The Little Shell

“Yesterday morning, Charlie and I went for a walk on the beach before the rain rolled in.  The storm clouds were dark towers against the horizon, and the water was a bright aqua in the spots where the sun was still shining.  This stretch of sand is really good for shelling and actually can hurt your feet if you go without shoes.

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As we strolled along, we stopped every few feet to pick up beautiful shells that caught our eye.  They come in so many different colors and shapes.  I know we’re picking up what real “shellers” would think of as just average pieces, but they’re all so pretty that we can’t help it.  Then, by some miracle, I saw this one waiting for us in the wet sand.

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About as large as my pinky fingernail, it’s the tiniest whole shell I remember ever seeing.  Yet, even among the shell bed that gets dumped on every day by waves, crunched by joggers, and battered by rainstorms, it isn’t even chipped.  It’s color and stripes are just as detailed and perfect as similar shells that are much larger.

It struck me that God is so detailed in His control and care for creation that He made sure even this tiniest shell had all the right details and was made complete.  With all the complex things He made, He still put the same level of care and craftsmanship into this small shell.

“When I consider your heavens,
the work of your fingers,
the moon and the stars,
which you have set in place,
what is mankind that you are mindful of them,
human beings that you care for them?”  Psalm 8:3-4

In Luke, Jesus tells us that God has even numbered the hairs on our head.  Why would He do that unless He cares for each fiber of our being?  He’s not just interested in the big things about our lives.  We shouldn’t hesistate to share the small,tiny worries, concerns, triumphs and joys with Him.

This little shell reminded me that He is Lord over all things great and small.  He cares for the tiny, seemingly unimportant things with the same detail and eye for completeness that He brings to the larger issues of our lives as well.  I think we’re tempted sometimes to only cast our big worries onto Him.  We think our little concerns are silly and insignificant in His eyes.

Yet our worries pile up like shells on the beach – some large and obvious, some small and hidden among the pile.  This shell reminds me that God cares equally for every part of our hearts.  His concern for us is not proportionate to the size of the issue.  He brings the same detailed love and perfection to everything.  His creation is wide and varied, yet all equally cared for and made equally beautiful.  This shell reminds me that He wants us to share all things, great and small, with Him.  He will bring His same intense love to all parts of us.

This little shell reminds me to not leave parts of my life hidden in the pile, dismissed as insignificant.  It reminds me to continually open myself up to Him, allowing Him access to every concern, every thought, every desire so that He can touch and perfect them all.

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The simple blessing called “Home”

Oh hey, blog.  I’m sure you’re feeling totally neglected, but don’t worry.  I haven’t forgotten you.  I’ve just been busy these last 2.5 weeks hanging out with family and friends, spending in the kitchen with my favorite ladies, going for walks in the glorious sunshine, and whatnot.  But now I’m back, and it’s time to attempt a recap of the aforementioned massive trip home in the form of a bulleted list of favorite memories!

Charlie was able to schedule himself for seven days off in a row.  We headed up to his parents’ home in Dadeville for several days, where we were also able to visit friends in Auburn and Birmingham.  Then, my parents met us in Auburn and I went home with them while Charlie headed back to Florida to work.  I got to Ocean Springs on the Tuesday before Thanksgiving, and Charlie worked six days straight before joining us for a few days.  Being relatively close to home is the reason we came to Florida.  After so much time with our families, we certainly feel blessed that the Lord worked this out!

Favorite Memories from Family/Friend Extravaganza 2012

Dadeville – It was awesome to be with Charlie’s family!  They moved up their Thanksgiving meal for us, and it was so nice to all be together.  The weather at the lake was gorgeous, and we went up to the Smith fire tower one afternoon.  The walk up was pretty steep, but seeing the lake’s fall colors from above was definitely worth it.

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Charlie’s mom and I had one afternoon to ourselves, and she told me tons of old family stories I’d never heard.  Being so far away this past year has given me a new appreciation for our families, and I loved learning more about our relatives on Charlie’s side.  I also loved getting in the kitchen with Sheila one morning to make lemon ice box pies!  A neighbor had given them some huge lemons, and we went on a spontaneous run to the store for condensed milk and graham cracker crumbs.  It’s not like we needed any more food, but hey – any excuse to get in the kitchen with family!

