Our by far most-visited park is Cuyahoga Valley National Park. It’s not one of the most popular national parks with about 2 and a half million visitors per year, but we think it’s definitely worth a visit. CVNP is about 30 minutes from our home and our go-to for a day trip with the kids and a picnic lunch. It’s a beautiful park with quite a few great areas to visit. Two of the best things about this park is that it’s FREE and it’s never terribly crowded. It’s set up differently than most national parks (there is no “loop” to drive around), but a quick stop at the Boston Mills visitor center will show you where to go for the major attractions and activities. Although it did not become an official national park until 2000, it has great history. The Towpath trail (our favorite running trail), is a 20-mile trail that is a part of the former Erie Canal. Along the trail you can see lots of locks for the old boats traveling the Erie Canal and great views of the Cuyahoga River. We like to go for runs or bike rides on the towpath, but when showing people around the park, we take them to two major places. First, our favorite is the ledges hike that is short enough that the kiddos can do it on their own. It’s such a cool area with unique rock formations and caves. There is also a beautiful clearing that’s perfect for picnic lunches and letting the kids run around and play and an overlook with great views (but not enclosed so be careful with the kiddos).
Brandywine Falls is also a great place to visit in the park. This one is usually a bit busier, but it’s worth it. It’s a beautiful waterfall and boardwalk with upper and lower observation platforms. There are some other great areas of the park, like the Cuyahoga Valley Scenic Railroad (which at Christmastime has a great Polar Express ride), Beaver Marsh, and the iconic Everett Covered Bridge. Overall, a visit to this park is relaxing, beautiful, and a perfect family getaway, which is what National Parks are all about.
In August, we took a trip down to North Carolina for Dan’s cousin’s wedding. It was a beautiful wedding and wonderful to spend time with his extended family all together. We had picnics and boat rides and lots of cousin time.
When it came time to drive back home, of course we opened up our National Park passport to see what National Park spots we could stop at on the way home. Right on our way home was the Guilford Courthouse National Military Park. We explored the Visitor Center and learned the history of the park, which was the location of the largest battle of the Revolutionary War’s Southern Campaign. It was a turning point for the Revolution War; many countrymen without much training fought this battle for their freedom. They had a driving loop with stops and hikes where you could read even more about this battle. It’s a great historical park and it was a fun stop for us.
We left Bar Harbor early in the morning, partly because a water mane had broken and the whole area was left without water. That meant no teeth brushing or showers, so we just packed up and hit the road early. We didn’t have much of a plan (I’m a Type A planner and was trying to be a little spontaneous), but we knew we wanted to hit some of the other New England States. We decided to check out the Cape Cod National Seashore, so we drove through Boston (which had TERRIBLE traffic), and made it to Cape Cod in the early afternoon. We quickly stopped in to the visitor center to get a map and our passport stamped, and then drove to the parking lot to catch a shuttle to the seashore. In the national seashore, you are not allowed to drive, but must take the shuttle from the parking area. It’s a couple of miles away, but the shuttle was nice and it wasn’t too busy. When we got to the beach, we couldn’t believe how beautiful it was! Our shuttle driver told us that the Cape Cod National Seashore is frequently ranked as one of the best five beaches in the country, and I can understand why. The beach is clean and natural (there wasn’t any commercialization close to the beach, which is a big plus for being protected by the National Parks Department). We could also see lots of seals bobbing in the water.
We had a great time playing in the sand and the waves and pointing out the seals as they came up. We only stayed a few hours, and then drove through Rhode Island and stopped for Chick fil a and ice cream and then booked a hotel from our phones in New Haven, Connecticut. In the morning, we decided to check out the Yale campus. It was pretty underwhelming, and they didn’t allow visitors in any of the buildings or museums, so we wished we would have skipped New Haven and visited some of the National Park sites in the area. Next time we know!
