harry potter and the symphony.

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Judah, Amie, and I got an early Christmas gift from our aunt to a showing of the movie Harry Potter and the Sorceror’s Stone accompanied by the Charleston Symphony.

We drove to North Charleston Saturday afternoon and I downloaded our current read-aloud, The Penderwicks on Gardam Street, on audiobook from the library beforehand, so we could enjoy the road trip.

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We stopped for dinner at one of our favorite Tex-Mex spots, and arrived a the coliseum just in time to find our seats before the movie/concert began. It was a jovial, festive atmosphere. Lots and lots of people were dressed up in their favorite Harry Potter garb, grown-ups included.

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The orchestra conductor opened the evening by encouraging audience participation. He invited everyone to cheer for their favorite Hogwarts houses and characters. It was a packed event, and there’s nothing like watching one of your favorite movies with hundreds of people having just as much fun as you are.

The movie was shown with captions, but we had no difficulty hearing the dialogue over the orchestra. It was seamless.

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It was a late night, so I was thankful for the coffee kiosk at Intermission. And Judah and Amie were thankful for popcorn and peanut M&M’s. We loved every second of the performance; the symphony played the entire score including the credits: it was a 3-hour show! By the end, the audience was on their feet clapping and cheering. I was reminded of the power of live music, and am still scratching my head at the conductor’s ability to time the performance exactly with the movie.

No pun intended; it was truly magical.

Saturday went down as our favorite night of 2017!

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myrtle beach swim meet.

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This month we started meet season with our swim team, Columbia Swimming.

David and I decided to take Gabe and Noah out of swimming this year, partly because the rates went up, and partly because neither showed great enthusiasm for it. In fact, both were happy when we told them they could quit!

Being part of a swim team takes some commitment because it’s a year-round sport. The kids practice right through the summer. But as of this year, there’s really been no question in our mind of whether the commitment’s worth it; we’ve seen so much good come of it for both Judah and Amie. They’ve gotten stronger, more energetic, and more confident. We’ve made some wonderful friends. And the longer they swim, the more they enjoy it.

Judah now practices three times a week for an hour and half, and Amie twice. It’s a lot, but I will say it helps tremendously that the pool is just five minutes from our house. I can drop them Tuesday and Thursday mornings, race home to put in an hour of home school with the little guys, then pick them up and have a few minutes to chat with my friends. Judah’s third practice is on Saturday, which is nice too.

The other tricky thing about swimming is it’s a traveling sport; there’s only one meet in Columbia this year. We’ve decided to compromise by not doing every meet, and mostly competing on Saturdays, so we can be back home for church Sunday.

Thankfully most of the meets are within a couple hours away. Still it’s not the easiest for our family since David is a pastor; he can get away a couple Saturdays, but uses most to prepare for church Sunday. We’re making it work!

Since this month’s meet was in Myrtle Beach, which is 3 hours away, we decided to stay overnight and have the kids swim Saturday and Sunday. And my mom was very kind to come along and help.

Here are a few snapshots from our trip:

North Myrtle Beach Aquatic Center:

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Saturday afternoon warm-ups:

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CS 12-and-under teammates:

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A couple of events:

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Amie in lane 2

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Judah in lane 2

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Judah in lane 3

If you’re interested, here were their events:

Judah:

50 and 100 Back
50 and 100 Free
50 and 100 Breast

Amelie:

25 and 50 Free
25 Breast
25 and 100 Back
25 Fly

The Aquatic Center is quite small, and the boys lasted in the bleachers for about 10 minutes of the first warm-up. Thankfully the weather was beautiful, and we found places to set them up. We brought toys, Uno, and lots of snacks, and my mom loaded them with activity books from the dollar store, which turned out to be the biggest hit of the weekend. Swim meets last a long time, most of it is waiting for a 50-second race!

I have to say here that Gabe and Noah were incredible all weekend. I have so much to learn from their flexibility and enthusiasm for whatever life brings their way — even if it’s Goldfish and sticker books at a picnic table!

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The great news about a smaller swim meet is that parents were allowed on the pool deck. We set up outside, and my mom and I took turns running in to watch events. We could stand right up at the edge of the pool and cheer the kids on, and I could even bring them a Gatorade in the bleachers mid-afternoon (which isn’t allowed at other meets).

