Thursday, May 31, 2007

What a day!!!

Have you ever felt like you worked extremely hard during the day, and yet you sit down at night and when you look around you realized the house is still a disaster? Today was definitely one of those days for me. I look around at the pack-n-play in the living room (Hailey's quiet-time space), laundry on the rocking chair, school books all over the school table and all sorts of furniture in th oddest places upstairs. ARGH!

We had 3 deliveries today: groceries, bunk beds and dog food. It was really weird to have so many people in my home today. Joseph is now my "regular" delivery guy from Vons. I have decided that the delivery fee is well worth the two hours of my time that it takes to do the actual grocery shopping. What a blessing this has been!

The bunk beds arrived around 2:30 this afternoon. It took a few minutes for me to convince the two delivery men that the bed WOULD fit in the intended room. It is a tight fit, but I was right. It took them about an hour to assemble everything and bring up the dresser. It isn't the most beautiful furniture I've ever seen, but the utility is great! Both twin beds are up, on the loft, with a full-size futon on the bottom.

During this assembly, I was in the next room wrestling with our older bunk bed set. It took me a few tries, but that bed was finally set up, and Hailey was put down for her afternoon nap in her new bed. When she caught sight of her "new" bed with her "nani" on it, she exclaimed "Ma Be!" I took this to mean "My Bed." :) She's very proud of being able to get out of her bed all on her own. I see some training in line for her this week.

My order of dog food was also delivered during the bunk bed assembly. Yeah, I think my precious mutts are going back to kibble after over two years on the raw food diet. I will still supplement their meals with raw treats of chicken and beef. With the girls taking over the meal prep. for Abbey and Eli I realized that we were all spending too much time feeding them. So, even though I'm still convinced that the Billingsly "BARF" diet is best, my pups won't be eating it.

Whew! I'm tired just reading about this. I didn't even mention wrangling 2 twin mattresses upstairs, sliding bookshelves and beds around, or the time we spent in school this morning. Fortunately, I did have a fabulous treat in store for myself this evening. I was able to sit under the teaching of Pastor Tim LaHaye! The famous author of the Left Behind series was at my friends church this evening, so the girls and I ventured up to Vista Calvary Chapel.

It was a great time of fellowship, worship and learning. Even though my house is still a mess from today's craziness, I don't think I would change a thing. Tomorrow, I'll just jump right in where I'm at, and get things done a little at a time. In between school subjects, of course! :)

Oh, sorry for no pictures tonight. I was too embarrassed at the condition of the rooms that I didn't get any taken. Tomorrow night!

Wednesday, May 30, 2007

End of an Era

Tonight is the last night that my "littles" are so little. Starting tomorrow night, Beth and Hailey will be sleeping in "Big-girl beds". It is wild to see how these two are growing up so quickly.

I knew it would happen soon, I just wasn't quite prepared for it. Hailey, even in her non-walking state, is eager to do everything her older sisters do. Including sleeping outside of a crib. Since returning from our cross-country journey, she repeatedly tries to snuggle into bed with Emily or Katelynn, and cries when I remove her to place her into the crib. Tonight, as I tucked her into the crib for the last time, I told her that tomorrow night she would sleep in her new bed with Emily. I'm positive she understood, she didn't fuss at all after I kissed her, and she seemed eager to get to sleep.

Beth is super excited at getting to share a room with Katelynn, in their new loft beds. Delivery is slated for early afternoon tomorrow (Wednesday), and the playroom was cleared out today in preparation for the new beds. Lots of changes are in store. I'm sure Scott's head will be spinning when he returns home at the end of the summer!

Pray for the entire Stringer Zoo please. Scott is under a large load of work (ie. stress), and the girls and I are really missing him now that we are home. Emotions are running high for all of us.

I'll post pictures of the girl crew in their new sleeping arrangements tomorrow night!

Tuesday, May 29, 2007


When I stop and think about it, I'm just floored at how well the Stringer Zoo gets along with the Gough family. The Lord truly has blessed our family by bringing Melody, Rich, Kaitlin and Alec into our lives. The two families just mesh together so well! There is no one else in the world that I can even imagine spending almost four weeks with, day in and day out. More than that, I can't envision anyone willing to put up with me and my chaos for that length of time! :)

One fantastic result of this close friendship is how Beth relates to Auntie Mel and Uncle Rich. Beth practically grew up in their home! She teases Rich while getting spoiled by Mel. During our visit in April, Beth kept telling Rich that she was going to sleep with Auntie, and Rich would have to find another place to sleep.

It has become apparent that Beth is in love with Alec. If she couldn't get her way with Rich and Mel, she would would ask to sleep with Alec. So, a bed was made up on his floor, and there she would lay. Alec must have the patience of a saint with her, as she often talks A LOT while falling asleep. He would even locate her "nani" (blankie) in the middle of the night if she needed help. I always loved hearing Alec recount all the crazy things she said in the wee hours.

I teased Alec that he has to wait until Beth or Hailey grow up, then he can marry one of them. He took the teasing well. I can only pray that I will be so blessed to have someone like Alec for a son-in-law! :)

One night as all the kids were preparing for bed, Rich managed to take an awesome little snippet of video:

In case you can't hear it too well, Beth pronounces that she and Alec will be "Best Friends Forever." Alright, my heart is officially melted!!!

Sunday, May 27, 2007


The girls and I have LOTS plans for the time until Scott returns. Hailey wants to move into a big girl bed - meaning we have to buy another bunk bed set. The playroom will swap with Katelynn's room - so new paint and sewing projects. I really want to park my fabulously clean truck in the garage soon (I had it detailed this week), so I have to figure out what to get rid of in the garage.

After living for 11 weeks with only what I could pull in the trailer, I have realized that we have way too much STUFF!!! The girls and I do not NEED 90% of what we live with. So, a purge has begun. Don't worry, I've promised not to get rid of anything of Scott's while he is gone. :)

With a renewed declutter purpose, the girls and I spent some time at IKEA on Friday night. This led to my first declutter project - the downstairs closet. For those who have not been in my house, we have only one closet downstairs. It is directly across from our school room, and is L shaped to fit under the stairs. We've had a bunch of school work, craft supplies, cleaning supplies, coats, and bags hiding in there since we moved here. I do clean it out once in a while, but it still quickly fills up.