We drove through Connecticut and New York and then hit New Jersey. For our first break to stretch our legs, we stopped at the Delaware Water Gap National Recreation Area that is right between New Jersey and Pennsylvania. It was a good place to walk around for a few minutes and take in the beautiful mountains. New Jersey really is beautiful (in some areas at least). This was our last National Park site of our trip, and although we debated about taking a detour to Gettysburg, we decided that we should head home. It was a wonderful trip, and we were so proud of our little travelers who did so well in the car and we always ready for a new adventure. Besides movies in the car, the kids had no electronics for over a week and instead experienced two countries, 11 states, and 2,919 miles. This trip was so unforgettable for our family to bond and step away from real life for a while and be together. And next summer, our trip will take us west, so stay tuned!
We were so excited to visit Acadia National Park. We spent lots of time researching and reading guidebooks about the park and the area around it. We got to Bar Harbor, Maine in the late afternoon and checked into our hotel. We spent a lot of time researching cost-effective hotels that were still highly rated and clean. The one we chose, Atlantic Eyrie Lodge, did not disappoint. The price was reasonable, and it was very clean. The staff was also SO NICE. Upon arriving, I realized that I messed up one of the dates of our stay (I’ll have to be more careful for the next road trip), and they were so sweet, didn’t charge us extra, and fixed my mistake immediately. It felt like going to a family member’s house. They also had a pool (which the kids loved) with a view of the ocean. It was beautiful! We started out our first day with a lobster dinner (the kids had chicken tenders) on the water and then walking around the town of Bar Harbor. We also explored the sand bar that connects Bar Harbor to a portion of Acadia National Park. During low tide, you can walk to the island, but if you stay too long, you’ll be stuck when the tide comes in! It was so cool to see the water moving like that.
The next morning, we got up early and drove the 3 miles to what we had really been waiting for: Acadia National Park. We started by driving up to Cadillac Mountain, which has AMAZING views. The kids loved climbing from rock to rock. After spending some time exploring Cadillac Mountain, which is the first place in the US to see the sun rise every morning, we drove some of the loop (everything was gorgeous), and stopped at Sand Beach to let the kids play in the sand and the water. The water was VERY cold (even in July), but they loved running back and forth as the waves nipped at their feet. Then we took a hike to Thunder Cove, where at certain times of the day, the sound of the waves hitting the cove sounds like thunder. We decided to have lunch in the park and tried out the Jordan Pond House restaurant. We were a little hesitant because it seemed a little expensive, but it was totally worth it. The views were spectacular (it was outside dining), and the food was incredible. The kids were able to run around and play while we were waiting for our food, and we had a view of Bubble pond and the mountains. It goes down as my favorite dining experience ever. If you go, you have to order the popovers!
After our quick night in Niagara Falls, we headed out the next morning. Our ultimate destination was Acadia National Park, but because it is quite a trek from Niagara Falls, we decided we would drive until we hit New Hampshire and then drive the five or so hours from there to Bar Harbor, Maine. We drove through upstate New York, and since we have the goal of hitting as many National Park sites as we can in our travels, we stopped in Seneca Falls, New York to get lunch and to visit the Women’s Rights National Historical Park. Seneca Falls was a super cute, small town, and our lunch at Café XIX was incredible! The food was great, and the atmosphere, featuring pop-art style women involved in the Women’s Rights Movement. Then, we drove about a mile to the Women’s Rights National Historical Park. I was totally geeking out here. They have an awesome visitor center with a museum upstairs that we spent some time exploring. Outside, there is a park and a historical church which is on the corner where the very first Women’s Rights Convention was held on July 19-20th, 1848. Selah and I took a picture there to commemorate all that these women sacrificed for us to have the right to vote. The kids had a great time running around the park. There are some other things to do in Seneca Falls, including visiting Elizabeth Cady Stanton’s home. We wanted to get on the road, though, so we decided to just stick with the main park, which we all loved!