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We took a risk and got a super cheap motel room so we could be right on the beach. I think I have to say it was worth it, although there were some patchy moments. Maybe I wouldn’t do it again, without David or my dad along. My mom and I have both traveled a lot overseas, so saying it was one of the worst places we’ve ever stayed is saying a lot. But it could’ve been a lot worse. There were no bedbugs!

I love my mom. She can go with the flow better than most. And we have lots of things to laugh about.

And we woke up to this:

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Judah and I walked a mile up the beach to our beloved vacation spot:

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This is what he thought about our motel this weekend:

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When we met up Sunday afternoon, one of the kids’ coaches asked, “How was your night?” And Judah said, “Well, now I know what it’s like to stay in a one-star hotel!”

Thanks, Judah. Hey, at least there was a hot tub!

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The kids finished up around 3:00 on Sunday and we hit the road for home. We were so thankful for a fun swim meet experience after all the hard, scary meets of last year. I think a year makes a big difference. Both kids improved their times in every event, and say they’re excited for their next meet in Greenville! As a parent, I love watching them conquer their fears and blossom.

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north myrtle 2017.

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Hello friends! We just finished a lovely week at North Myrtle Beach. Here are a few highlights . . .

1.Our condo was the best. David found us a three-bedroom this year at a great rate because it’s off-season, we even got upgraded to oceanfront since we arrived right after Hurricane Irma passed through. No damage there, but the place was pretty sparse those first few days.

A three-bedroom allowed us to spread out comfortably without being on top of one another … nice big kitchen and living space. Two bathrooms, and two bedrooms for the kids. We logged many hours right there on the 12th floor. We brought toys, books, Lego’s, books, and games. We cooked all but one of our dinners in and brought some pretty epic snacks from Whole Foods.

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2. One of the things I love about a whole week away (a new-to-us experience last year) is the way we settle into a daily vacation rhythm and the real world becomes far away and life feels very simple. The most important question of the day is, “Do we eat dinner in the condo or grill out by the pool?” We spend all morning on the beach, come up for lunch and some rest time, then head to one of the pools in the afternoon.

I soaked up a week of just our family, the freedom to focus all our attention on one another and on making new memories.

Our favorite tradition this year was grilling dinner at Tower 4 poolside. It’s the tower across the street from the beach, so the pool area is a hidden gem. There are two hot tubs, a playground, and gas fire pits.

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3. We read lots and lots. David and I each brought several books, and I also brought a big stack of beach-and-vacation themed picture books from the library for the kids.

I tried to specifically choose books for vacation that felt restful. That meant no harrowing war or immigrant memoirs. I’m reading through the Bible this year, and was in Proverbs all week. There’s much I need to learn from those words. Every afternoon I read a chapter of a book on sanctification, and wrote about it in a notebook.

During afternoon rest time, Judah and Amie and I read The Penderwicks and were enchanted. I felt blanketed in strong, comforting words all week (who isn’t inspired to be the best the best version of themselves after reading Little Women?), and came home wanting so much to grow into the kind of person I read about over and over.

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4. We chatted on the elevator and on the beach and at the pool with many retired folks here on their vacation, and a few families. I love how outspoken older people are. I guess that’s a privilege of living through years and years of holding your tongue. No one seems surprised when you speak your mind. We had many sweet comments about our large family (many astonished comments, Wait! You have four!?), and one lady who was my favorite floated my way in the pool and said, “Look at all those kids! You must be Catholic! Do you homeschool?”

Near the end of our time we met a family with five kids who homeschool, and two of their children are siblings, just adopted from foster care. We were complete strangers but suddenly had a million stories to share and advice to ask from one another. And our kids loved swimming together, whether at the beach or pools. I have the utmost respect for them, who are suddenly figuring out life with five children ages 9-13, and I’m so happy that our paths crossed.

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5. We went to the boardwalk twice, once at lunchtime for pizza and arcades, and once in the evening for ice cream and arcades and glow sticks. We decided we much prefer the boardwalk in the evening, rather than baking in the midday sun (apparently everyone else figured that out before us).