With the help of some IKEA shelves, a ruthless purging spirit, and some time the closet now looks brand new. I was finally able to put almost all of the girls art supplies in the closet, as well as a few items I need on a semi-regular basis for our homeschool group or my own craft projects. Several art projects were finally moved to a "home" in the closet instead of sitting on the side of the school cabinet, gathering dust and spiders.

I also built a new bookshelf for the girls and filled with books - I even managed to get them to part with a few books in the process. It is amazing to see how my love of books has passed on to them!

All in all, I feel proud of my hard work and very thankful that the girls played well today. Even Hailey was in a good mood today. That truly IS a miracle!! The only downside to this adventure was that the closet shelves are made from pine. I'm allergic to pine. :( So now, my upper lip is swollen and I itch all over. Hmmm, I hope the swelling goes down before church tomorrow!!!

Saturday, May 26, 2007

It's the little things.

I'm sure I am not the only wife to take my husband for granted. While Scott is gone, I've realized how much his presence means to me and the girls. It's funny, but the smallest little things will bring about a feeling of melancholy.

I really hate taking out the trash, its one of those necessary evils. Scott kindly usually takes over that task when he is around. So, now with him halfway around the world, I keep stuffing trash into the bag until it is about to burst. Then I have to wrestle with it to get the trash container to loosen its hold on the overstuffed bag.

As you can imagine, laundry is pretty much a daily, ongoing chore around here. I don't mind washing and drying the stuff, I just really don't enjoy folding. I miss having Scott around in the evenings to talk to me while I fold. I also am in the habit of tossing T-shirts in his direction to fold. We are rather odd in our T-shirt folding. We still fold them in the manner Scott learned while a plebe at USNA. It takes a bit more effort, but they really do fit in the drawer better. And that is important in this house, we have way too many T-shirts. :) Having his help in this area of laundry makes the chore go just a touch faster.

Anyone who talks to me for any length of time will quickly understand that I am smitten with my darling husband. I know that he is the BEST man in the world, and I am so thankful the Lord has blessed me with him. Even in a marriage, it is the little things that mean so much. I always feel sad that when Scott is gone my toothbrush is all alone. Silly, I know, but I guess that it is a visual reminder of his absence. So after Scott learned of this silly quirk of mine, he decided to leave his toothbrush in the holder so mine wouldn't get lonely. How considerate is that!!! I still smile every time I see his toothbrush standing next to mine.

The girls and I will all be ecstatic when Scott returns. He is sorely missed. Four months down, just over 3 months to go.

Thursday, May 24, 2007


We are surrounded by numbers. I even like the TV show by the same title. :) Here are a few numbers from our trip...

27 states
79 days of travel
6 families hosted us (many more visited with!)
19 campgrounds
7 National Parks
1 dry tank of gas
1 broken tongue jack
1 leaking trailer window
3 days of rain while traveling
19 meals prepared and stuffed into trailer freezer for Westbound trip
15 of those meals were eaten on Westbound trip
4 pound of Red Vines
5 cases of water
4 girls
2 golden retrievers
1 crazy lady
OVER 11, 200 miles covered
Memories that will last a lifetime? PRICELESS!!! :)

Sunday, May 20, 2007

There's no place like home.

The Stringer Zoo has landed, at HOME!!! After visiting with my grandmother yesterday and this morning, the girls and I headed south for the last time. We have arrived to a HUGE home, amid screams of joy. Even Hailey was sure excited to see all her toys again. My emotions are bittersweet. I'm excited to not have to step over or around things/kids/dogs/etc. every time I want to move, but I LOVE being out on the road. Scott isn't here, so the house still feels empty. Traveling around the country without him is much easier than real life at home without him. Funny, eh?

Don't worry though, I have many more crazy stories of our antics while we traveled around the country. I hope to share the "missing" stories with you over the next few days and weeks while I plan my next trek. :)

'Night all!

Tuesday, May 15, 2007

Visiting the Smiths - Wyoming and Colorado

I had such a great time reuniting with the Smiths last week. It was great to see how Kayla and Sierra have grown. They did have school while we were there, but that didn't stop them from introducing my girls (and me) to DDR. Actually, Jenn turned it on for us while the girls were still in school. DDR stands for Dance, Dance, Revolution.

In Dance Dance Revolution, a player must move his or her feet to a set pattern, stepping in time to the general rhythm or beat of a song. During normal gameplay, arrows scroll upwards from the bottom of the screen and pass over stationary, transparent arrows near the top (referred to as the "guide arrows" or "receptors"). When the scrolling arrows overlap the stationary ones, he or she must step on the corresponding arrows on the dance platform. Successfully hitting the arrows in time with the music fills the "Dance Gauge", or life bar, while failure to do so drains it. If the Dance Gauge is fully depleted during gameplay, the player fails the song, usually resulting in a game over. Otherwise, the player is taken to the Results Screen, which rates the player's performance with a letter grade and a numerical score, among other statistics. The player may then be given a chance to play again, depending on the settings of the particular machine (the limit is usually 3-5 songs per game).
OK, a lot of words to describe a relatively simple game. Until you actually try it! I had so much fun laughing at my complete lack of coordination. I actually earned a letter score of "B" for a song, but it was on EASY. Katelynn was quickly enthralled and often would be found there, dancing to Barbie's Princess and the Pauper music. When Sierra returned home, she and Katelynn had lots of fun dancing side by side. Many of the pictures turned out blurry, due to the fact that the girls were moving so fast. :)

Eli and Abbey had fun getting out of the truck and trailer and stretching their legs. They quickly made friends with the Smith's newest addition - Milo. I'm ready to steal him away!! Milo is the perfect dog for the Smith's, laid back, but definitely seeking attention, and so attached to his people. I enjoyed getting to know him. Beth declared that she was going to buy Milo, so it was pretty easy to figure out what she thought of this gorgeous gray dog.

