Taking Time to Remember Places

This weekend marked the fifteenth summer my dad has participated in the Denver Chalk Art Festival. What started as a fun experiment – he hadn’t done many chalk murals before this experience – has turned into a marker of summertime for our family.

In the early years, my brother would drive down from Fort Collins and my parents up from Colorado Springs to stay in whatever un-air conditioned apartment I was renting close to downtown. My dad would draw all day in the hot sun while my mom, brother, and I would sit under a shady tree drinking countless Arnold Palmers.

It was at the Chalk Fest that Frank first met my parents, the only person wearing a dress shirt in the middle of a sweltering summer day. As our family grew, a weekend of hanging out turned into a morning visit before naptime. Now, our girls have a longer attention span and Bea even helps grandpa with the background coloring.

Each year has marked a difference in the growth of Denver. Our first summers were spent in the shade at a downtown park. Now, that park has been paved into a parking lot. The crowds have grown, too. Parking is at a premium, even in light rail lots and on these days, you can feel the groan of a small city becoming a big city.

I’ve been thinking about place a lot recently. Maybe it’s because Frank and I just returned from a week in Paris, a city that shaped my college years. Going back was a complex experience. I recognized a place where I had made big changes, transitioning from child to adult but also a city that hasn’t changed all that much in the past five hundred years.

In front of my favorite apartment in Paris

I was reminded of the importance of visiting places that have shaped us, whether for a few months, a few years, or a lifetime. There’s something about grounding my feet on the stones that had a part in shaping my theology, my worldview, and (though unknown to me at the time) my parenting.

Going to downtown Denver reminded me of those post-college years, when I returned to a state I had spent most of my childhood. Suddenly, I went from a world explorer to someone who returned home. Now, fifteen years later, it sometimes feels like I had never left at all. People who I have recently met most likely don’t even know I had lived abroad or traveled much before kids. It’s a weird feeling, having profoundly impacting experiences that were so long ago no one knows.

I wonder if, in fifteen or twenty years, we will leave the suburbs for a new adventure? Will I come back to this neighborhood with a sense of nostalgia, looking for a place to ground my new identity? I wonder how my girls will view this house and this space as they reflect on their childhood?

Mostly, I’m thankful for opportunities to go and remember the impact of a physical space on my journey. Whether it’s a trip to Paris or a morning spent downtown, I’m reminded of the importance of place in my story.

Is there a city or place that had a profound impact on your journey? Have you gone back to visit?

Advent Day 1: Modeling Hope

Today begins our Advent journey, a time to reflect, to pause, to think about the coming of Christmas. We’re finishing our thankful leaves (though I can’t bring myself to take our tree down) and I have the Jesse tree ornaments printed.

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Our refillable calendar

In our house, we have several Advent and countdown activities planned – lighting the candles, creating ornaments to align with a reading, opening a drawer with chocolate, opening a book…. Part countdown, part reflection, lots of anticipation, I wonder how we will strike a balance for our girls – celebrating the childlike excitement of Christmas with its trees and stockings and lights and encouraging the reflective cadence of Advent observation.

My hope, above all, is to have conversations with Bea that will help her understand the broader nature of this season. That it’s not simply about presents for her and excitement for Santa but remembering we are part of something bigger. That, together with all of creation, we anticipate and long for peace and reconciliation.

My prayer is that, through intentionally modeling Advent, my girls will recognize the stories of others and that they weave their way into our own.

ButtonJoin us this season as we pray through Advent together. I have some beautiful guest posts and there’s space for your voice, too. I hope you join us – either by contributing or on your own.

Chaos and Anticipation of Advent

This Advent season has felt chaotic. Not in the holiday bustle sense, but because we’re in the midst of packing. This time next week, we’ll be moved into our new home. It’s not a far move – just 6 miles, but we still have all the coordinating and changing forms and packing to do. I haven’t gotten out any decorations, not even our little refillable Advent calendar. I decided we’ll just celebrate the two weeks before Christmas.

Instead of lights, we have boxes decorating our porch.
Instead of lights, we have boxes decorating our porch.

