There’s No Place Like Kansas

Wednesday night I posted this picture to capture my anxiousness about going on my first youth camp trip as a leader.

How am I going to survive?

How am I going to survive?

The annual camp trip to Kansas has none of the amenities that a spoiled glamper (fancy camping) like me is used to. Add to that, I volunteered to teach the youth on sin. Thursday morning, I put on my bravest face and began the 3 hr car trip to St Francis, Kansas. We camp out on some land on the edge of the town. This town has a population of 1300. Here’s what camp looks like.

Our land, with a pond

Our land, with a pond

I was able to adjust to the “bathroom”, which was a toilet seat elevated over a hole, surrounded by a tarp. I didn’t even mind being with 37 kids, some of whom I knew, and some of whom I would grow to know. While I thought I would dislike losing my privacy, I liked being around the kids. There was always someone to talk to.

Thursday night, the wind was so strong, it nearly blew my tent off the ground. It made having a fire impossible, and kicked up all kinds of allergens. I barely slept that night, the wind was too much.

Friday’s fun was playing at the park in town, where the kids had a ridiculous time playing Slip N Slide kickball. The pictures show giant smiles on everyone’s face. Friday night was my turn to teach. I was blessed to have the leaders lay hands on me to pray. I opened by telling them I was so nervous about teaching that I felt like I could either puke or pee. With that icebreaker, I gave an abbreviated version of my testimony, then broke into Scripture and teaching on how hard it is to surrender sin. I was relieved when it was over. While it felt like I had only taught for 5 minutes, I’m sure it was longer.

Me teaching the youth

Me teaching the youth

Unfortunately, one of our girls (K) fell ill that night. The allergies were far too much for her, and her breathing was very labored. She was taken away to the hospital in town, by one of the families from the church who has a home in St Francis. They come out every year to help us with all the meals.

Saturday we woke earlier than usual to get our teaching in before we went into town for a service project. We visited a retirement community to do some chores (window washing, painting, cleaning). It was a blessing to them, and to us. We returned to camp for lunch then went off to Frogland, one of the town’s bigger ponds. Here we could play in the water, or just chill on the beach. This was also our day to visit Dairy King.

Hanging with my peeps at DK

Hanging with my peeps at DK

I spent my time at Frogland in the shade, but was coaxed out to play some beach volleyball. Volleyball is not my sport, but I had a blast getting silly with the group playing. I think my team even won.

Saturday night is when things got wonderful and weird. During worship, one of the girls starting showing symptoms similar to what K had experienced. It was determined she should go get checked out at the hospital. Larry was in charge of teaching that night, and he did awesome. 5 kids ended up giving their lives to Christ. It was a huge blessing. Larry’s teaching was followed by more worship, and prayer time. I prayed with one of my HS girls who was overwhelmed with joy at the news of kids being saved. But during the worship, K and another girl had to go to the hospital. That made it 3 girls in the ER. The leaders met and talked about what the plan should be. We determined that we were under attack by the enemy, and we were going to stand our ground and rebuke anything trying to distract from what we were doing. We prayed loud and hard, then broke into small groups. Two of the HS boys went around camp praying over the youth for protection (it was a cool thing). Not even ten minutes into small group time, we were told by the hospital that we should evacuate camp. Clearly something was in the air at our camp, and we needed to leave. We grabbed sleeping bags, and some grabbed a few items, and we fled to the homes of the two families from church who have places in St Francis. By this time it was about 10:30pm.

Morale was pretty good, considering what was going on. As we waited to find out our next move, another girl fell ill and was sent to the ER. We then got word the hospital wanted us to all shower and ditch our “contaminated” clothing. The local high school was opened up for us to shower and change. Hospital gowns were sent over, as well clothes donated by the two families, also clothes from a church. Some of the kids were also sent to the thrift store, which opened up to us, and donated items.

We were at the high school for some time, because it takes a while for everyone to shower, especially if there are only two bottles of shampoo. The school provided towels for us. All our clothes were put into trash bags, to be dealt with later. While we waited at the high school, a 5th girl fell ill and was sent to the hospital.

Once everyone was showered, we split the boys and girls between the two houses. Pretty much everyone fell asleep right away. We resolved that a group would go out to the land Sunday morning to pack up all the tents and belongings.