Abbey and Eli also charmed the girls and Kraig. They kept bringing various dog toys to the captive audience so the objects could be thrown, REPEATEDLY. Kraig enjoyed playing with them, because they bring the ball back, I guess Milo hasn't mastered this yet. Eli kept trying to snooker Jenn into throwing things for him, but she seemed immune to his "puppy dog eyes."

The only portion of our trip where we had company was from Cheyenne, WY to Colorado Spring, CO. Once Kraig and the girls returned from work/school on Thursday the entire troop of Stringer/Smiths headed south. Jenn and the girls joined us in the truck, while Milo kept Kraig company in the van. How GREAT it was to have 3 hours of ADULT conversation!!! All 5 girls in the back watched Cinderella 3, constantly telling the Moms "You're too loud."

We made it to camp at the US Air Force Academy and said farewell to Kraig and Jenn - we knew we would see the girls later in the weekend.

Jehovah Jireh

God is my provider. I know I need to update with pictures and tales from our trip to Cheyenne and Colorado Springs, but something more pressing happened as the girls and I packed up to leave the Air Force Academy yesterday morning. There are plenty of moving parts on the trailer, some to get us hitched, some to make living areas larger, some to stabilize us when we camp, and one very important moving piece that helps me get hitched up to the truck - the tongue jack. This is the part on the very front of the trailer chassis that raises and lowers the tongue of the trailer to level us while parked, and to lower the trailer onto the ball of the hitch so I can pull the entire rig.

Yesterday morning, the internal screw for the tongue jack died. By God's grace it did not break until the very last second of hitching up, so we were physically able to move. However, without the tongue jack, I could not unhitch to go sightsee in our last two stops (Arches National Park and Bryce Canyon National Park). The gentleman in the site next to us kindly came over to see if he could help, but it was not repairable. So, I began calling around to see what could be done.

Most places all I could do was leave a voice mail message. No one was answering their phones. Those who did answer could fit me in for a service call - the first or second week in JUNE!!! ARGH. The campground on the USAFA did have phone numbers for two mobile repairmen, one would be able to help me after dinnertime, and the other said that he didn't carry the jack in stock, but would be willing to help me put one on if I purchased it.

Of course, I was a dummy, and tried to solve this myself - as I was getting nowhere on the phone, my frustration was growing. Finally, at the end of my rope I remembered my "secret power" - prayer. This should have been the first thing I did, but I'm still growing and tend to try and do things my way first. I got down on my knees in the doorway of the trailer, bowed my head and asked God to work it out and to forgive me for trying to run the show myself.

How awesome it would be to say "then the phone rang and my problems were solved." Yet, God doesn't always work in those ways. However, after praying, MY attitude was improved and I was ready to follow instead of trying to lead.

The girls and I headed south to a Camping World, and upon arrival we were told that there was no way they could fit us in for a service call. However, Mike told me to check around the corner with the service manager, Phil, as he would have a better idea how long the fix would actually take. Phil skipped his lunch to help arrange the repair for the jack, Lonnie took his time to do the repair, and now I am the proud owner of an electric jack! No more manual cranking for me - I get to push a button now.

It was a long day, we didn't leave Colorado Springs until almost 3pm, and didn't arrive at the KOA in Moab, UT until midnight. Sugar and caffeine are fabulous to help keep one going, but they sure do upset my stomach that late at night. :)

The girls and I are taking it easy this morning, and we'll tour some of the Arches this afternoon. I have an honest to goodness wireless connection here, not my cell phone this time, so hopefully I can update with photos of getting to ride horses at Kraig's sisters place and other various adventures we've had. I just had to journal to remind myself how the Lord does provide for me in such tangible ways.

Sunday, May 13, 2007

An unusual Mother's Day.

I know Scott said it didn't feel like Mother's Day on the ship, it didn't feel too much like Mother's Day out here either. :) The girls and I have been camped on the US Air Force Academy for the past 3 nights, and are definitely enjoying a slower pace. We haven't seen half of what we had planned on while in Colorado Springs, but we have really loved our time here.

Today the girls and I woke up to a gorgeous blue sky containing a few puffy white clouds. We quickly dressed for church and hurried off to Lucky Dog Daycare. Huh? Yeah, the dogs had an appointment for play group and a grooming while the girls and I did other things today. After a successful drop-off, the Zoo headed back to the USAFA for services in the pointy chapel. The entire USAFA is built with 70's architechture, so it takes a bit of getting used to.

I thought we were headed in to the contemporary service, but it turns out we ended up at a traditional service. Attendance was low due to the cadets coming up on finals week. I did enjoy the service though. The pastor spoke on 1 John 1:1-7 - he paralleled it to a spiritual road map for our journey of faith. He was very passionate, and it was obvious that he loved the Lord and knew Jesus. I enjoyed being fed again. The girls sat fairly still, and didn't seem to disturb those around us too much. :)

We ran a few errands at the BX (Base Exchange) and Commissary (groceries), then headed back to the trailer for lunch, and NAPS! I even enjoyed cuddling under a cozy purple blanket for a few minutes of peace. Hailey and Beth slept like champs, and Katelynn and Emily played or read outside. It was so nice to just relax and not hurry anywhere.

Eventually, we headed out to pick up the dogs. Boy do they smell MUCH nicer now. In fact, their bedding is in the wash right now, because it was so dirty, I didn't want them to get dirty just from sleeping on it. They had a good time in "play group" and seemed content to rejoin the family.