We enjoy the Fun Plaza boardwalk arcade because it has old school games like Skee ball, air hockey, and Pacman. A nice man gave the kids 1500 tickets as he was leaving, so at the end of the night they had a shopping spree at the prize counter.

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6. And finally, David dragged us all out of bed at 6:45 on our last morning (by then the boys were actually sleeping in due to a few late nights), and we took donuts and coffee down to the beach to watch the sunrise. We were all a bit grouchy at first, but it turned out to be one of the best things we did.

There’s just nothing like seeing the glowing orange sun rise over the ocean, a cool breeze in your face, and the kids all sat and made sand castles for an hour while we sipped our coffee.

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We’re so very thankful to once again be able to take a 7-day vacation. It was restorative for our whole family, and we felt ready to return to our home and life in Columbia at the end.

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orlando trip.

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One of my mom’s great-aunts passed away recently, and she wanted to go to Florida for the memorial service. The kids and I jumped at the chance to take a road trip and see our family, so my mom took a couple more days off work to help turn it into a little vacation.

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We spent the first two nights in a little guest condo at Good Samaritan Retirement Village, in Kissimmee, which is where we attended my Grandma’s memorial service last year. A retirement village full of golf carts and double-wide mobile homes and a sprawling nursing home may seem like a strange spot for a vacation, but both sets of my grandparents logged years living there, and the place is brimming with memories.

I miss all four of them so much, and it feels like one small way I can share them with my children, who never had the privilege of knowing their great-grandparents well. We rented a golf cart for the two days, which the kids loved, and I showed them once again the different places my grandparents and their siblings lived, the bedroom I slept in when visiting my mom’s parents as a kid. We told them stories that they’ve heard lots of times.

Life slows down traveling around in a golf cart and we loved moss-hung trees and the cranes and ducks and turtles, the tropical flowers so bright they almost hurt your eyes. Even the daily rolling summer thunder storms felt cozy.

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I sat through the memorial service for a great-aunt that I did not know well, but who’s part of my big family. I was reminded that God’s faithfulness to me has extended generations before I was born. It’s a gift that my four children are swept up into that story, and I felt my heart welling up with gratitude for the love that is all around us.

We ate lunch with my mom’s sister and her husband who drove up from Tampa for the service, and enjoyed catching up with them.

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On Friday we drove to meet family at Disney Springs. It’s an outdoor shopping center that’s part of Disney but doesn’t charge admission. We packed a lunch to eat in the parking garage, and spent several hours roaming around. There are so many fun things for kids to do . . . if you’re in Orlando, I highly recommend it.

Our kids haven’t been to Disney World and we have no plans to take them any time soon (we’re currently saving our money for a trip to the Grand Canyon). The only time this bothers them is when they hear of friends going, but for the most part they don’t seem to mind. They loved the huge Lego store at Disney Springs, the Disney Store, free samples at Ghirardelli Chocolate.

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There’s also a couple of splash pads and a Dino Dig.

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We planned to buy ice cream there, but when a huge rainstorm hit, we opted to head for our cars and find a less expensive ice cream place in Orlando. I love how we’re all on the same page with saving money!

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We spent the next two nights in Orlando. The three youngest kids and I stayed at my Uncle Ralph and Aunt Valerie’s house, and Judah spent one night with his cousins, Tristan and Gavin, and one night with my mom at my Uncle Ken and Aunt Susan’s house a few miles away.

David told me later, “One thing I love about your family is that when anyone comes to town, they drop everything and are ready to celebrate!”

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It’s true. They always make us feel special. We all gathered for burgers at Uncle Ralph’s the first night, and taco’s at Uncle Ken’s the second night.

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Judah said, “Mom, I love when we have memorial services and weddings because it’s so much fun getting to see our family.”

My whole big extended family isn’t perfect and would never ever claim to be, but they are a gift. It makes my heart happy to see my children recognize that gift and get to know their second-cousins and great-aunts and uncles.

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They did lots of swimming in Uncle Ralph’s pool and Zach and Allison’s neighborhood pool. They played Settlers of Catan and Mexican Train and caught lizards. They adored Uncle Ralph and Aunt Valerie’s golden retrievers, Sam and Sophie, and fed turtles in the pond.