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Friends – We were blessed to see a lot of friends during our time at home.  We went to Auburn one Sunday, where we had the chance to visit with a lot of families we loved during our time working at and attending AUMC.  It hit us during that visit that it had been a year since we’d been with people who had known us for more than a few weeks.  We stood in the parking lot after MYF was over, and it was just hard to leave.  We were so ready to go last September, and I know the Lord was certainly calling us to travel nurse.  But again, all this traveling – as wonderful as it is – has also made me greatly appreciate the deep community we’ve known before.  We had dinner with two good friends in Birmingham the next night, and sitting down with people who know us, really know us, was just a breath of fresh air.  I’m so glad we have another year of great adventures to look forward to all over the country, but I’m also excited for the coming day when we have a permanent community again.  (and I’m sure six months into that, I’ll be itching to explore somewhere new!)

Ocean Springs – I’m old enough now to realize what a unique blessing it was to get to spend 12 days in my hometown with my parents and grandmother.  Not many people my age have that chance, and I soaked up every minute of it!  On my first night, my dad and I went for a long bike ride through the seashore park near sunset.  It’s something I’ve always wanted to do with him since he loves it so much, and it was priceless.  I loved being in the kitchen with my mom as we whipped up the least-stressful Thanksgiving meal ever!  It seriously seemed as if everything was done by 9:30 that morning and we just got to visit.  My grandmother brought her best pecan pie in recent memory and we were practically fighting over the last slices!  She then led the way as all the girls braved the Black Friday madness.  Dad was smart to stay home and get some work done!

The rest of our time was spent just doing the things you do on the coast – visiting pottery showrooms, seeing the new exhibit at the Walter Anderson museum, having girls’ lunches in the cute downtowns, going for morning beach drives just after sunrise to see the birds, stopping for Tato-Nut on the way home, walking along the beach just after it rains, etc.

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We used to only be able to visit Ocean Springs for quick weekend trips, so I really savored this longer visit.  When Charlie finally came, we celebrated his return with more seafood, another pie, and a hysterical accidental karaoke night.

One of the most priceless memories from Ocean Springs was the time I got to spend with my grandmother.  We stayed up for an hour one night after my parents went to bed, and she told me all about her life as a girl, her parents, meeting my grandfather, and what it was like to work for Western Union during the war.  I learned so much from her, and I feel so blessed to still have grandmothers who can pass on little pieces of themselves.  One thing she gave me on this trip was her banana pudding recipe.

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One night when Charlie was home, Momer sat at the kitchen table and called out the directions to me at the stove.  She walked over to make sure all my stirring was actually getting us somewhere and approved of the final result when it came out of the oven with a lightly browned meringue.  She said she used to make it all the time for the kids, and I know I’ll be making it for our children one day.  I can’t wait to watch them dig into their little bowls as I tell them how their great-grandmother taught me this recipe one Thanksgiving.  She gave me her pecan pie recipe years ago, but I know it will never be as good unless it come in a tin pie plate covered in saran-wrap that’s taped to the bottom and then tied up in a white grocery bag.  Only then could it be hers.

I feel so blessed to be close enough to have these visits.  It won’t be long before we head back west and can’t come home when we want.  The past few weeks has been a fun time of looking back, but also getting a peek of what’s ahead.  Someday we’ll move home again.  Someday we’ll be part of another community again where we share Bible studies, Sunday lunches, Saturday football marathons, double date nights, etc.  And my prayer is that I don’t lose the heightened appreciation for these simple connections we call “home.”  I love traveling, and I don’t think I’ll ever stop wanting to explore new places.  But there is nothing quite as sweet, as comforting, as wonderful as home.

See more pictures here.

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The road from Wyoming to Florida is…

…LONG, icy, slightly scary, and very sleep deprived.  However, it is also full of lots of laughter, beautiful scenery, welcome climate changes, and lots of yummy “Welcome Home!” southern meals.

I picked Charlie up from his last shift at the Wyoming hospital at 7:30 p.m. on Wednesday, October 24, and we hit the road for Florida.  Even though it would mean a late night, we wanted to at least drive the four hours to Cheyenne in order to help us get to his parents’ house in Alabama by a reasonable time on Friday.