Sunday morning we did just that, breaking down camp in less than 90 minutes. All the girls that had been hospitalized were released with an epi pen and had received nebulizer treatment. While we still are unsure what had happened, the symptoms were dizziness, shakes and breathing problems. We tried to keep the hospitalized girls in vehicles without people who broke camp, as a precaution. The drive home was fairly uneventful, although one girl had a stomach bug and had to pull over to be sick.

Once we returned to Aurora, all the belongings were laid out on the lawn of the school to be collected. Everyone was told to wash all their clothes, and all girls had to discard any makeup, lotions or sprays.

Three of the five girls had return trips to the ER/Urgent Care after their return to CO Sunday. We’re praying hard that this is the end of whatever is attacking their systems.

So, that was Kansas Youth Camp. In the end, it was interesting. There was laughter, tears, and stories to share. Lives were changed, bonds were formed, and God moved.

Sunset on Saturday night

Sunset on Saturday night


Pics from the camp trip can be found here:

Looking Back At 2013

Yeah, it’s been quiet in here. I’ll work on that. I’ve spent some of 2013 strengthening my relationships, and forgiving those who have hurt me. Letting go of having everyone like me was a good step forward too. But this year was a really good year for me.

Here are the highlights from 2013.


Hoping 2014 is amazing for my family- and yours!

Yellowstone Nat’l Park, Part II

Day Two, and our last full day, meant cramming in as much as we possibly could. We visited Old Faithful and we could not have timed our visit better. We arrived within ten minutes of the eruption. Hundreds of visitors lined the boardwalk, and watched (or timed) the geyser do its thing. The length of the eruption will tell you when the next one will go off. If it lasts less than 2 1/2 minutes, the next time it goes off will be in one hour. If it’s longer than 2 1/2 minutes, you have a 90 minute wait.

The boys cheer for Old Faithful

The boys cheer for Old Faithful

There is more to see at Old Faithful, you can check out other geysers, hot springs and fumeroles. We did the 1.3 mile walk around the Geyser Hill Loop, then headed inside to check out the Visitor Center. We were pretty impressed with the children’s area, which explained all the hydrothermic features. After a quick picnic lunch, we headed back towards Canyon intending to make a few stops. First stop was Midway Geyser Basin, to view Yellowstone’s largest hot spring, Grand Prismatic Spring. Geoff & Miles did this hike, while Elijah said the smell of sulphur was giving him a headache, so we hung out in the shade near the trailhead.

Grand Prismatic Spring

Next stop was Artists Paintpots. Geoff wanted to see mudpots, and this short hike gave great views of our surroundings plus mudpots. The kids were amused by the size and sounds the bubbling mud produced.

Last stop before heading back to camp was snagging a letterbox. I thought it was fate that a box was planted just a few weeks before my visit, and so close to our campsite. We drove back to the Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone River, but this time on the other side of the falls we visited the day before. I had not printed the picture that went with the clue, which proved to be the key for me finding my prize. Thank God for cell signal, I pulled up AQ and used the picture to locate the box. All the while I was doing this, the boys heading on a hike on Uncle Tom’s Trail. The hike led them to a rickety metal staircase of 300 steps “attached” to the rock face. But the view of Lower Falls made it worthwhile for them.

Lower Falls, from Uncle Tom's Trail

Lower Falls, from Uncle Tom’s Trail

The rest of the afternoon was resting from all our adventures. After dinner, we treated ourselves to some ice cream in the village. I indulged in Moose Tracks.

Moose Tracks, the finest of flavors.

Moose Tracks, the finest of flavors.

Day 3, time to go home. No joke, we considered staying another night. We loved it there, and wished we had made it a longer trip. But reality beckoned us to return to Denver. We had packed up most of our stuff the night before, so we just rolled out of our sleeping bags and headed to the village to meet Gramma and Gary for breakfast at the Canyon Lodge Dining Room. This was a great decision on many levels, one being that the weather was starting to mist. A hot breakfast followed by one last stop at the Visitor Center. I had one more souvenir to pick up, and Miles was ready to become a junior ranger. Miles was tickled to earn his first ever junior ranger badge, and Gramma & Gary awarded him with a junior ranger hat. (*side note, Elijah had not finished his book, it is a little harder for 8 year olds. He earned his badge and hat a few weeks later)

It was time to part company, but the memories we made were amazing.

Group picture

Group picture


Was it worth the drive? Yes.

Worth the cost? It was definitely one of our most expensive camping trips when you add up gas and park fees. But since we don’t plan to do it every year, and it was our family vacation for the year, I’m going to say yes.