I chatted with my aunts and uncles and cousins and drank lots of decaf coffee. When we got home I was definitely in need of introvert time, but it was well worth it!

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Thanks to my Mom for making the trek with a van full of kiddos and helping me make it a really fun week. We brought a small bin of toys and books, but also stocked up twice at the Dollar store, for sticker books and coloring books and marbles (marbles=endless entertainment for little boys).

On a long trip David and I let the kids watch one movie, usually something we find at Redbox, and then we have them play or read books, and we listen to lots of music. On this trip we listened to all of the Wonderful Wizard of Oz on audiobook, which was a delight. Amelie said, “Mom! This is my new favorite story!” Anne Hathaway narrated and was incredible.

We packed grocery store snacks and fruit, and stopped for treats at Starbucks and Dunkin’ Donuts.

And my sweet husband hired our former house-cleaner to deep clean our house while I was gone (which I still hadn’t gotten around to doing after the addition). It was lovely to walk into a clean house at the end of it all.

I’m a person who has always loved travel, but I spent a long two years after adopting the boys where travel of any kind felt sort of like torture. It’s very fun to begin to discover that part of myself once again — where a road trip feels like an adventure.

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interview with judah: summer camp.

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Tell me about your camp. What kind of camp was it?

A Christian camp

How many boys were in your cabin? How many counselors did you have?

Ten boys and two counselors

What major did you choose for the week?

Outdoor survival

What’s one thing you learned about outdoor survival?

That clay can be used as a bug spray

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What other activities did you get to try?

Archery, climbing, GaGa ball, zipline, jump on the Blob, kayaking, water games in the lake

What did you do during chapel?

Talk about Jesus being the Vine

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What did you do to celebrate 4th of July?

Big fireworks on lake

What’s something that surprised you about camp?

That everyone was so nice

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Did you get homesick?

Yes

What was the hardest thing about your week?

The showers weren’t very clean

What was your favorite part of your day?

I liked it all

Do you want to go back next year?

Yes!

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Was the lasagna as good as your mom’s?

Not quite as good

What would you say to someone who’s thinking about going next year?

It’s very fun and there’s nothing to worry about

Is there anything else you want to tell us about?

Not too much, I would if I felt better

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And there you have it, folks! Poor Judah has been sick ever since he got home Saturday and wasn’t quiet up to this interview. We’re headed to the doctor this afternoon to see if he has strep throat. He still insists, “It was worth it!’

I felt like he came home about a year older and a foot taller. He is just growing up so much.

The senior counselor pulled David aside Saturday when he picked Judah up and said, “I want to tell you what an amazing kid you have. He was so nice to everybody and so respectful. We love Judah!”

Thanks to Bethel Christian Camp for an awesome first camp experience!!!



judah goes to camp.

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Yesterday evening we dropped Judah off for 6 nights at Bethel Christian Camp in Gaston, about 30 minutes away from Columbia. It’s a camp we’ve known and loved for a long time. We’ve met the director, and have seen lots of friends attend over the years.

I can’t imagine a better first camp experience for our boy; still I can hardly believe he’s gone.

He’ll turn 10 in September, which is the age I was when I started going to camp, but it still feels young somehow. I was delighted that we were allowed to settle him into his cabin and see the bunk he chose and meet his senior counselor. He was so excited. I reigned in my emotions and put my big girls pants on and said good-bye with a clear voice and a big smile.

The five of us made a forlorn trek back to our van, and cheered ourselves up with a stop at Pelican’s Snowcones before we headed home.

We gave Amelie the option to go to camp this week too, but she said, “No way! I’ll miss you too much!”

She regretted her choice when we dropped Judah and she got swept up in the excitement of chattering kids and rustic cabins and the lake. Still, she’s not even 8 yet, and I’m not sorry she decided to wait. Next year will be soon enough.

And so this week we find ourselves one kid short. It’s the quietest kid we’re missing, yet still the house feels a little bereft today.

I know I’m being sentimental, but to me this feels like the first big milestone of my kids growing up. Bit by bit they’re gaining independence, making memories apart from us.

I felt sad in the months leading up to this week, but even though I miss my boy like crazy, I suddenly find myself so very happy for him. This week away at camp is good and right; such a fun, valuable part of childhood. I love that he’s living his own story. It’s a gift to be a big part of that story, but I’m okay with letting go a little. I love the boy he’s becoming.