I had all of our directions for each day printed, hotel reservations made, and we felt great about our 2,600 mile, four-day trip across the U.S.

Except, it started snowing the day before we left and didn’t stop.

We were wondering if we’d see a Wyoming snow, and at first we laughed that it came just in time to wish us off.  We enjoyed getting out in it during our last few days and seeing how beautiful it looked against the mountain sky.  Then, we almost cried as we got on the interstate Wednesday night and realized it was iced over for most of the way to Cheyenne.

There’s nothing on I-80 between Rock Springs and Cheyenne, not even street lights.  So we suddenly found ourselves driving 30 mph on solid ice in the pitch black late at night.  At one point, we got caught in a group of truckers who had all stopped to put chains on their tires because they couldn’t get any traction.  I saw a pick-up truck slip and slide across the road in our rearview mirror before he regained control.  It took us five hours to make the usual three hour trip to Laramie (45 minutes from our hotel for the night) only to find that I-80 was closed.

As in, it’s now 12:30 a.m., snowing, we’d been up for 20 hours, and now we had nowhere to go.

Since we had to leave the hotel at 5:45 a.m. anyway, it didn’t make sense to stay in Laramie without knowing if they’d clear the interstate in the next five hours.  And the snow was just going to keep coming down, so we’d probably wake up to worse conditions anyway.

Somehow we made the decision to just keep driving and go south to Fort Collins.  It would get us out of the worst of the snow and keep us on track to make it to an appointment Charlie had in Nebraska the next day to get his fingerprints made.  It was still pretty slow-going, but we finally made it another four hours to just past Fort Collins and checked into a Super 8 Motel at 4:30 a.m.

We then checked out at 6:00 a.m.

If that’s not a “Wow, I’m glad we’re going to Florida!” story, I don’t know what is!  Our car had been through hell, our bikes had been through worse, and we were pretty exhausted, but it was certainly an adventure.  The Lord definitely took care of us the whole way, even keeping our spirits up as tired as we were!  Plus, since we left before dawn, we were treated to a beautifully snowy sunrise as we made our way to Nebraska.

The next day was a gorgeous drive to Missouri, and on Friday we hit the road for Alabama and enjoyed the highways through the coppery-colored Ozarks.

We stopped at a little cafe on a small highway in Arkansas for a delicious lunch of fried catfish, okra, hushpuppies, sweet tea, pecan pie and lemon icebox pie.  We were officially in our homeland!

It felt great to drive into Alabama, be called “Sugar” by the gas station attendants, watch Charlie drink a Diet Grapico and see the sun go down through the pine trees.  Pulling into Charlie’s parents’ house at the lake felt even better.  It was a little more than a year ago that we pulled out of that same driveway headed for Connecticut, not knowing what crazy adventures awaited.

We enjoyed a full day with his family, catching up and laughing while keeping an eye on all the football scores.  Charlie ate his weight in his mom’s breakfast casserole, I overdosed on cheese grits and we all enjoyed a gorgeous fall afternoon family walk.  Being with family again was definitely a blessing!  We even got a double-dose as we headed to Florida the next day to stay with my brother and sister-in-law who happened to be spending the week in Sanibel.  Since they live in Costa Rica and won’t be home this year for Christmas, we weren’t sure when we’d see them next.  We were thrilled when we realized we’d all be in Florida at the same time.  They rolled out the coastal welcome mat and we had a great seafood dinner on the island and stayed up late catching up.

On Monday, we finally headed across the state to our new home in Port St. Lucie.  In the last week, we’ve been enjoying seafood on the water, fresh farmers’ markets, morning walks alongside the egrets and blue herons in our beautiful neighborhood, looking for shells on the Atlantic beaches and wearing short sleeves again.  I keep thinking we’re on vacation, but we really live here!

Charlie spent last week in orientation and officially started on his new floor today.  I’ll update more on his new job, where I’m volunteering and our upcoming trip home soon.  But for now, all we can say is: What a marvelous adventure!

See more pictures from our cross-country adventure here.