After driving some more through upstate New York (which takes quite a long time from Canada), we stopped in Rome, New York at the Fort Stanwix National Monument. The town of Rome, New York didn’t have much else, but the nice thing about making National Park sites a road trip stop is clean bathrooms, a safe place for the kids to stretch their legs, a cold, purified water station to fill up water bottles (most sites have this, although not all), and of course, a history lesson. Fort Stanwix is known as the fort that “never surrendered.” The British armies attempted a siege of the fort in 1777, and the troops there protected the fort and the siege failed.
When we arrived, the park was pretty empty. The kids had a great time running around and checking out all of the rooms of the fort, which were set up just like they would have been back in the 1700s. They even got to see the cannons and lookouts at the top of the fort. We explored for awhile and were on our way out when one of the park rangers asked the kids if they would like to play in some 1700s costumes. How could we resist? The park rangers gave them some period costumes and the kids had a blast pretending to be soldiers. It also made for some adorable pictures. The rangers here were so incredibly nice!
After leaving Fort Stanwix, we drove through Vermont (just a quick stop for a couple photos here; the scenery was GORGEOUS), and then we stopped in a town in Keane, New Hampshire to stay for the night. We got up early to head to Bar Harbor, Maine, where we were so excited to see Acadia National Park!
It’s been awhile since I last updated, and I realized I haven’t finished chronicling our summer road trip. I better hurry up and finish before we leave on our next epic road trip, which is coming soon over spring break.
After leaving the beautiful Traverse City (which we totally fell in love with and will be back again), we drove across Ontario, Canada to see Niagara Falls. I had seen Niagara Falls when I was in high school, but from the U.S. side, so we decided to stay on the Canadian side. It took us awhile to get through customs, and then it was a very flat and Ohio-looking drive to get to Niagara. Once we got there in the late afternoon, we were greeted with a VERY busy city block and a long wait for the parking garage in the hotel. We finally checked in, got our bags out, and then walked across a couple of blocks to get our tickets to the Horn Blower (the Canadian version of Maid of the Mist). We got on the boat, the kids were awe-struck at the beauty of the falls, and then we started our boat tour of horseshoe falls. The noise was way too much for our sensory-sensitive little Selah, so she cried the whole time while I held her. The boys enjoyed the boat ride even though they got soaked. After exiting the boat ride, we were bombarded by photographers pushing photos of us with a fake background of the falls for way too much money and lots of cheesy souvenir shops. We managed to get through all of that with our budget still intact, and then we walked back to the main strip and started looking for a place to eat dinner. The kids immediately noticed the RainForest Café and begged to eat there. We decided to oblige and went in to put our name in. It took us about 45 minutes to get a table, and then once we ordered, it took over an hour to get our food. I was getting pretty frustrated, but luckily the kids were very happy to watch all the rainforest-y things going on around them. After waiting way too long and paying way too much for mediocre-at-best food (although the kids still say eating at the RainForest Café was their favorite part of Niagara), we walked out toward the ferris wheel on the main strip. The ferris wheel is London Eye-esque and gives a great view of the falls when at the top. Although we waited in line about 45 minutes, the kids had a blast on the ferris wheel. It was dark when we were finished, and we started walking back to our hotel. Things on the strip got a little sketchy at that point, and we contemplated and then dismissed $7 ice cream cones and just went to our room for an early night.
Overall, we were pretty disappointed in Niagara Falls. The falls, of course, are beautiful and worth checking out. But the area around the falls is so touristy and expensive, it takes away from the experience. We recently watched a national parks documentary, and interestingly enough, part of the reason that the national parks were founded was because the government considered the development of the area around Niagara Falls to be “a national embarrassment.” They didn’t want any of the other natural wonders of the U.S. to be tainted by developers trying to make money from tourists. They wanted everyone to be able to see these natural wonders in their untouched state. Generally, we agree. We’re glad we saw the falls (and also glad we only planned to stay one night), but it really solidified our love for the national parks and the beauty they preserve.
