, pans, mixer, paper towels, etc.) besides food itself, a recreation room, laundry room, and a large living room.

To make the meals easy, we split up into families. The Sarvers had dinner Thursday night, Jordan & Payton (with help from mom) had brunch Friday, we had dinner Friday night, the Whipples took Saturday brunch, and the Millers took Saturday dinner. Snacks and Sunday breakfast & lunch were all leftovers and miscellaneous foods we brought along for sharing.

We arrived Thursday afternoon and spent some time unpacking and checking out the house. While everyone was spread out inside, there was also a lot of outdoor play area. There was a large cement pad with basketball hoops and a volleyball net as well as a 60′ slide in the side of the hill and a swing set. Henry’s gold mine was the huge shed nearby that housed all kinds of kid’s toys including his favorite Cozy Coupe car.

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While the kids got out the ride-on toys, the boys immediately picked up game of basketball (where they conveniently lowered the hoop for dunking purposes).
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After dinner that night, we got out the garden hose and turned the slide into a water slide.
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After the babies & littles were cleaned up and in bed, we played a disgusting Fear Factor-esque food challenge. Foods were color coded–sour cream, marshmallows, ice cream were white while peanut butter, prune juice, and chocolate syrup were brown, for example–and corresponded with colored paper in a draw bowl. We were split into 3 teams and one person from each team would draw a paper and the corresponding food item of that color that was next up in line would land in a blender. Some notable combinations were black beans+prune juice+sour cream, Ranch dress+mayo+beets, refried beans+avocado+corn chips, and ice cream+milk+green beans. (You cannot understand the level of disgusting.) The three people (one from each team) that drew the colors had to drink the combination and the first person to get it all down got a point for their team.
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On Friday after brunch, we headed over to Hocking Hills Canopy Tours to go zip lining. It was the first time most of us had ever tried it so there were some mixed feelings and nerves. I figured if I could repel down a building in Chicago, I could go zip lining. And, it turns out, it’s not scary at all. It was more awe-striking than breathtaking. It was absolutely beautiful out there and wasn’t nearly as much of an adrenaline rush as I had thought it might be.

There were several different courses, including a kids one that Kylie and Gavin did. The rest of us did the x-tour, which took almost 3 hours from start to finish. A few of us had GoPros with us to capture some video; the rest of these photos were taken by my sister Megan (we were split into two groups and she was in the next group that started half an hour later).
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Friday evening we were all exhausted and spent some more time outside before hitting the showers and then sprawling out in the living room until midnight reminiscing old memories and hearing even older one from Mom & Dad.

I’ll be back soon with part two of the vacation, which includes hiking and roasting s’mores and being scared out of our minds in the dark.

Note: my sister, Megan, and I took a lot of photos and pooled them together. This blog shows a lot of my photos, but some of hers as well.

April 28, 2016

FILED IN: Travel

I‘m still getting around to putting all my thoughts together from my time at Justin & Mary’s Walk Through a Wedding workshop in Connecticut earlier this month. In the meantime, it’s easier to show you the pretty pictures from the brief moments that weren’t spent in the workshop.

On the first day of the workshop, my roommate, Morgan, and I did a quick walk around Yale before the workshop started. Because both workshop days were really long and went late into the nights, the only other time I had for more exploring was the morning of the second day of the workshop. A few of us decided to go check out Lighthouse Point Park and it was absolutely beautiful! I could get really used to living on the coast…except for those winters.

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