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The Ministry of Waiting

During my quiet time this morning, I started to feel an overwhelming sense of gratitude for who the Lord is and what His presence means in our lives.  I was reading our Sunday school lesson in preparation for church later and smiled when I saw it deals with Abraham, Sarah and God’s incredible promise to make them the parents of endless generations – even in their old age.

Abraham accepted this promise at first and his faith in God was credited to him as righteousness.  Yet, after living in Canaan for 10 years without bearing a child, they began to get restless.  They surely must have thought that when God made that promise He meant for it to be accomplished soon.  And now He was delaying.  What was He doing?  When was He going to get around to them?  Maybe He’d forgotten?  Maybe He hadn’t really meant that Sarah would bear a child (because that’s impossible at her age anyway!) but that it would happen some other, logical, way (through Sarah’s slave, Hagar).

In their waiting, their trust began to waver.  In their waiting on God’s divine plan, they allowed their human reasoning to take over.   They decided God couldn’t really make Sarah pregnant in her old age and that he must have meant they’d have a child through another woman – a method they understood.  So they decided to help God out in fulfilling His promise by having Sarah’s slave conceive a son with Abraham.  There.  Now God’s promise was fulfilled, their anxious waiting was relieved and they were back on track.

Except, that wasn’t God’s plan.  He really meant it when He said that Abraham and Sarah would bear these nations.  He made that promise because He was capable of doing it.  It wasn’t like when we promise grand things to those we love out of what we wish we could do, then have to go back later and amend them based on what we’re actually able to do.  God promised something miraculous because He meant to do exactly that.

“Yet those who wait on the Lord will gain new strength.”  Isaiah 40:31

Through Abraham and Sarah’s time of waiting, their trust grew weak to the point of feeling like they needed to take matters into their own hands.  They didn’t wait – they worried.  They felt God was late in fulfilling His promise because they brought their own expectations to the table of how God meant to do it.  They would not have grown anxious if they had fully surrendered themselves to the fact that God always does what is best for us, in the best time and in the best way.

One thing we’re learning in our travel nursing adventure is to wait for God’s best.  As we start the job search anew every three months, it would be so easy to anxiously jump at the first offer just to have it settled.  We’ve also experienced still not having a job three days before our current job ends and wondering if God was leaving His solution too late.  Yet God promised to provide for us.  If we anxiously refuse to wait on His timing, we are choosing to settle for a solution we can see rather than the solution He has promised.  I’m learning I’d rather wait on His best for me than grab at what I can attain myself.

I’m also learning that in order for my strength to be renewed in the waiting, I must take advantage of that time by drawing closer to Him in prayer and through Scripture.  If I just sit around during that period, my anxious thoughts run rampant.  Yet the waiting offers time to worship and that is what renews strength.

How incredible is it that when God promises something that seems impossible, a solution that makes no sense to our human minds, He means what He says.  He is not just the best version of us – very well-meaning but sometimes unable to come through.  He is Lord over the universe.  He made everything we can see, He created us by breathing life into our lungs, and all things hold together in Him.  If He says He will do something, He doesn’t just mean He’ll accomplish that general purpose.  He means He will do exactly what He says.  I’m learning I’d much rather wait for His exact promise to be fulfilled in all its glory than give up and settle for something I can attain on my own now.  And if the waiting feels longer than expected, I can fight off worry by renewing my strength and my trust through worship, prayer and His word.

“Since ancient times no one has heard, no ear has perceived, no eye has seen any God besides you, who acts on behalf of those who wait for Him.”  Isaiah 64:4

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Fall Adventures

After Charlie’s appendectomy, we spent a few days resting and promoting his healing with frozen yogurt runs.  Before he got sick we had planned a couple of quick overnight trips to both Park City and Jackson Hole to do some hiking and enjoy the beautiful fall colors.  Even though Charlie was still a little sore and wouldn’t be able to do the hiking we’d planned, we decided to still get out of town for a change of scenery.  We’ve had a blast this past week taking advantage of his time off and discovering that fall in the West actually rivals our beloved New England!

Fall Trip Highlights

Beautiful drive through the Wasatch Mountains along the Mirror Lake Scenic Highway – we were shocked at the vibrant colors of the changing leaves and the beautiful contrast they made against the evergreens.  And we loved the small towns we drove through while on our way to Park City.  We even woke up the next morning and decided to skip the Morman Temple in Salt Lake City all together in favor of another drive through the Wasatch!