The rest of the evening was not anything like I had hoped for. We drove through the Garden of the Gods, and definitely liked the beautiful rock formations. However, both cameras were out of batteries, so we have no pictures. We tried to head to a craft store to pick up some supplies for a project, it was closed. (Wal-Mart worked instead.) I was craving a good steak, so we headed in the direction that my GPS said we could find a Lone Star Steakhouse. Hmmm. It was vacant, with weeds growing in the parking lot. So we settled for Bennett's Bar-B-Que. It was yummy, but not the steak I had wanted. Next stop was Cold Stone for dessert. The line was out the door, and after waiting for about 15 minutes people begin to come out - without ice cream. I guess the store had run out of chocolate ice cream. That wasn't going to work, I needed CHOCOLATE!!! So, back to the trailer we headed for some cookies and cream Dibs. No, not much worked out for me this evening.

However, the Lord prompted Katelynn to remind me to look at the good in it. :) I was with my four gorgeous girls, we were well fed, healthy, relatively happy, and we are on the journey of a lifetime. Katelynn and Emily had even decorated our campsite picnic table with wildflowers, pine cones and homemade cards in my honor. They were so proud of their gift to me, and I am so grateful to have received it. They really are growing up into great girls. They love to give.

So, today wasn't what I expected, but it was another Mother's Day with the Zoo. I wouldn't trade it for anything!

Friday, May 11, 2007

Wonder of wonders, miracle of miracles.

Well, last night I alluded to a situation where the Lord was truly protecting me. I just love creating an air of suspense! What a cliff hanger, were you drawn back, hoping I'd elaborate? *giggle*

The Lord is truly my protector, I will trust in HIM, and him alone.

Kraig took my Suburban to the auto shop on base to get the oil changed. It has been about 5,000 miles since my oil change in Durham, NC, and it was time to prepare for the last push south and west to home. He called shortly after taking the truck in to ask "synthetic or regular". Hmmm. Whatever was done last time, I don't know. Only a few minutes later, he calls again. I watch Jenn's face as she listens, and responds to what she is hearing. I soon learn that the oil cap had been left off when I had the oil changed in North Carolina, and I've driven all over the country without it.

At the moment, this doesn't mean too much to me. But as I talk with Jenn, and later to Kraig, I learn that without the oil cap, usually the oil will spurt out, causing a large mess under the hood and over the engine, often resulting in the oil burning on the hot engine, causing smoke and sometimes a fire. Of course, if I lost too much oil, the engine could seize, and I'd need a new engine. However, the engine was clean, and apparently I had not lost any oil. WOW! Also, the technician found the oil cap sitting in the fender well, just hanging around waiting to do its job.

Now, I am not a rough driver, but there have been some pretty good bumps along the way. Michigan roads are extremely rough, most campgrounds are not paved, and I do recall one large bump that caused a corelle plate to leap off the shelf and shatter on the floor. How in the world did the oil cap manage to stay in the fender well?

I've done some further research and this article gives a good explanation of what could happen without an oil cap. How awesome is it to be able to see the hand of God in this? Jenn and I have been chuckling as we envision an angel sitting on my engine block, one hand over the oil cap, keeping it in place, and the other on top of the open hole to contain the oil. I have prayed for God to put a hedge of protection around the girls and I as we drive, to provide his angels to guide and protect us. He has done that, and more. What an awesome God I serve!!!

This trip has been an amazing journey for me. I have been so blessed by friends, strangers, sights and experiences along the way. God has given me such a sense of peace over this trip. I have a bad habit of telling God "OK, here's the plan, here's what I'm going to do, please bless it." And I was a bit concerned that I hadn't gone to Him enough in prayer, and was hoping that I hadn't gone off on my own as I began to plan the trip. God filled me with his peace, there has been no fear involved in this trip, just excitement and wonder at the honor he has given the girls and I. What a privilege it has been to travel through so much of this country, to reunite with friends (and meet new ones through the blog), and to be face to face everyday with God's intimate desire to be a part of my life. Every experience through this journey has pointed me to Him. One of my prayers when we began this trek was that the Lord would please use this excursion to point others to Him. I never knew he would use it to draw me closer to Him as well.

I am in awe at the Lord's creativity, creation, protection, and His strong desire for me to know him. Pray that He will continue to teach me, and that I will continue to listen and learn!

Thursday, May 10, 2007

Alright already!

WOW!!! It is so nice to know I am missed. :) I have been having fun in Wyoming, and flexing with life. I have to laugh at how many times I've said "the plan is..." and then had to write about how the plan was changed. Once again, the Lord had a better idea in mind than I did.

We left Yellowstone before 8am on Monday, like originally planned. (Yeah!) I still didn't have any propane because at 7:30 in the morning, nothing was yet open. I figured that my fridge and freezer would be OK until I got to the interstate and could find a place to refill the propane tanks. The girls had woken up, grabbed some blankets and buckled into the truck for an almost 9 hour drive - and for what would probably be a 12 hour day.

My GPS kept trying to take me south through Yellowstone, out a park entrance that isn't even open for another month, so I decided to follow my Google Map directions instead. How odd it felt to drive north and east when I was trying to get home in southwestern California! I did enjoy the drive through the hills and mountains just north of Gardiner, MT, we even spotted 3 hot springs right outside of the town!

As I rounded a shaded curve, and emerged into the sun, my phone rang. "Kraig" is what was announced on the LCD screen. Cool! I was excited to tell him that I was actually leaving on time, and hoped to get to the Smith's home well before midnight. Insert change of plans here... Poor Miss Sierra, their youngest daughter had not been feeling good, and was staying home with a stomach ache. Oh, no. There is no way that I wanted to expose all 4 of my girls to a stomach bug. I'm sorry, but vomit is disgusting, and it would be 'horror movie worthy' if they were to get sick while in the trailer! So I decided to keep driving, but would keep my options open.

The drive was great! This time there was little wind as we crossed Montana and Wyoming. What wind there was ended up being a tail-wind! We stopped for breakfast and COFFEE in Livingston, MT and kept going. We found propane at a Flying J truck stop, and kept going. Our lunch stop was fun, we raided an Albertson's grocery store and then cooked corn dogs in the trailer for the girls to munch on while I looked at our map and campground directory. Yup, Sierra had succumbed to the flu, and I wasn't going to chance a visit to the Smith's home.