It’s national adoption awareness month this month, and Orphan Sunday is coming up in a few short weeks. Our lives are surrounded by adoption daily, so it’s something always on my mind, but this is a good month to spread awareness about the orphan crisis and the beauty of adoption.
If you’re reading our blog, chances are you know our story. If not, I encourage you to read my posts from the last two years. We’ve gone from excited and scared to happy and nervous to broken and thankful, and I think my blog reflects that. We gone from shouting on the mountaintops to hitting rock bottom. But, really, adoption isn’t about us. Adoption is about the millions of children going through life completely alone. And absolutely nobody should have to go through life along, especially a child. I’ve seen the change that having a family makes in the life of a child. Selah came to us a sick, small, scared little girl and has transformed into a spunky, friendly, talkative, energetic little girl who never stops talking. And as you all probably know, it has not been an easy road. It’s been full of sleepless nights, tears, and guilt that we’re not enough for this little girl. And we’re not. We’re imperfect parents who only make it through with the grace of Jesus.
So, this post is to put a face to the word “orphan.” When we hear that there are 147 million orphans in the world, many in our own country and in our own communities, it’s hard to picture them. But this face, the face of my daughter, is the face of a former orphan. Yes, she has changed a lot in the almost year and a half she’s been with us, but the rest of us have changed, too. I am so thankful that God chose us to be Selah’s family. However, not everyone is called to adoption. But, everyone is called to make a difference in the orphan crisis. If you aren’t called to adoption, I encourage you to be the community to someone who is. You might not be able to tell from the “highlight reel” of life (otherwise known as social media), but it’s hard. Really hard. There are days you feel like you are completely and totally alone, and I know for us, the support of our closest friends and family has meant more than we could have ever imagined. I’m come to realize in the past few months how important community is. Community encourages and invigorates us and gives us endurance. So maybe your part of the orphan crisis is to be there for families who are fostering or adopting. This is more important than it might sound, but I can’t tell you how wonderful it is to see Selah’s face light up when she sees some of our “people.” I love knowing that she has people that love her, even more than just our little family. Or, maybe your part is to help give financially to families who are working so hard to bring their child home. Adoption costs upwards of $30,000, and if finances were not such a burden, more families would be able to adopt.
November is a month where we celebrate all of the many things that we are thankful for. I know I have a pretty long list of what I am thankful for. A lot of us do. What I also want November to mean for many people is to remember that not everyone has a lot to be thankful for. As Christians, God tasks us with remembering this and taking action. Proverbs 31:8 says, “speak up for those who cannot speak for themselves, for the rights of all who are destitute.” And in Matthew 25, Jesus uses a parable to teach us that when we feed the hungry, take in strangers, take care of the sick, and others, we are doing this for Him! And, conversely, when we choose NOT to do these things, Jesus says, “whatever you did not do for one of these, you did not do for me.” My prayer is that there will be a time that we won’t have an orphan crisis to talk about. That we will have so many parents ready to step in and be a family for those who need it, people who are ready to help finance adoption, and people who are willing to come alongside those families by loving, encouraging, and supporting them that there will be no need for an adoption awareness month or orphan Sunday reminder. So, this month, as you are celebrating how much we have to be thankful for, I pray that you’ll remember some of the orphans who are going through life alone without much to be thankful for and pray about how God wants to use you and your gifts to care for the “least of these.”