In some ways it’s a shame: This is the first year Bea recognizes the excitement of Christmas, and I feel bad that we aren’t establishing traditions. On the other hand, she’s content driving through the neighborhood, looking at lights, and decorating Grandma and Grandpa’s tree.

Being it a state of limbo has me reflecting on the real meaning of this Advent season: The waiting, anticipation, and state of chaos. I think of Mary and how she must have felt similar: She couldn’t make any preparations for her new baby, as they were on the road, moving to a temporary home.

And yet, she held what was important, what was dear, to her heart. I love the French word for dear: cher. It’s a greeting, but it also means precious and expensive. I think about the important things of this season: The precious moments together, the books we read with Bea, the outside-the-home traditions we can instill regardless of home decorations. And the most important, most precious reason of all: We are waiting in anticipation for a redemptive baby to enter this world. That is the most important thing I can instill in Bea, and a home full of boxes somehow fits that scene perfectly.

Linked with Kate Motaung’s Five Minute Friday, a time to write without editing. Our prompt today is Dear.

America’s Best Idea

The National Parks play a fairly significant role in our family’s story. When Frank and I were dating, we took a weekend road trip up to Yellowstone, about 10 hours north of us. We left right after work and drove through the night. Driving through the Grand Tetons early in the morning was an amazing experience. We spent the weekend hiking, drinking gimlets in rocking chairs on the porch of Roosevelt Lodge, and seeing all sorts of wildlife. It was on this trip that I realized I loved Frank and could imagine spending our lives together. Over the past nearly-5 years of marriage, many significant moments have happened in National Parks. From our honeymoon back in Yellowstone to snowshoeing trips in Rocky Mountain to post-tax season getaways in Bryce Canyon and family reunions in Zion, National Parks have woven themselves into our family history.

Specimen Ridge Trail, Yellowstone
Specimen Ridge Trail, Yellowstone

During our first year of marriage, we would sit on the couch in our pj’s, drinking coffee, eating scones, and watching Ken Burns’ National Parks: America’s Best Idea series. It’s an amazing, in depth history of the parks system and also a wonderful story of John Muir. (I cried during the episode about the damming of the Hetch Hetchy Valley and how that broke Muir’s heart.) We dreamed about visiting the Parks with our kids, and when we retired buying a camper and spending our summers working at the convenience stores.

This past weekend, to celebrate my birthday, my parents rented a cabin in Estes Park and we spent time lounging, laughing, and hiking in Rocky Mountain. Bea has been snowshoeing in RMNP since before she was born. Last year she was snug in the Ergo, and this year she rode in the pack on Frank’s back. She loved pointing out the trees and feeling the wind in her face. Rocky Mountain is one of our favorite getaways: Close enough to Denver for a day trip, yet feels like a true vacation. We have favorite hikes year-round and each season is phenomenal for exploring. We always invest in a year pass, and my dad bought his Golden Eagle pass this year: $10 for a lifetime pass. On Monday the Parks were free, and the next free weekend is in February.

Because I love lists, I thought I’d present my Top 10 Favorite Things About National Parks:

1. Mary Mountain Trail, Yellowstone: We had the whole trail to ourselves and the bison. It felt as though we were the only people in Yellowstone. (Until we tried to make it back to our hotel for a dinner reservation and were stuck in wildlife-spotting traffic.)

2. Gimlets, Any Park’s Lodge: There’s something about sitting in a wooden rocking chair on the porch overlooking amazing scenery and drinking a 1920’s-era cocktail. It always makes me imagine Teddy Roosevelt might join us.

3. Nymph Lake, Rocky Mountain: This is a beautiful hike at any time of year, but one of our all-time favorite snowshoe hikes. There’s usually enough snow, no matter what the recent weather is like. It’s a fairly easy hike, and a perfect way to introduce guests to the world of snowshoeing.

4. Never Summer Range, Rocky Mountain: We went backpacking here one weekend in August. Living up to its name, it was a chilly hike. What I love about the Never Summer Range is that, since it’s on the West side of the park, not many people visit. We only met a couple people on the trail and camped in a secluded clearing.

5. Angel’s Landing, Zion: This was a challenging hike for me. We took Bea with us up to the saddle and attempted the chained path but ended up leaving her with my mom, aunt, and cousin while we summited. It was an incredible view of the park and so amazing to think about the early explorers of the parks systems doing it without chains.