What a bummer it was to have to tell the girls that they would not see their friends in Cheyenne. The "Bigs" were already upset with me, because we had not managed to hook up with friends in Chicago. The girls were really getting tired of each other at this point, and had been looking forward to seeing Kayla and Sierra.

So, we continued south and stopped for the night in Casper, WY. Because of our early start, we were able to pull in relatively early for us (6pm), still light enough for the girls to enjoy the playground while I cleaned up the trailer a bit. I was able to talk to my mom and sister while hooking up for the night, sweeping the floor, and washing the dirty dishes that had piled up since I had run out of propane to heat the water to wash them.

As I was dozing off to sleep after playing around on the internet and downloading another book to listen to, I hear a beep from somewhere above my head. Hmmm. OK, what is going wrong now? *giggle* I was relieved to see my phone blinking to let me know I had a text message. Jennifer had sent a message to let me know that Sierra's fever had broken and she appeared to be on the mend. COOL! I text messaged back that we would head their way in the morning. Only AFTER arriving at their house did I learn that Jenn's message had come from Kraig's phone. So when I replied to the original text message, it woke him up! Oops.

How awesome it was to wake the girls up with the news that we would get to see the Smith's. So, the Lord had other ideas, and our plans have shifted one day. No biggie. At this point, I'm pretty good at rolling with the punches and making last minute changes. Hey, it keeps life interesting, right?

So, the girls and I have been hanging with the Smith's since Tuesday afternoon. We've been staying at the Governor's house, I'll have you know. :) The Smith's are renting the Governor's personal house while the Governor and his wife enjoy the mansion during his term in office. We've been able to meet Milo, the newest addition to their family. Milo is a sweet, lovable dog with gorgeous white and bridle markings. He has adapted quite well to two nutty goldens arriving on his turf. Poor dog just wanted to go to sleep tonight, but Abbey and Eli kept playing musical beds and Milo couldn't get onto his pillow. He is such a polite host!

Tomorrow the entire crew, Smith's and Stringer's will head to Colorado Springs. Different reasons, same destination. I doubt I'll have a good internet connection, but will try to get some pictures and words about our visit here up onto the blog. I learned today that the Lord has truly been protecting me on our drive. More on that tomorrow, but for now... Good night!

Monday, May 07, 2007

When I grow up...

I want to be a National Park Ranger at Yellowstone!!! I want to live here. Hmm, think there are any Naval Air Stations nearby? The girls and I sure enjoyed ourselves today, although nothing went according to plan.

Like I stated last night, we were going to get up early and head out in search of a few more animals we had not yet seen. Yeah, right. Not going to happen when Mom stays up until o’dark early. We did manage to get rolling around 8:30, poptarts in hand.

We didn’t see anything new, and I managed to take a wrong turn at one point so we weren’t headed in the direction we thought we were. (I elected to skip my morning coffee in favor of leaving a few minutes earlier – bad choice. The lack of caffeine in my system was not good.) So, instead of heading back to the trailer for lunch we found ourselves at the “Artists Paint Pots.”

Ever since landing here, Katelynn has asked to see the mud pots. This is where the hot steam is escaping the earth in the middle of mud. So the mud boils and burbles. This action is highly dependent upon the time of year and how much moisture has been received. Too much or too little rain/snow will alter a mud pot, making it a steam vent or a hot spring.

So, the zoo unloaded, in the hopes of catching sight of some bubbling mud. What a sight we must have been: Hailey wearing her jacket over her jammies (I hadn’t dressed her, as originally we were only going to be out for an hour or so) seated in the front seat of our double jogging stroller, Beth with bed-head, sauntering ahead of the rest of us, Emily in a long, pink, velour skirt, Katelynn in her too big jacket, and Mom in her Easy Spirit slip-on shoes. I did not know that this outing was going to be an actual hike! Sometimes my stubborn-streak is actually a blessing, today it came in handy.

We casually walked the 1/3 mile to the mud pots, talking about the burned trunks of trees around us, and the dense new growth that was Katelynn’s age or younger. When we came out of the trees and into the clearing where the mud pots were, we elected to head counter clockwise around the small springs and geysers. No mud yet, but we did find a steep hill with tree trunks laid down for stairs. Yeah right! There is no way I could have gotten the stroller up that, so we back-tracked and headed clockwise on the path.

We still had to hike up the hill – the path was a large loop, but it was more manageable this direction. And soon, we found the mud. All across the path. As we stood there laughing at our predicament, a couple of climbers passed us, shaking their heads. Well, my stubborn streak was in full swing, and eager to pick a fight since I was missing my body’s usual morning intake of coffee. There was no way I was going to let a little mud get in the way of me seeing more mud up on the hillside. I didn’t want to see just any old mud lying lazily on a path. I wanted to see mud jumping and blorping. So, the three walkers tiptoed over a fallen tree limb on the side of the path while I pushed Hailey and the stroller around the driest part I could find, using only the strollers front wheel.

We made it, with only a few drops of mud on Beth’s shoes and definitely enjoyed the view. It was gorgeous to look down and see the geyser and springs laid out before us. It felt so good to be standing in the warm sun after triumphing over the earth. ☺ Then we found the mud pots.

How funny it was to see mud jumping, bubbling, gurgling, blorping and bursting in front of us. The girls were impressed with how far the mud pots could spew little droplets of mud. It was definitely worth the hike. We still had to make it down the tree trunk stairs that I had avoided earlier, but bopping the stroller down those stairs was much easier than trying to drag it up them would have been.

Eventually, we were able to see some large and very active mud pots in another area of the park. I still can hear them blorp and spurt. We sure had some giggles.

We did get to see Old Faithful again today. What a difference a day makes! It was stunning to see the geyser erupt in the brilliant sunlight. I set my camera up to take 3 photos each time I pressed down the button, so I ended up with over 50 pictures of the eruption. It will be fun to see which ones will make it into the scrapbook. Maybe I should just make a flipbook of Old Faithful.