We had an amazing summer this year. Last year, we had just gotten home from China and were busy adjusting, not sleeping, and taking Selah to many, many doctors’ appointments. This summer, we decided that we were going to have some family adventures. We’ve always loved traveling, but never got to do much of it before due to our strict budget before having kids so we could pay off our student loans. Now that we have three little kids, we assumed that traveling (at least international travel) was off the table. We’ve always wanted to visit Europe and Israel, especially. But then we realized how much there is to see in America that we’ve never seen. God has blessed America with some INCREDIBLE beauty! So, we made two goals for our family. First, before the kids are all out of the house after finishing college, we want to visit all 50 states with them. Second, we want to attempt to see each of the 59 national parks in the U.S. The U.S. National Parks are absolutely amazing! They’re gorgeous, clean, and the staff are so helpful and educational. We think it’s a perfect way to travel the U.S. over the next few years. We’re also going to try to see as many of the 417 national park sites that we can. These include more than just “National Parks,” but also National Historical Sites, National Seashores, National Military Parks, and many others. They are all amazing, but 417 is quite a lofty goal for us, so we’ll just try to see as many as we can. To help reach our goal within our budget, we started renovating a small pop-up camper to take with us on our travels. We loved working on this project, and we are so excited to camp at the national parks we visit. Just don’t laugh at us when you see us pulling a camper with a minivan.
We had lots of stops on our big family road trip this summer. First, we drove through Michigan, with a stop in Ann Arbor to visit Dan’s cousin. We continued all the way up to Traverse City, Michigan, where we fell in love with the town, the food, Lake Michigan, the ice cream, and the Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore.
On our first full day in Traverse City, we drove to Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore. It was gorgeous, and the kids had so much fun climbing up the dunes and playing in the sand. It was amazing to see the three of them start to develop a sense of adventure. There were beautiful views at the top of Lake Michigan. After spending a few hours there playing in the sand and driving along the scenic loop, we drove to a little town called Empire, where we heard there was a nice beach on Lake Michigan. We had a picnic on the beach, and then we spent the rest of the day there. This beach was quite honestly one of the nicest beaches I have ever been to. The water was clean and clear, the sand was beautiful, and there was even a playground on the beach for the kids! We all had fun searching for petoskey stones, which are an amazing kind of fossilized stone that is only found in the area. We found a few and they are now treasured possessions. We had an amazing dinner in downtown Traverse City and what we still consider the best ice cream of our lives at a little place called Milk and Honey. We were sad to leave Traverse City after a few days, and it’s one of those places where we know we’ll be back! We had quite a few more adventures on our first annual epic road trip, but I’ll share those in another post. I hope you got to experience some of God’s beautiful creation this summer, too!
It’s been one year today that we met Selah for the first time. It was such an emotional day for everyone involved. We spent months and months praying for her, and we were over the moon to finally meet her and hold her in our arms. The days following "Gotcha Day" were so emotional that it was hard to really share everything. I remember everything about that day and all of the emotions that went with it. There was the tearful, probably not culturally-appropriate hug I gave to Selah's foster mom. I knew she loved her, and I know it was an impossibly hard day for her. The language barrier didn't allow me to tell her how thankful I was to her for taking care of Selah for a whole year of her life, a year that I desperately wish I could have spent with her. And I will never forget the emotional van ride from the government building where we picked up our children to our hotel. The kids were heart-breakingly crying with such raw emotion that it can never be forgotten. They were driving away from a life, the only life that they ever knew, to a different life; one with different people and a different language and very new experiences.
One year ago we met a scared, tiny little peanut (dressed in many layers of clothing), and when I look at Selah now, I don’t even see that same girl anymore. I see a daughter that is cherished, a sister that plays and fights with her brothers, and a funny, talkative little girl. Selah was constantly in fear when we first met her. She was sick, scared, and barely slept. She was terrified of going to sleep for fear that no one would be there when she woke up. She would scream if anyone even sat on a bed. She tearfully begged to leave in toddler-Chinese wherever we were at. She was afraid when she didn’t have food in her hand that she would go hungry. She had no idea how to play with toys, and the feeling of grass on her feet was completely foreign to her. I am thrilled to say that last night, this little girl who was so scared to fall asleep went to bed in her own bed in her own room last night. This little girl who a year ago never stepped in grass helped me plant our garden today in bare feet; she couldn’t be happier about getting dirt all over her. She understands that we have meal times and snack times, and she trusts that she’ll always have enough food. She’s gained 5 pounds and grown 4 inches. She wants to be a doctor like Doc McStuffins when she grows up. She is smart and extroverted and funny. I only occasionally see the scared face of that little girl we met a year ago, and when I do, I try my best to reassure her and comfort her.