Burnt Ends special at Pat’s BBQ in Salt Lake City – we got there just in time to score the last two plates of the Friday special, burnt brisket ends.  It was fabulous!

Detour through Weber Canyon – We took a random right turn and found ourselves in one of the prettiest canyons we’ve encountered yet.  It was literally on fire with neon yellows and oranges as we wound our way next to a pretty stream.

Beautiful morning drive through the Hoback Valley – we left early in the morning for Jackson and enjoyed a beautiful drive along the Hoback River in the soft mid-morning light.  Charlie was asleep, so I didn’t stop to take any pictures, but I loved watching the gentle light playing on the green meadows and colorful, rolling hills.  Even with all the drama of the other mountain ranges surrounding us, I have a soft spot for the more gentle feel of the Hobacks.

Meeting up with friends – Two other travel nursing friends from Rock Springs were also in Jackson, and we met up with the them to visit a wonderful wildlife art museum and hit up happy hour at one of our favorites, Snake River Brewery.

Finally hitting the wildlife jackpot in Jackson – Finally!  On our way to breakfast at our favorite Jackson spot, The Bunnery, we encountered three moose having breakfast on a local golf course.  Then, on our drive through the Tetons, we were able to get out and watch a male elk “bugle” to his herd of females before finally encountering another moose couple cooling off in a stream later in the day.  Throw in a bear sighting along the way and we finally felt satisfied!

Surprise detour into Idaho – After our drive through the Tetons, we weren’t ready to head home yet.  We took a right turn when we were supposed to go left and saw a sign that Idaho was only a few miles away.  Sold!  We spent the next two hours driving along the back side of the Teton range.  It was so fun to know we’d now seen the mountains from every angle.  Plus, we found a great local creamery turning out their own ice cream and cheeses for an afternoon snack!

See more pictures from these trips here.

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When the Nurse becomes the Patient

This past Sunday Charlie called me from work see if I would bring him some medicine.  He said he had the worst stomachache of his life and was bent over in pain.  I’ve never seen Charlie sick beyond an occasional headache, so I was concerned when I got there and saw that he looked really pale and was obviously in a lot of pain.  I tried to persuade him to come home, but he said they had too many patients for him to leave them all with just the one other nurse.  If there’s another thing I’ve never seen my husband do, it’s ask someone else to do his job.

So I continued to check on him throughout the afternoon, thinking the medicine would bring some relief for what we though was an upset stomach.  But he kept saying that the pain was worse and unrelenting.  He’s not one to complain, so if he was admitting to pain then I knew something was wrong.

Finally, about half an hour before his 12-hour shift ended, Charlie called to ask me to meet him at the hospital instead of just picking him up.  One of the attending doctors happened to be up there on a Sunday night and had worked it out for Charlie to be direct-admitted for observation and blood work.  This meant he wouldn’t have to wait in the ER for what could be hours since our small town hospital happened to be slammed that night.  About an hour later, Charlie finished charting on his patients in the ICU and we walked across the hallway where we he got into a bed on the Med-Surg floor and began receiving fluids.  Even though he was in such pain, we had a good laugh with the Med-Surg nurses who were pretty shocked to see him suddenly turn into a patient when they had seen him in the Unit all day!

Our doctor was extremely kind and got our test results very quickly, ruling out any gall bladder or pancreas issues.  By this time, Charlie’s pain had localized in his lower right side, and we all knew we were on the fast track toward an appendectomy.  A late-night scan confirmed his appendix was enlarged, and they scheduled the surgery for first thing in the morning.  In fact, a surgeon that Charlie knows well and had just worked with that day happened to be on call to perform his procedure.  Again, needless to say, she was shocked to receive the phone call that she’d be taking out the appendix of the nurse she’d just been with all day!