We visited a few more hot springs, and took a brief jaunt out to the “Grand Canyon of Yellowstone”, but everyone was pretty tired by this time, and a few grumbles were heard from the back seats of the truck. So we headed back to the trailer for dinner and some preliminary packing.

It looks like we’ll have about an 8 hour drive tomorrow, so the girls and I are hoping to get hitched up and be rolling before 8am. One problem with that initial plan is that I have somehow managed to run completely out of propane tonight. I was sitting in bed, catching up on a few friends blogs when I realized that I kept hearing a click or clunk about once a minute. Oh oh. I check the light for the hot water heater in the bathroom – it was glowing red. Usually, it is only lit for a brief minute as the burner in the hot water heater is lit. With it continually on, I knew something was not right. So out to the front of the trailer I go with the lantern. Once I had the propane tanks exposed, the problem was pretty evident. The propane indicator was on red – both tanks were empty.

Even in my stupidity, the Lord is watching over me. I have already showered for the night, probably using the last of the hot water, and we have a small electric heater for the girls end of the trailer while I use the electric blanket in my bed. We won’t be cold. However, I can’t leave my electrical hookup because when we are on the road, the refrigerator runs on propane. Since I really don’t want the food to spoil while I drive, I need to find propane before we go too far tomorrow morning. I have to laugh at the Lord’s provision. I REALLY needed a shower to wash the sulphur smell out of my skin and hair. If I had waited until morning, there would have been no propane left to heat the water and I really would have been out of sorts.

Sunday, May 06, 2007

Old Faithful.

Today, the female portion of the Stringer Zoo headed out to Old Faithful. The girls woke me with the words "There's SNOW on the truck." But by the time I pulled myself out from under 2 dogs and 4 kids (yes, they were all cuddled with me a few minutes after they woke up), the snow had melted. However, it was COLD!!!

I bundled up everyone as well as I could and we once again headed south into Yellowstone. Old Faithful was about 45 miles away, so we listened to some Adventures in Odyssey as we drove and gazed at the steam rising over the treetops. Every so often, we would slow down, or pull over to gaze at some brown, fuzzy animals - either bison or elk, both were in abundance as we traveled through the park. We also took a short drive around the Upper Terrace of the Mammoth Hot Springs. How amazed we were to round a turn and see a large mound of tavertine (the calcium carbonate released from the hot water solution), and a small hole in the side where the water was leaking out. It was so colorful against the drab sky, we sat there for a few minutes enjoying the bright colors.

Eventually, we pulled into the parking lot at Old Faithful Snow Lodge, and the 2 inches of snow that fell last night was in evidence all around. It was hard to contain the girls enthusiasm, so they used their bare hands to ball up some snow and toss it at each other. We were all so cold at this point that I threatened them with ice for dinner if they dared to hit Mom with a snowball. Katelynn grinned and lobbed one at my back. :)

Stopping by the visitors center, we learned that Old Faithful was predicted to erupt at 2:51pm, by this time it was 2:25pm. OK, how do I entertain 4 Southern Californian girls in sub-freezing temperatures with the wind blowing??? It was tough!!! Somehow we made it through, with a few tears from Hailey and Beth. Katelynn commented at one point, "Mommy, people are staring at us." I was not the only nut out to see Old Faithful in the snow, but I was probably the only one with such a loud kid. (Hailey was screaming at this point, I don't mean that Katelynn was loud. :) )

You could hear the gasps of the crowd as Old Faithful began to gush into the air. I'm sure it was an impressive sight, I couldn't see it because the wind shifted at just the wrong moment and I became enveloped in steam. :( The whole group that had been standing around us rushed to the right in hopes of clearing the steam cloud so we could see the water. It was amazing to see the water shooting high into the air, and the sight quieted Hailey as well.

The girls and I enjoyed a late lunch at the Geyser Grill. At a nearby table, four young kids sat with their parents. It must have been two families, because there were 4 adults watching as the kids ran around, screamed, and jumped from cushion to cushion on the booth seats. Katelynn and Emily watched with wide eyes, and Beth and I had a small discussion about if that was proper behavior or not. :) Hailey sure enjoyed the kids antics, even she kept quiet. When we were almost done with our lunch, a gentleman who had been seated across from us came over and complemented me and the girls on their behavior. He remarked that I had done a lot of work with them. I promptly thanked him for his encouragement, and praised the girls for how well they were behaving. It is amazing to have Katelynn and Emily growing up and see the effects of parental lack of discipline. My girls are not perfect, I am NOT perfect, but we work together to help make the environment around us pleasant for everyone around us. I love it when they have a chance to be praised by a stranger for their behavior, positive feedback at its best! I praise the Lord for his wisdom in raising these precious gifts.

(Ok, I'll get off my soapbox now. *Stepping down*)

As we wrapped up lunch and a quick trip to a gift shop to browse, we realized that Old Faithful was due to erupt again in just a few minutes. I learned this morning that this reliable geyser erupts approximately every 92 minutes, give or take 10 minutes. This may change in the future, but for now it holds true. So we strolled back across the way towards Old Faithful. As we approached the boardwalk built around the famous geyser, we could see water begin to spurt up - a sure sign that the eruption is nearing. Sure enough, it began to blow. We were situated perfectly this time, no steam to blow across our view. We were able to see the full effect of the water rising into the air. Unfortunately, my photos do not do it justice, as the sky was cloudy, so it is hard to see the water against the gray background. In person, it was awesome.

Even though our fingers, noses, and toes were numb, we headed back to the Snow Lodge for some ice cream. I have been searching for ice cream for the girls since the fateful day in Canada at the Niagara Falls. Everything had closed up so early, that we were not able to enjoy a treat like I had promised the girls. FINALLY, we were able to enjoy some Moose Tracks ice cream at the cafe as we watched a 4 minute snippet of a wildlife video repeat, over, and over, and over, and over, and...