Should you go? Absolutely! Yellowstone was awesome. We hope to go back in a few years, next time checking out Grand Tetons and the parts of Yellowstone we missed.

For more information, visit Yellowstone’s website.

Yellowstone Nat’l Park, Part I

There seems to be something so Americana about taking a family trip to Yellowstone. A road trip, with two kids, all our camping gear and heading to Wyoming. We settled on this idea a year ago, and made the actual reservations 6 months in advance of our stay. Depending on what accommodations you are looking for, 6 months out is a good marker.

Yellowstone is about a 9 hour drive, if you take the East entrance. We opted to split this into two days driving, staying in Casper, WY the first night. This gave us more time to set up our campsite the next day, and not arrive grumpy or in the dark.

Passing Yellowstone Lake on our way to Canyon.

Passing Yellowstone Lake on our way to Canyon.

We’ve never been to Yellowstone before, so we were unsure what campground we wanted. We decided on Canyon, because it was kind of center of the park, and equal distance for us, and my mom and her husband Gary, driving down from Canada. The campground had all the amenities I require (flush toilets) and with the Canyon Village so close, it was practically glamping.

I’m not exaggerating- we may have had the best site in the campground. We had a water pump right at our site, the bathrooms were over the hill from us, and we had a ton of space between us and the next site. This gave the boys a lot of freedom to play, run, and explore.

Miles shows off our campsite.

Miles shows off our campsite.

My mom and Gary stayed at Canyon Village, in one of the cabins. The sparse rooms offered beds and a bathroom. They loved coming to visit us, hang out by the fire, and eat fire cooked food. I can’t say what the other rooms looked like.

The boys and I went to the ranger talk that night, which was about bears. The talk was very educational, but did not allow for interaction, which disappointed Elijah. Still he learned a lot. Miles got bored early, so we headed back, leaving Elijah to come later with Gramma.

Our first full day there I planned to hike. The 6 of us drove to the Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone River. It is a short drive from Canyon. We hiked Brink of Lower Falls, which was a little steep, but everyone was able to do it. There are a lot of places to stop to take pictures and rest. Following that hike, Mom and Gary decided to drive to Brink of Upper Falls, and we would meet there. Our brood of four hiked there, seeing small waterfalls and a deer along the way. Once we were all reunited, the six of us headed down the fully paved, short descent to Brink of Upper Falls. After this, we pawned the kids off on the grandparents, to take them back to camp, while Geoff and I hiked back to our car at Lower Falls. Amazingly, that hike was quieter. 🙂

Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone River, from Lower Falls

Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone River, from Lower Falls

After lunch, Geoff and I went to the Village to see what was there. A lot of shops, selling EVERYTHING and ANYTHING you could need. It was crazy. We also checked out all the dining options, because we knew we wanted to eat breakfast there our last morning, to make the packing up of the campsite go faster. I was able to procure some souvenirs and mail off some postcards (they have a post office there!).

The rest of the day was chilling. Playing games, and just enjoying being in Yellowstone. As luck would have it, one of my friends from Denver was also camping Yellowstone the same dates as us, so her family joined us for running around and s’more making. This is just what my kids loved, having friends around, even new friends.

Tomorrow’s post, what we did with our last full day in Yellowstone.

June Means Camping

I love the month of June. When all that waiting through winter pays off, and it is finally time to camp!

We are tent campers, and our favorite place to camp in Colorado is Golden Gate Canyon State Park. We’ve been going there every year for the last 4 years. You have to make reservations early if you want a site on the weekend, and I made our Sunday through Tuesday reservation back in March. Geoff really wanted a walk in site (your car is NOT next to your site), and that afforded us an amazing view.

The view from our camp site

But it also meant a bit of a walk to the bathroom, and to put our food in the car at night. Still, we liked the privacy, and the space for the kids to run and play.

With only two days in the park, we crammed both fishing and hiking into our Monday plans. Fishing at Dude’s Fishing Hole, where I caught our first fish (who neither survived, nor became dinner) and a hike up Coyote Trail.

The fish

Relaxing at the top

A successful camping adventure, with perfect weather to boot. Already looking forward to booking another site for September!