With everything decided around 1:00 a.m., we both got what rest we could before I returned to the hospital early the next morning.  They took Charlie down to the OR, where we thanked the Lord for His overwhelming peace.  Charlie’s never had surgery before, so we were both a little nervous just with anticipation.  However, despite being thousands of miles from home and essentially on our own during this ordeal, we felt very much like the Lord was in the room with us and that all would be ok.  It was hard to let go of his hand as he was wheeled back to surgery, but even in the two hours that I waited alone I never felt overwhelmed.  This all happened so suddenly and was so out of our control, that literally all we could do was throw our hearts upon the Lord and trust Him to carry us.

Charlie’s surgery went fine, and the doctor said that it seemed like his appendix had been inflamed for awhile, so the surgery really saved him from future trouble.  It seemed like he was back up in our room recovering before it had even sunk in that all of this was happening!  We spent the rest of the day napping, watching television and visiting with a lot of his coworkers who stopped by to check on him.  They, as well as I, couldn’t believe he finished the last six hours of his shift with acute appendicitis!  Charlie was discharged on Tuesday morning and has been doing really well at home.  He’s determined to recover quickly, so he’s up walking a lot and doing all the things his nurse’s mind knows will help him.  Sometimes he’ll look at me and say, “I just had surgery!” as if trying to make it sink in.  It all happened so fast – it seemed like I dropped him off for work on Sunday morning and then we entered a fast-paced dream world and suddenly we are back at home with some extra medicine and a few more days off.

Through all of this, it’s been so obvious that the Lord is in control.  He allowed Charlie’s appendix to not be critical until a time when we were at home for a long stretch, not off in the middle of Yellowstone or some Wyoming highway that’s always two or three hours to the nearest town.  He provided extra shifts for Charlie the previous week, knowing that he’d miss all of his work this week and not receive a normal paycheck.  His mercy allowed Charlie not to be sick with something more serious which our small hospital couldn’t accommodate.  He gave us His peace so that in our humanness we wouldn’t feel the added stress of being so far from home.

“You have enclosed me behind and before,
And laid Your hand upon me.

If I take the wings of the dawn,
If I dwell in the remotest part of the sea,
Even there Your hand will lead me,
And Your right hand will lay hold of me.
 If I say, “Surely the darkness will overwhelm me,
And the light around me will be night,”
Even the darkness is not dark to You,
And the night is as bright as the day.
Darkness and light are alike to You.”

Psalm 139: 5, 9-12

God’s is constantly with us – not just beside us, seeing what we see, but behind us, before us, and over us.  Unlike our own eyes, He sees our whole path.  He knows what is coming ahead, He sees what is happening beyond our understanding that will affect us down the road.  Unlike us, nothing is hidden from Him.  There is no darkness for Him – nothing can hide in secret and then surprise Him.  Since all is illuminated to Him, He can see everything affecting our path and provide our way through it.

When we were driving a scenic road through Montana last week, I remember looking off into the distance and wondering about the beauty that lay just beyond what I could see.  Everything out our windows was so incredible, but I knew that we were also surrounded by thousands of beautiful acres that we’d never even lay eyes on.  All we could see what was in front of us.  Yet these beautiful streams we drove past began somewhere.  These lush meadows were fed by unseen rivers.   We couldn’t see the whole landscape, but we knew the sights on our own road were intimately affected by their connection to the nature just out of sight.

Thank God that He sees and controls what is out of our sight!  Thank God that He is Lord not just over the created world, but over the spiritual things which our human minds cannot perceive!  Nothing can enter our path that He is unfamiliar with, unable to provide for, unable to love us through.  He cares for the unseen rivers that run through our lives.

Psalm 139 says we cannot escape His presence, which means we also cannot escape His character.   His love, provision, mercy, kindness, forgiveness, grace and peace go before us, follow behind us, and lay over us no matter how our days may twist and turn in our own eyes.  Praise Him!

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Yellowstone, Part 2

On Wednesday morning, we woke up early and enjoyed hot chocolate and a cinnamon roll in front of the big picture windows overlooking Old Faithful as we waited for it to erupt in the morning light.  We could also see the steam columns rising across the geyser basin as the hot springs met the very crisp morning air.  After OF did her thing, we headed off to explore some of the springs and pools we had skipped the day before.