We get to send Judah emails throughout the week which are printed and given to him at lunch time. Here’s Noah’s message from today:

Dear Judah,

I can play Hobbit with you and play special toys with you. And I can play with the big Lego set too, and I can do Hobbit Hole reading with you. And I miss you really and I like you to sleep there because you had a good, good night. Obey your teacher and your class. Let’s sit in the chair together and read a book.

Love Noah

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anniversary backpacking trip.

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Here’s the story of our first ever backpacking trip:

David was in charge of finding a location and rounding up camping gear, and I was in charge of food.

He decided on a 12-mile stretch of the Foothills Trail, which starts in Caesar’s Head State Park, SC (near Greenville), and extends 76-miles up into Western North Carolina. A couple of our friends had just spent two nights and three days backpacking there and told him that it was great: very quiet and scenic.

David’s done some car camping with the kids on and off and camped on a couple guy adventures, so we’ve collected gear here and there over the past few years. Most recently, he purchased a great two-person backpacking tent on sale at REI, and a second backpack. The backpack is a youth size, so it can be adjusted to either fit me or Judah. The rest we were able to borrow.

I had so much fun planning out our food! Pinterest was my friend.

I found a couple of great posts about portion sizes for backpackers, and this one about using Trader Joe’s for backpacking. A big thanks to the people who shared ideas and made our trip better!

A couple of you have asked specifically what we ate, so here you go:

Lunch (both days): Triscuit crackers, salami, cheese stick (salami and cheese can keep for up to 5 days in a backpack if it’s not too hot out)

Snacks: nuts, Snickers bar, Clif Bar, Turkey Jerky, dark chocolate covered espresso beans (a small handful did the trick for the afternoon slump)

[If you want a real treat, our two favorite Clif bar flavors ever are the coconut chocolate chip and the nut butter]

Dinner: we split one box of couscous and added olive oil and a pack of tuna

If you camp you probably know about the pocket rocket stove, which we’ve used for awhile. This is probably our favorite camping item. You can still build that romantic campfire, but can also cook your dinner at the same time. We used it for morning coffee as well.

Breakfast: dry granola and TJ’s dried pineapple, coffee (we didn’t want to drink instant coffee, so we brought our small plastic Melitta drip cone and a filter)

Okay!

Like I said, I carefully portioned out the food so it wouldn’t be too heavy. We ate a big brunch in Greenville before we began hiking, and a late lunch Friday after we finished. We had almost the perfect amount of food: neither of us ate our turkey jerky or nuts, but they were certainly nice to have.

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Do you know what the absolute hardest part of the whole trip was?

Getting ready.

Oh my goodness, I almost lost my mind Wednesday afternoon after taking four kids to Wal-Mart for last-minute supplies, writing out babysitting details for Linda, trying to portion food and choose the clothes I needed, all with four little people clamoring around me, wanting to burrow in the sleeping bag and try on the backpacks.

Yep. That was the craziest, most stressful part.

But not to worry: it was all worth it!

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David’s mom kept the kids Thursday and chauffeured them to swim practice and a birthday party for the oldest two, then to their cousins’ house for a sleepover. Shari kept them until Friday mid-morning, then Linda picked them up. They had pizza with their grandparents Friday evening and then came home.

Thank you, thank you to our family for taking on four kids to make this trip possible.

It was the first time David and I have been away just the two of us since we adopted the boys two years ago. It was much-needed.

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The trail was 2 1/2 hours from our house. We left at 7:00 a.m. Thursday and drove to Greenville first for breakfast at Biscuithead. Please try this place if you’re in Greenville or Asheville. It’s delicious!

We hit the trail by about 11:00 a.m. and hiked 12 miles in 6 hours.

Was I nervous about this trip and the hike?

Well, yes, I was.

I’ve never in my life camped at all — not car camping, not backpacking — and I haven’t hiked more than about 6 or 7 miles at once. I know, it’s kind of embarrassing how un-outdoorsy I’ve been until this point in my life. But it’s never too late to change, right?

And like I mentioned, this trip was my anniversary gift to David, and he was certain I could do it.