Driving north again, it was nearing dusk, so the animals were beginning to show themselves again. Emily, Beth and I has seen two moose this morning hiding among the trees, and we vainly searched for some more as we drove towards the camp. We did see many more herds of elk and bison. I'm amazed at how close to the road they wander and graze.

My favorite moment of the day has to be when we were driving to Old Faithful, when suddenly the small, red, japanese-make car in front of me slams on its brakes. (We were only going 25 mph, so it wasn't so drastic of a stop.) I grumble briefly, then quiet as my jaw drops into my lap. The car had stopped because a HUGE bison was ambling up the road right in front of it!!! Its large head was low, and its breath seemed labored as it climbed the hill. It walked so close to my open window, that I could have touched it if I has stretched. For fear of scaring it, I didn't take any pictures when its round, dull eye grew even with my rear-view mirror. When the girls and I drove on, I could not stop laughing in awe!!!

The "plan" is to wake up early (7am) tomorrow to drive again into the Lamar Valley, in hopes of seeing some more wildlife we have not yet seen. There are white tail deer, grizzly and black bears, and a few others we have not yet seen. Who knows what the Lord will put across our path?

Saturday, May 05, 2007

Stop and consider the wonderful miracles of God!

Where were you when I laid the foundations of the earth? Tell me, if you know so much. Do you know how its dimensions were determined and who did the surveying? What supports its foundations, and who laid its cornerstone as the morning stars sang together and all the angels shouted for joy? Have you explored the springs from which the seas come? Have you walked about and explored their depths?
Job 38:4-7, 16

The wonders of the Lord never end. Today has been full of some amazing things, I'll do my best to relay to everyone the impact today has had.

We started out the day with a laundry run. Hailey was running out of diapers, so an before a true emergency occurred, I did 5 loads of laundry. (Not all of them were diapers.) And yes, even on our 11 week, cross-country trek, Hailey is still in cloth diapers. In fact, the sweet girl has only been in a paper diaper 3, maybe 4 times her entire life. Each time she has tried to pull it off and given me a look of sheer disgust. Funny girl.

We spent a few minutes in the camp store getting some local information before packing a lunch and setting south to Yellowstone. Our first stop was the Mammoth Hot Springs. Prior to today, my only exposure to hot springs was at the Sycamore Mineral Springs when I was in college. That past experience was nothing like what we saw today.

Orange, yellow, pure white, brilliant green, cyan blue surrounded by a moon-scape of gray. Water from snow, ice and rain that has seeped deep into the water table is heated by molten magma, and the only way to release the pressure is through fissures in the earths surface. The result? Geysers, hot springs, and steam vents. The gorgeous colors we saw come from the chemicals in the water. The green, yellow and orange stem from algae and other thermophiles that can flourish in the hot water. The pure white is the calcium carbonate that comes from the dissolved limestone rock and is deposited by the water as is flows over the earth. The blue was from a chemical also found in solution in the hot water. The gray was the death of plant matter near where the hot water had flowed. (We learned about xylem in science this year, and xylem become clogged with calcium carbonate near the hot water, and essentially are choked to death.)

Boy, this is beginning to sound like a science lecture isn't it? :) I think I am still overwhelmed by all that I saw, smelled and experienced today. I'll try to keep it a bit lighter from here on.

We walked, I pulled the stroller up stairs, we walked, and we were amazed. There are boardwalks around the springs and geysers, ensuring a safe passage through the thermal landscape. After walking around the Mammoth Hot Springs, we headed south to Norris Junction, were we were able to see our first geysers. The girls all were amazed to see water bubbling and steaming only a few feet away. Some sounded like boiling water, some like a rushing river. Some gently bubbled to the surface, others rolled like a coffee percolator, some only gave off steam, and others shot water high into the air. It was unreal to walk through pine and aspen trees, and step out onto a barren landscape surrounded by hot water and beautiful colors.

Along the walk we noticed some sort of small lifeform in the hot water. We have no idea if it is a larvae of some sort, or if this is the actual end result. We hope to discover more tomorrow. However, the "Bigs" and I knelt at the edge of the boardwalk, inches above the hot water, marveling at all the small striped animals burrowing in the sand, or swimming through the water. We must have been a sight to anyone who could see us. Our tushes were high up in the air, our noses over the edge of the boardwalk. :)

We ended the day with dinner at a local pizzeria, and a drive through the Lamar Valley, on a wildlife hunt. We had seen many elk during the day, some even grazing a few yards away in the residential area of Yellowstone. The girls and I were not prepared for all we would see on our 1 1/2 hour trek to the North-East Entrance of the park.

Herds of elk were out, small groups with only 4 or 5, and huge groups with maybe 40. Several crossed the road in front of us. For the first time we saw bison roaming free. At first we saw a herd in the distance, but eventually we were given the chance to see another herd closer to the road, with 3 babies! As it grew darker, we spotted 4 pronghorn deer crossing the road only yards ahead of the car, they were so petite and dainty! Canadian geese were landing on the small lakes we passed, a magpie had landed on the truck at the Mammoth Hot Springs. Also earlier we had seen a marmot cross the road up the hill from us. He stopped on a rock next to us long enough for me to reach for my camera, but not long enough for me to snap his picture. The highlight for me had to be the wolf that I saw dash out across the road maybe 50 yards ahead of the truck. We followed his flight path down into a ravine, and when he appeared on the other side we realized that he was joining 3 of his friends. I SAW 4 WOLVES!!!

As I drove home in the dark, all the girls sleeping behind me, I was alone with the Lord. I'm in awe of all I saw today. His creativity and attention to detail are astounding! I just kept praying prayers of thanks as I drove through a small snow storm. White flakes reflected my lights back at me, cave-like blackness beyond my high beams. Today was unreal, and so far removed from anything I've ever experienced before.

Listen: stop and consider the wonderful miracles of God! Golden splendor comes from the mountain of God. He is clothed in dazzling splendor. We cannot imagine the power of the Almighty, yet he is so just and merciful that he does not oppress us. No wonder people everywhere fear him. People who are truly wise show him reverence.
Job 37: 14, 21-24

Friday, May 04, 2007

Whew, what wind...

