To kick off all of my traveling recaps, I'll start with Josh's and my trip to California. Before I get into that though, the whole trip came about from just one of the cool ways that God works. When Josh and I got married, we did not have time for a honeymoon because we had to be in Illinois for full-time ministry by the following weekend. Sure we had a "mini-moon,"but it wasn't the trip we had hoped for, which probably would have been somewhere in the mountains to include some adventure-type travel. We lived in Fort Lauderdale at the time, so neither one of us wanted to go somewhere to lay on a beach, so we were looking into places like Colorado and Alaska before we realized it wasn't going to happen. Since then we have been saying that we'd do our big make-up honeymoon at the five-year mark. Well… as five years approached, both of us had been too busy to really plan anything, and we have been really tightened up our budgeting and spending, so neither one of us had really put much thought or effort into making this happen. Ministry has given us a wonderful life and a ton of blessings, but it can become all-consuming sometimes. Then, out of the blue, an anonymous donor gifted us a trip. I know… crazy, right? Stuff like that just doesn't happen! But that's not even the cool part. When we were sent the details, we realized that the trip fell directly ON our fifth year anniversary and was literally titled "the Husband-Wife Adventure" in the mountains of northern California. I know God is always working, but my favorite times are when He does something to blatantly obvious that you can't help but be in awe of His goodness. And I think it goes to show that God really cares about our marriages. We are fortunate to be tied in with ARC, which is an organization that cares more about the health of our family than the size of our church or the number of programs we have, and things like this trip make me realize that their priorities are like God's. No family should be sacrificed on the altar of a ministry or a church, but unfortunately it happens a lot. I am thankful that we are very much covered in prayer and people who invest in us to make sure we maintain a healthy home life, and from that our ministry can spring forth and grow.
But I'm getting away from where this is all going… that was a bit of a tangent that I didn't mean to spend much time on… so back to California.
We didn't know much about the trip, but we knew we were staying at Scott River Lodge, which is tied into the programming of JH Ranch, a Christian camp in the Pacific Northwest. Beyond that, and after looking at the website, we were still pretty unclear about everything we would be doing. They sent us a packing list and a few questionnaires to fill out and then we boarded a plane and headed west.
The trip started out a bit funny, since the staff had told us to stop and get dinner before we came, and the place to do this would probably be Yreka, since we were driving down from Oregon. What they should have said was that Yreka is your last chance to get something to eat, but it probably wasn't the best option. It was a Sunday and the town was not only tiny, but completely shut down. It was kind of eerie actually. We found an antique shop that was open and ended up talking to a man who spent forty minutes telling us the history of the town and about how the building we were in was literally sitting on a gold-mine. Under our feet was millions of dollar in unmined gold. Kind of crazy. And the store and the things in it were kind of crazy as well.
|Downtown Yreka, CA|
|I guess this would be considered an antique?!?|
|Out back… a replica of what the town used to look like… complete with creepy mannequins.|
It was an experience, that's for sure. I'm not thinking we'll ever make a trip back to the bustling city of Yreka, but we did learn a lot of very interesting history surrounding the California gold rush. But we were definitely ready to get on our way and start our week at the lodge!
I think the website keeps things a bit vague, because the week was full of surprises! I won't spoil them all here, but maybe the best surprise to us was that you actually end up doing a lot with a group of other couples. This may not sound like fun to some of you, but for us, it was a blast to get to connect with other couples, make friends, and hang out. We love traveling together, but we love traveling with friends or family even more, and this was just a neat twist on that. And they want to make sure you bond right away, so here is what day one looked like:
|Our group… and some new great friends!|
|30 Feet up. Scared? No… I'm just hugging that pole to, um, stabilize the structure. Yeah.|
|Gearing up to climb a 50 foot pole, stand on top of it, and jump off to grab a trapeze that's 7 feet up and 7 feet out. |
No big deal.
|Up I go!|
|Ok, you caught me. That's not me. The top of the pole is as far as I got… twice.|
Kim is a wee bit scared of heights.
Here is what the entire process looks like as demonstrated by my fearless husband. Most of the group tried this and did it successfully. I was a little upset with myself the first go-around for not trying to stand on the pole, so I tried again. The second time, I was fully committed and comfortable with my decision to not do this craziness! Climbing to the top and being lowered down was enough for me!
The rest of the week involved activities closer to the ground, aside from one other day of tower climbing and a giant swing. I may have not jumped off that pole, but I am happy to say that I did make it to the top of the alpine tower. For me, that's a pretty big deal. And I think my husband found a little too much joy in my sheer terror / joy on the appropriately named "Screaming Eagle," considering that he felt the need to post it to his Instagram account!
