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!
I know a lot of people were waiting for an update post when we got home, but we were so exhausted that I wasn’t able to update. I’m just warning you, there may be errors here since I’m still so tired and my brain isn’t quite working right.
Since we were able to update our flights, we woke up early on Friday morning (China time) in Hong Kong, packed up, and walked over to the airport. We went through TSA, had breakfast at Starbucks in the airport, and walked to our gate after getting a little lost in the maze of an airport. We only spent about 12 hours in Hong Kong, but the scenery we saw was beautiful!
We boarded our 15 hour flight and it took off on time. Selah did much better than I could have expected on the flight. We had upgraded to economy plus, which was amazing. Selah had a little space to even play on the floor in front of her seat. It made a huge difference. We had lots of different toys ready to pull out like Play Dough, magnets, stacking cups, and a DVD player with Kai Lan and a few Disney movies. There were a few times she cried, and I walked up and down the plane a little with her, but overall she did great! She slept for about four hours near the end of her flight. To her little body, we landed at 1:30 am in Newark, which was actually 1:30 pm. We figured we would be forever at customs and immigration there, but it only took about 30 minutes. We gave them all of Selah’s citizenship paperwork, and Selah was officially a US citizen as soon as we landed. I have never been more appreciative of the freedoms and opportunities we have as Americans as after this trip.
Since our new flights had us connecting in Newark, Dan’s dad, stepmom, and two brothers were able to meet us at the airport. Dan’s brothers even left school early to meet us there! Selah loved meeting her family, and it was so great to see them all.
After visiting for awhile, we rechecked our bags, went through the LAST round of TSA, and ate in the United lounge because of our United credit card. At that point we were pretty exhausted and cranky after being up for 24 hours, but we made it to our next flight from Newark to Cleveland. Selah and I slept during the hour and a half flight, and we walked from our gate to baggage claim. We spotted Levi and Ezra first, and they started sprinting towards us. It was the moment we had been waiting over two weeks for, and the four of us were tearing up as we hugged. Then we looked up and saw our friends and family in our adoption t-shirts with amazing signs waiting for us and welcoming Selah home. It was truly one of the most beautiful sights we’ve ever seen. We are so thankful that Kate Oren was able to document this moment with her photos! We hugged everyone and introduced them to Selah. She was a little shy but warmed up quickly and started smiling at everyone. As exhausted as we were, it was one of the best moments of our lives. To see the people we love after what felt like such a long trip away was amazing, but what was even better was what this meant for Selah. Just a very short time ago, this precious little girl was without a family at all. Now, she is a daughter, a sister, a granddaughter, a niece, and a friend. She is loved and cherished, and the display at the airport represented this drastic change in her life.
We all drove home and Selah used a car seat for the first time in her life. In China, they do not use car seats, so while we were there, she sat on my lap in the vans we used. She was fine in the car seat at first, but about halfway home she was pretty over it. She screamed and cried for a while until we got home. When we got home, Levi and Ezra eagerly showed her around the house, and she ADORES them. They make her laugh and she was so comfortable playing with them. It was absolutely amazing to see them interact. Selah even tried to imitate some of the words Levi said to her. She is going to learn English so quickly!
We took Selah outside, and she obviously had never walked in grass before. It was hilarious to see her discover it. She was so tentative and lifted her knees high when she was walking, and then she wanted to be picked up. The boys started picking flowers for her and giving them to her, and she was thrilled. Levi and Ezra are both amazing big brothers. They brought Selah toys and stuffed animals to play with, read books with her, brought her a juice box and snacks, and were so attentive.
Bedtime was pretty difficult, especially since Selah is used to sleeping on a different schedule. We finally were able to put her to sleep after a lot of tears at 11. Unfortunately, she was back up at 1:30, and I walked her to sleep for an hour. Then she was back up at 4:00, and Dan took a turn and then we switched around 6 when I got up with her for the day. We are so exhausted; we’re hoping to be able to have a normal sleeping schedule soon!
Most exciting news first: We got Selah’s visa! The computer glitch was fixed, and we are on our way out of here! Thank you all for your prayers! Now Selah will become a US citizen as soon as we touch down in the US. After the last few weeks, we really understand how much of a blessing this is.
All National Parks: Our Travel Bucket list
X Acadia National Park