6. Queen’s Garden Trail, Bryce Canyon: This whimsical hike has everything you hope to see in the hoodoos of Bryce. It’s such a feast for the imagination and a fairly easy hike. We went for a post-tax season getaway, before having Bea and I can’t wait to take her there when she’s old enough. It’s incredible to see what nature and erosion can produce.

7. Delicate Arch, Arches: Moab, Arches, Canyonlands, Dead Horse Canyon… I love this area of Utah! Any hike is incredible in Arches, but Delicate Arch is a must see: Truly a postcard quality hike. I’m looking forward to reading Edward Abbey’s Desert Solitaire for our Reading Challenge for a look at Arches before roads “corrupted” it.

8. Lake Hotel, Yellowstone: Lake Hotel is one of my favorite places. After a long day of hiking, we would order gimlets and listen to the string quartet in the sunroom. It reminds me of how people used to travel to Yellowstone when it first opened in the late nineteenth century. The history is amazing, as well as the vision of the National Parks, and sitting in the sunroom at Lake is a perfect reminder of how many people have visited the park.

9. Valley Forge, Pennsylvania: Technically this is a National Historic Park, but I thought I’d include it. We bought the CD to play in the car as we drove to each site, and I’d highly recommend this. It gave context to each cabin and trail. I had no idea how big Valley Forge is and it really brought history to life.

10. Huckleberry Hot Springs, Grand Teton: According to purists, Huckleberry Hot Springs isn’t what it used to be… However, I loved the hike and hot springs are such a cool natural phenomenon. I love that they haven’t been built up and, when we stopped over a Labor Day weekend, we didn’t see many people on the trail.

There are still so many I want to see. I’ve never been to Yosemite, would love to go up to Glacier, Acadia, Crater Lake. In this season when international travel seems so complex, I love that National Parks are such an accessible, family-oriented way to see our own country.

What is your favorite National Park? What about a favorite memory in a Park?

Five Favorite Christmas Movies

Frank adores Christmas. He begins playing carols at the first snow. (One time we took a road trip to Yellowstone over Labor Day weekend. It snowed on our drive home and we listened to carols in early September.) For him, the Christmas season cannot be long enough. I am more of an after-Thanksgiving celebrater. By the end of December, I am tired of the same songs played over-and-over again. While I easily tire of the jingles, I do love Christmas movies. There’s something about watching the same films each year, remembering the first time seeing them, and reciting lines to favorites. I thought I’d list my top five Christmas movies here (in no particular order):

A Muppet Christmas Carol: Any movie with the Muppets and Michael Caine is an instant winner. This is a wonderful rendition of Dickens’ classic. I used to show it to my second grade students because it follows the story well and also explains any antiquated terms and ideas. Plus, the songs are cheesy and fun.

Yes, Virginia: I have never believed in Santa Claus. Frank claims he still does. We’re still in a discussion about how we’ll present this idea to Bea… When we were dating, Frank read me the classic letter from the New York Sun to convince me of the Spirit of Santa. Of course, when I saw this movie, I had to get it for him. The movie does a wonderful job of presenting the spirit of Christmas in each of us. I look forward to the day when we can watch it with Bea.

It’s A Wonderful Life: I love this classic film in the same way I love rereading favorite books: With each phase of life, I connect with something new. When I was younger, I was so frustrated that George never realized his chance to travel. Last year, as a new mom, I connected with Mary’s strength in creating a beautiful life for her family. It’s a long film, but one I look forward to watching every year.

Santa Claus is Comin to Town: I hadn’t seen this Fred Astaire animated classic until just a few years ago. It’s the history of how Kris Kringle became Santa Claus. I love that it tells the legend of how Santa originated. It’s another one I look forward to watching with Bea.

Joyeux Noel: Though not a traditional Christmas movie, this is an amazing true story of World War 1 soldiers on Christmas Eve, 1914. It shows hope and humanity in the midst of a horrific time in our history. It’s worth watching for the scene of Silent Night being sung in No Man’s Land.

What are your favorite Christmas movies?