So I channeled my inner Cheryl Strayed and told myself, “I got this.”

It sounds silly, but just thinking that helped me a ton. I never once let myself say, “I don’t think I can do it,” even when I was tired and achey and scared of bears.

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The trail was just beautiful. It was so quiet that in two days we saw only two other campsites. That’s it.

The weather was perfect but I don’t think we’d go back much after mid-June. The mosquitoes were okay, but the gnats were a thick cloud in the afternoons. Probably better to go in April or May — or in the fall.

So, can I just say that it’s one thing to hike 24 miles in two days, but it’s another to do it with a 25-lb backpack!

That thing took some getting used to. We each had a Camelbak hydration system, which is great for any kind of hike (we always take at least one on our family hikes too). I love drinking water as often as I want and never feeling dehydrated. We borrowed a water purifier from a friend and used creek water to refill.

We hiked past two waterfalls and our campsite was along a creek just a few yards from a lovely lake.

It was really, really fun to cross the border into North Carolina on foot.

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I loved our little campsite. There are so many great campsites on the Foothills Trail. It’s very remote, but the trail is well-marked and cleared. There are campsites at regular intervals cleared with make-shift fire pits. This was nice to discover because we’d like to take Judah backpacking there but not hike quite so far.

Just beyond our tent was the river, which made the perfect background noise.

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We arrived at the site a little after 5:00. Because David is nothing if not an over-achiever, he felt the need to then go ahead and run “Heartbreak Ridge,” a fantastically steep stretch of a mile or two just beyond our campsite.

I felt the need to take off my shoes and socks and plop my sore feet into the river.

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You guys, backpacking is a sweaty, dirty business.

There’s nothing that says “true love” quite like cozying up to someone who reeks of body odor as much as you do. Wet wipes help take the edge off.

But I just have to say that it was perfect. It was so quiet. I mean, we were the only two human beings for miles. There was the sound of the rushing water and a slight cool breeze to the air and David off trying his best to start us a campfire with piles of damp wood.

The peace was all around us, and for someone who has struggled greatly with social anxiety in the past couple of years,  I couldn’t help thinking, “Now this is a vacation.” All I’ve wanted so many times was to be completely, utterly alone, and suddenly we were.

My heart rate slowed down just a few notches.

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We ate our little dinner sitting on a log by the fire, then walked to the lake to listen to the bullfrogs.

As dusk fell, we sat by the fire with peppermint tea and read from a slim volume of Wendell Berry poems I found at a used book sale years ago.

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Here’s what I was most scared of about camping:

1. Bears

2. Having to pee outside our tent in the middle of the night

David (for some reason) read an except from his Foothills Trail guide that let us know our particular grove of hemlock trees makes a pleasant campsite, but seems to attract bears.

We packed our food carefully into one pack and hooked it to a (very un-sturdy looking) tree branch, and hoped for the best. We got settled in our tent and took turns reading from the book of John until we felt drowsy.

Still, I had some wide-eyed moments in the dark after he drifted off to sleep, thinking, What the heck have I agreed to!? I lay there conjuring up Reader’s Digest articles involving bears and campers, trying to plan an escape strategy (didn’t all the people in those articles end up maimed or worse?)

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But somehow, magically, I slept!

We both did!

We actually slept from 9:30-7:00 am, if you can believe it. It was blissful. Yes, I had to pee at one point, and yes, I survived it.

David made us coffee and I packed up the tent and we ate a quick breakfast.

Then we hit the trail for home.

My whole body ached, but it wasn’t terrible. It actually felt much easier waking up first thing in the morning and hiking rather than after a road trip and big lunch the day before.

I’m not in bad shape, but not in great shape either. I’ve gotten sloppy about running — just a mile or two once or twice a week — and that is no good. Honestly, it was good to have a wake-up call like this, to realize, “This experience could be so much better if I would build up some more endurance and do a little strength-training.”

The last hour was very rough. I tweaked my knee on all the steep downhills and David carried my pack a couple of times. Thankfully I didn’t get blisters until the second day. I love my hiking shoes, but next time I’ll invest in some Smartwool socks for better support.

But I did it!!!

We reached the parking lot in 5 1/2 hours. I’ve never been so happy to see our little gray Civic. Oh man, we were so dirty and sweaty. Have I mentioned that already?