Colorado Fall

I could not resist one last camping trip to Golden Gate Canyon State Park. For tent campers, Reverend’s Ridge closes for the season on October 1. The only sites/dates they had left (when I booked in July) were September 23-24. This was our first time “fall camping”. We were not sure how lucky we would get with the weather. Let me show you how lucky we got:

Perfect Fall Camping

With the boys getting bigger, and becoming more experienced campers, Geoff was anxious to see if we could attempt to hike all of the Raccoon Trail. It’s a 2.5 mile hike round trip, that begins in Reverend’s Ridge campground and takes you up to Panorama Point. The hike is marked as moderate, and both kids did great completing it. The timing of our trip offered great fall colors, mostly yellows, and great temps.

Other noteworthy events were the boys learning to build a fire, and Elijah becoming a Jr Ranger.

Proud of the fire they built


Elijah earned a Jr Ranger badge and patch


We’ll be back again next summer. If you want to camp there next year, I would suggest you book early!

Colorado Camping

Family Camping Pic

Summer. It means we’re out camping. Our favorite spot is Golden Gate Canyon State Park. Just outside of Golden, it’s a real gem. We booked our site in March, allowing us to know we’d have a spot come June.

We really lucked out with the weather, it was perfect. Perhaps we can put the Armstrong curse (rain!) to rest.

We even took advantage of the talks put on by the naturalist. The first night, we learned about black bears. Prizes were awarded for correct answers, and we helped the boys score some granola bars.

The next day, the boys & I planted a letterbox, and attended the talk on pollinators. We went back that night to hear some stories, such as the Navajo story of the night sky creation.

On our last day, I convinced the family to hike up Mt Galbraith to hunt for a letterbox. The views it afforded made it worth while!

Enough words, here are some pics.

Camping Buddies

Dude's Fishing Hole

Hiking/Letterboxing on Mt Galbraith


When Armstrongs Camp

Normally I’d be moaning to you about how it rained the whole time, and we had a rough time camping.

Not so this time!

Nana & Grampy joined us for a wonderful 3 days camp in Rocky Mountain National Park. I was nervous we’d have a hard time getting a site in Longs Peak Campground, since it only has 26 tent sites. But arriving on a Monday, we nearly had our pick of the sites. We settled in the inner sites, sites 15 and 16 (but for fantastic views try to secure sites 1-4). The weather couldn’t have been better, and the food and company were great.

The highlight for me was the lovely hike around Lily Lake.

Lily Lake, with Longs Peak in the background
The views from up high and me figuring out macro photos for wildflowers make me eager to go back. The highlight for the boys was having Nana & Grampy to play with as well as daily conversations with Mr. Bill. He was the camp host, and with him set up across the road from us, the boys could say hello to him several times a day.

The future plan is for us to all tackle Longs Peak, one of the famous 14ers in Colorado. For now, we just enjoyed it from afar.

A trip in Estes Park provided me with an awesome souvenir, trail tags. You can obtain them from Brownfield’s Trading Post (on Elkhorn Ave), and the different colored border signify the length of hike you completed. This will be something I hope the boys enjoy earning. I got them the trail tag for the hike we did at Sprague Lake earlier this year.

With so much more of the National Park to explore, I hope get back real soon.

First Camp

Beautiful Colorado

We took a few days to get away and do the first camping trip of the year. We love the Reverend’s Ridge Campground near Golden, in Golden Gate Canyon State Park. It’s about an hour’s drive from our house, and you avoid the I-70 traffic.


The downside to making reservations, is you can’t bail due to foul weather. And the weather on Sunday was foul! We were able to set up camp in the breaks from rain. But it made that first day hard on everyone. The highlight was a new recipe we tried, polenta pizza. Basically, you make a polenta crust, then top with your fav toppings. Hot pizza made the cold a little better. Sadly, nothing would drag Miles out of his bad mood. He was cold, and refused to eat dinner. We tried to get some food in him, knowing the cold night would be harder on him without it.

Polenta Pizza

We all slept great, and woke to a block of ice on top of the tent. Monday’s rainy clouds didn’t clear until midday, and then we still had an afternoon rain shower. We took in the beauty at Panarama Point while the sun was shining. Tuesday was by far the nicest day, and naturally it was the day we planned to go home. We debated staying an extra day, but since we already have another camping trip planned this month, we figured we should leave on a high note. We did do one last hike in the area before we headed home. We all can’t wait to get back out into nature, you know, once we get the smell of campfire out of everything.

Pictures of us enjoying the sunshine & camping can be found on Shutterfly.