The only group activity I don't have a picture of was the white-water rafting, which is unfortunate since it has got to be one of the most scenic rivers in the US. We even saw a bald eagle in the wild… as well as some pretty interesting characters panning for gold. Each morning we had worship and a short session designed to help make our marriage stronger. Each afternoon we could grab a mountain bike, find a trail head, go down to the river to fly fish or lay on the beach, take a nap in our luxurious room, read in the beautiful library, each homemade ice cream and other yummy treats, sit in the hot tub overlooking the mountains, and/or just truly relax and enjoy one-on-one time with each other without the distractions of taking care of kids, doing laundry, the phone ringing (we were thankful for very limited cell service), etc. Each night was pretty low-key with a few fun games and even salsa lessons thrown in. It was beyond anything we could have expected.
That ice cream cone is just the tip of the iceberg. As amazing as the trip was, I can honestly say that my most favorite part might have been the FOOD! For starters, the lodge is almost completely self-sustained, even generating its own power, so most meals were made from farm-fresh vegetables, eggs, and livestock. The farm staff even rescued two little orphans while we were there, which we got to hold! They were incredibly sweet!
And their chef, Terri, is truly a culinary genius. Every meal was five-star quality and so bursting with flavors that even foods I would normally not try, so I had all kinds of fish, duck, lamb chops, figs, kale and brussel sprouts, you name it. We had a Mexican-themed night where all of the salsas, guacamoles, and tortillas were made in house, and a gourmet breakfast was delivered to our room every morning so we could enjoy it on the balcony with picturesque views. One of the buffets I would literally consider the best meal I have ever eaten in my entire life. Hands down. I would go back for the culinary experience alone and I am far from any sort of "foodie." I felt like a dork taking so many pictures of my meals, but it really just had to be done!
|Marscipone with cream and strawberries… my favorite part of breakfast!|
|Churros and chocolate!|
|A beautiful summer picnic in the middle of the mountains|
|Not your typical picnic food… paninis with ham, brie, and caramelized onions, kale chips, wild orzo, and "red velvet" beet cupcakes. Yes, BEET cupcakes with cream cheese frosting. And they were incredibly delicious!|
|Fresh salsas served in flower pots. Loved it!|
|Shrimp, fish, pork, steak, even tuna tar tar for your tacos. This is what heaven looks like.|
|Presentation is everything. Even the "decor" like the corn in the back was edible!|
|The best meal I have ever eaten in my whole life. Hands down. And this picture does not do it justice!|
|Our last breakfast. Homemade scones and berries with homemade, fresh lemoncello yogurt.|
|I am a sucker for eggs benedict. Especially when they are this perfect!|
Hungry yet? This is by no means a food blog, but I would LOVE to be able to make things that are even half this good!
Josh and I were definitely blessed by our week in the mountains and the ministry of JH Ranch, and it's something we'll talk about for years to come. Our children are still young, but we're already talking about saving up so that our kids can go with one of us when they turn 13, kind of like a rite of passage for them, because we believe in what they teach that much. We got to talk to some of the dads who were there with their daughters, and all of them said that it was the hardest week of their life, but also one of the best, and that they were able to breakthrough with their teenager in a new way. We are not there in our parenting years yet, but I can only imagine what that must be like based on the teenager that I was!
By far though, this place was so special and our week was so amazing because of the people who serve at the ranch. The staff of college-aged girls who took care of us at the lodge were the sweetest, most genuine, humble women who were all spending their summer seeking out what God wants for them through serving others. It's the whole core principle to what Jesus taught. Midway through our week we found out that they don't get paid, and that all staff apply and interview for a volunteer position, from the camp counselors to the lifeguards to the kitchen staff even! I was so amazed to learn this, and because of it, their hearts for God and for serving others certainly shined through. It was not a job to any of them, but rather a privilege, and if I could have taken all of them home with us I would have! And our facilitators, David and Terri Sumlin, well, they took our week to a whole new level. They helped our group become very close very quickly, were incredibly open and honest about the struggles they have had and how they have overcome some pretty major stuff, and are just two of the nicest, most fun people you'd ever meet. WE were blessed to find out that they will be in Knoxville throughout the winter months of next year, so we have invited them to come up and share their wealth of knowledge with our church family this fall. I am beyond excited. Josh and I came home from this in agreement that this was one of the best things we've ever done, not just as a couple, but in life in general. If you are looking for an amazing way to spend a vacation with your spouse that's more than a vacation (since you learn so much!), or if a JH Ranch Marriage Outback ever comes to your neck of the woods, I would highly recommend it. Best. Week. Ever.