First up was the midway geyser basin, which features the Grand Prismatic Spring.  This very large spring is mainly covered by its own steam, but when the wind blows just right you can see a vibrant bacterial rainbow of colors along its edges.  This basin has several other blue pools that reminded me of the deep, clear color of precious stones.  And even though it was a cold morning, the heat coming off the ground warmed us right up!

We next wound our way to the upper geyser basin, where our first fumerole and mudpot awaited.  The fumerole was like a natural chimney, constantly emitting steam from underground.  The neat thing was the whooshing roar sound it made as the steam swirled upward.  All of your senses get a workout at Yellowstone!  The paintpot was also noisy, like a large mud bath that bubbled up with loud “bloop bloop” sounds.  This one was a deep gray, and it definitely looked like dozens of gallons of thick paint had been poured on the ground.

Our next stop was the Yellowstone canyon area, on the opposite side of the park.  We took a beautiful detour by the Firehole River along the way and were treated to a tall waterfall and canyon walls of dark, volcanic rock.

It was crazy to think of this more traditional scenery being just up the road from all the crazy science experiments God seemed to be working in the ground nearby!  But we were soon in Norris geyser basin where we stopped to see more colorful paintpots and steamy, roaring springs.

It was after lunch by the time we made it to the canyon.  I had plans for us to hike down this natural staircase to the base of Lower Falls, etc., but we realized all we wanted to do was spend the afternoon exploring other less traditional areas and get back to the lodge for dinner and reading by the fire.  So we stopped at a few of the major viewpoints and were on our way.  We don’t normally blow past sights like that, but the driving loop through Yellowstone is over 200 miles and covering it in two days means a little compromising.  However, the light canyon walls and the roaring falls of the Yellowstone River were beautiful!

To continue our scenic loop through the park, we drove through Hayden Valley on our way to Yellowstone Lake.  This area is known for really great wildlife viewing but, again, all we saw were herds and herds of bison.  Not complaining!  We wound our way alongside the lazily beautiful Yellowstone River, enjoying the softly rolling meadow and clear afternoon skies.

Just before Yellowstone Lake, we reached another sulfuric hot spot and were greeted by the smell of a thousand rotten eggs on a hot street.  The sulfur content of these springs must have been the highest we’d seen, because the smell was almost nauseating.  A lot of people were walking the half mile boardwalk through this area, but I have no idea how they stood it!  We saw a few features near the road and were good to go.

Compared to the other areas of the park, Yellowstone Lake was very quiet.  It’s the largest high elevation lake in the United States and seemed more like looking out at the Gulf of Mexico than a lake.  We got our required giant ice cream cone at the general store and enjoyed the view and lack of crowds.  It was late afternoon by this point, so we completed our giant loop with a pretty, tree-lined drive back to our lodge.

After a quick nap, we had another yummy dinner and parked ourselves on a big leather couch with our books, hot chocolate and cookies.

Following two jam-packed days, it was so nice just to read quietly in our fire-lit lodge, watching the sun go down over the geyser basin.  I could have pulled a cot up next to the fire and been one happy camper!

The next morning was a real treat, and maybe my favorite part of the trip.  We bundled up and headed to the lodge for an early breakfast, thinking we’d watch Old Faithful go off for the first time in daylight.  As we waited, we ended up walking the boardwalk trail all around the area, hot chocolates in hand.  It was magical!  The early morning sun was still coming up, we practically had the place to ourselves as we explored all the beautiful pools and small geysers.  The early morning is my favorite time of day, and I love spending it with Charlie – it just makes the whole day cozy and perfect!

As the time neared for OF to erupt, we hiked about half a mile up to Observation Point where we watched the show from above.  It felt really good to stretch our legs after spending so much time in the car on this trip.  We were too high to hear the geyser, but to see the giant water column explode from the ground below us high into the air was such an awesome perspective.  We had now seen it go off in the early morning, at sunset, and from above – I think we thoroughly enjoyed Old Faithful in all its glory!

We had a long drive home ahead of us, so we packed up, said goodbye to our cozy cabin and picked up some final souvenirs.  We were just in time to watch OF go off one last time, and then we were on our way.  This was such a wonderful trip, and we were constantly surprised at God’s creativity and majesty at every turn.  His imagination as Creator never ceases to amaze us, and Yellowstone is surely one of His “show off” spots!

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