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It was 2:00 pm by the time we drove 30 minutes to Traveler’s Rest, just outside of Greenville, and we tried to eat a celebratory lunch at Tandem, which as you know is one of our favorite places ever, but it was closed, so someone directed us to Upcountry Provisions, just a couple of blocks away. We had delicious sandwiches, but the sandwich cookie desserts were to die for.

We pulled in our driveway at 4:30, and I could barely walk to the house. But those hot showers sure felt amazing.

You guys, I’m so, so happy we took this trip.

To many people it will seem a small thing (my friend Martha did the same hike with her sister and then went on to hike 20 miles the second day), but it felt like a victory for me. I’m not an adventurer.

Well, I can be with travel but not really with nature. To illustrate the difference between the two of us, here is an actual conversation we had in India:

David: “Let’s plan a camping trip!”

Julie: “Absolutely not. We live in India. This is camping.”

David: “Come on babe, it’s our one chance to camp in the wild with white tigers and elephants.”

Yep, that’s the person I married (he then went on to take that camping trip with some friends. And yes, they saw tigers in the wild).

David always pushes me. Sometimes it creates strain between us (okay more than sometimes). But I feel like he knows things I’m capable of that I don’t believe I can do. In that way, he has forced me to be a stronger, better person.

This trip was one small example.

It felt really, really good to take on a small challenge and overcome it, to say, “Hey, I’m stronger than I thought I was.”

I want to be the kind of person who sets that example for my kids. I want to teach them, “There are many struggles in life that are worth experiencing. Pushing yourself to do hard things can be so healthy and rewarding.” I think it also gives us a glimpse into the truth that even hardships we didn’t choose can build up our character and make us resilient and strong inside, if we let them.

I loved our backpacking trip and can’t wait to go again.

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rim of the gap.

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By David

A few weeks ago I grabbed Judah and Amie and headed to one of my favorite places, Jones Gap State Park, a stone’s throw from the North Carolina border and a million miles from distracted days in Columbia.

Weighted down with snacks, books, stuffed animals, and a thermos of coffee, we chatted on and off on during the two-hour drive.  At one point I asked Judah to read aloud from Romans 10.  Amie had asked the night before how someone could be sure they were a Christian.  And so we talked about what it means to confess and believe.

I think that both our older kids are born again, both with very different expressions – Amie loud, confessional, eager; Judah quiet, steady, willing.  I’ve seen Amie sob over sin.  I’ve heard Judah say very simply, “I know God is real because he’s helped me in hard places.”  I have learned so much from both of them.

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Our first stop was Tandem Creperie in Traveler’s Rest, my favorite breakfast in the universe.  If I ever land on death row, I’ll be choosing my last supper between a pimento cheese burger from the Whig bar in Columbia and a Tandem lumberjack crepe.  We loaded up on carbs and more coffee and basked in a glutinous stupor.

Thirty minutes later, we pulled into the park and headed to the ranger’s station.  I’d hiked most of the trails there on my own or with friends but somehow missed the Rim of the Gap trail, touted as one of the top five hardest hikes in South Carolina.  The ranger took one look at Judah and Amie and said, “You know, I don’t see too many kids that age do this trail.  Actually any.  Why don’t you try the waterfall?”

Judah and Amie must have smelled the condescending tone.  Or else they misheard him.  We came for Rim of the Gap and we were going to do Rim of the Gap.  Or bleed trying.  Which we did.

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The weather was overcast and cool, the river water high.  We saw all kinds of animals: turkey, chipmunk, butterflies, salmon, snakes, salamanders.  We walked, jogged, scrambled up and over eight miles of rugged terrain.  I held Amie a few times.  We stopped every thirty minutes or so for a breather.  From parking lot to parking lot we were on the trail for five hours.

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My general rule of thumb is that I like to be hiking slightly longer than I spent driving to get there and back.  We did that and then some.  I couldn’t be more proud.

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There’s something to be said about quantity time over quality time, long hours in each other’s company, with nature unfurling before us one step at a time.  Breathing hard, single file, without a word between us is it’s own kind of intimacy.  I cherish these memories and can’t wait to share them with Gabe and Noah.

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