This past year has brought so many changes for Selah. She has blossomed and developed like I couldn’t have ever imagined. This year also changed the rest of the family, too. It’s been year of crazy transitions. Being Selah’s mom has taught me so much about myself; it has revealed all of my weaknesses as a mother and has continually brought me back to Jesus. My control-freak self has finally realized that I cannot possibly do this all on my own. Selah has also taught me to stop focusing on ME. Knowing my daughter was once an orphan had made the orphan crisis and poverty so much more real to me. They aren’t just faceless people on the other side of the world anymore. These people are loved dearly by God, just like Selah. Levi and Ezra are also changed. They are still little, but their worlds are so much bigger than they were before. Levi has become a sweet, thoughtful boy who thinks about others. He talks about how some kids don’t have the things that we do, and he wants to help. Ezra had a difficult transition giving up his youngest child position in the family. A year ago, he was digging a hole to China in the backyard to take Selah back. And today, when we were celebrating Selah’s Gotcha Day, he said, “I love Selah as much as God loves the world.”
As crazy as this past year has been, transitioning to a family of five, doctors and social worker visits, potty training TWO toddlers, job changes, getting SO little sleep, and finishing an EdD degree, when I look at Selah today, happily playing with her dolls, singing the songs from Moana all while wearing a glittery princess dress, I can only think about how truly blessed we are. Happy one year family day, Selah! We will thank God every day for you!
It's hard to believe it's been a year since we were anxiously awaiting our trip to China to pick up Selah. She is SUCH a Lunde, and I can't imagine our family without her. It's been a hard year, to be honest. Our whole worldview has been turned completely upside down, and we are not the same people we used to be. Our eyes were opened in China to the brokenness of this world. We were so safe in our little American bubble, and then we see travel halfway across the world and see so much suffering. It's like we were blindly skipping through life like little children, and our China trip opened our eyes to the brokenness and wreckage of the world. The things we were pursuing in life were hollow. These were not faceless children that we heard about or saw pictures of on a charity's website, but faces of real people, including the face of our daughter. The trauma and pain that she has been through in her short little life causes nightmares and difficulty trusting. It's heartbreaking. This has made my shortcomings as a mother become so evident, and it has become so clear that I cannot possibly do this on my own. The good news is, however, that I am NOT the head of my family and neither is Dan. Jesus is NOT crazy and He IS perfect (so unlike me). He loves us and ALL of these suffering children so intimately. His love is not controlling, or impatient, and without Him, I am useless.
This year our family has experienced job loss, anxiety, and trauma. The one thing we have learned is that God has a plan that is better than ours. In 1 Peter 5:7, it says to "Cast all your anxiety on him because he cares for you." Our God is a loving God, and He cares for us so much that He will take on our anxiety and fear. So, that's what we're doing. We're trusting God to lead us and to make us the best parents we can be to our sweet kiddos to help us teach them not to pursue a hollow "American" dream, but to love like Jesus.
Even with our difficulties and struggles, our kids bring us so much joy, and we thank God for the blessings they are every single day. In the past few weeks we celebrated Easter, went on our first road trip as a family of five to visit friends in Virginia and family in North Carolina, and we celebrated Selah's first birthday home with us. To make up for the first two birthdays we missed, we had a "1, 2, 3" birthday party to celebrate all three of her birthdays. She had a great time and was inviting people to her party personally for weeks, saying, "will you come to my party?" She loved blowing out the candles and of course, opening presents. And, the sun is finally shining after the winter, and we are excited about what God has in store for our family.
All National Parks: Our Travel Bucket list
X Acadia National Park