Thank you for praying for me and the girls, and my aches while driving! The Lord was truly protecting us today. The wind was especially strong today, so I didn't do much snacking, as I had to keep both hands on the wheel as I drove. The girls were super-well behaved, and didn't seem to mind that I couldn't play the roll of flight stewardess today.

We stopped for lunch when Scott called around 12:45pm. We all had a great talk with him, it is tough to know he is back on the ship after a few days onshore. I will miss the near daily phone calls. At this point there was over half of a tank of gas in the truck, so I figured that we would stop for gas in a few hours. I didn't account for the wind, and how that would affect my gas mileage.

So, somewhere West of Billings, MT, my fuel light goes on - OK, I have 3 gallons left. That should get me about 30 miles with the wind I tell myself. I quickly get the GPS to find the closest gas station - 20 miles away. Hmmm. Close, but possible. I tell the girls that we are going to have to stop for gas, so to get ready for a pit stop.

Well, I guess that I was actually getting only 5 miles to the gallon with the strong headwind we had on the road today, because 4.4 miles from our exit I lose all power to the truck. No power brakes, no power steering, and absolutely NO gas. Oops.

Good Sam Emergency Roadside Assistance to the rescue. Fortunately, I actually had a decent cell signal, and didn't even have to get out of the car to call. (We had been able to coast to the shoulder and were as safe as possible at the moment.) As anyone who has tried to talk to me in the past few days knows, the cell strength has been very spotty along I-90. Most of the time I only get 1-2 minutes until my call gets dropped. So, the Lord worked that situation as well.

Good Sam told me it would take about 90 minutes for a tow truck with fuel to arrive, so the girls and I settled in for a long wait. In reality, it only took about 40 minutes for Seth to arrive with 5 gallons of gas. After a few minutes of paperwork, we were on the road again. I made it safely down the road 4.4 miles to the exit and another mile to the gas station. I think I'll be looking for a small gas can to carry in the truck, as fuel isn't readily available out here in Southern Montana!

We still made it to our campground by 7pm, and the women at the desk were super helpful. Lynelle will tell the girls and I all about the best places to visit in Yellowstone, and she even knows where we can spot some grizzlies and wolves. How cool!!! We saw a ton of deer as we drove south on 89 toward Yellowstone. We've seen so many new animals on this trip, I think our favorite were the prairie dogs we saw yesterday, and the flicker-tails we saw in De Smet. Who knows what the Lord will bring across our path over the next few days?

Thursday, May 03, 2007

Prayer Request for today.

The girls and I enjoyed the "deluxe" site in Buffalo, WY last night. It has a hot tub, which we all truly needed, and a large fenced area for the dogs to play. We had breakfast outside this morning, and have recouped from a tough day yesterday. I'll post some pictures of our trek to Devil's Tower when we stop in Montana tonight, but I wanted to ask for prayers before we leave Wyoming for the day.

The wind has been pretty strong and steady since we left Niagara Falls, ON, and the strain of keeping both hands on the wheel is beginning to take a physical toll on my body. My left shoulder seems to be bearing the brunt of it, and I'm real sore. I've used some Kinesio Tape and feel better, but the wind is still very strong today. From what I've been told by locals, the wind is just a way of life here, so I really don't have the option to lay low for a day or two and drive at another time.

No worries, I will NOT get blown off the road. :) There aren't gusts to contend with, but just a steady strong wing. So, I humbly ask you to go to the Lord on my behalf. Thank you!

Wednesday, May 02, 2007

Dark and Light

Why would this profile of George Washington be lit up at night? Hint, it isn't lit by the National Park Service, or your tax dollars. Confused? Wait until the end of the blog. :)

Today began as a very relaxing day. The girls all played outside this morning, until Hailey took her morning nap. Then the "Bigs" and I did a bit of school (Grammar and Phonics, oh my) before lunch. It was so fun to just hang out this morning and not feel under any time constraints. It was sunny, and comfortable (high 60's) so we sat at the picnic bench for school and lunch. The dogs enjoyed the sun as much as we did!

I gathered the troops and we headed west to Jewel Cave. We arrived about 40 minutes before the last scenic tour of the day, so we had a chance to look at the displays while we waited. I had Hailey in our Kelty baby backpack, and Beth was going to have to walk the 1/2 mile tour just like her big sisters. She said she was game, so off we went.

The tour started by descending down about 22 stories into the cave. As our group exited the elevator, I knew it was going to be a great time! The cave was guarded by airlock doors to prevent the man-made entrances from disturbing the natural air flow of the cave. There is only one natural entrance, so all air flows in and out of that one point. Jewel Cave is known as a "breathing" cave, as the air will rush in or out depending on the air pressure above ground. Today the air pressures were fairly equal, so there was no wind.

It was 49 degrees Fahrenheit, so we made sure to put on sweatshirts before we began the tour. It was also quite humid in the cave, even in areas where water could not be seen or heard dripping. It was the first time the girls and I had ever seen some of the crystal formations like nail head spar, dog tooth spar and boxwork. We had seen flowstone, draperies, popcorn and soda straws in the Carlsbad Caverns this past November when we visited with our good friends, the Beanes.

As I said earlier, the tour was about 1/2 of a mile. It took about 1 hour and 20 minutes, Beth's "yittle yegs" didn't seem to hold up the group too much. Just to give you an idea of what good explorers my girls are, this tour had 723 stairs, some very steep, plus it was damp and cold. We did have to duck under and maneuver around various cave formations throughout the tour. Hailey was the only complainer. Everytime our tour guide would stop to talk to our group, Hailey would let it be known that she was unhappy. It was tough, but Katelynn really helped to calm her down, and we made it through. Its not like she had a choice in the matter, did she?

It was amazing to see God's creativity demonstrated far below the surface of the Earth!

We returned to camp for dinner, and so Hailey could nap again. Around 9pm we headed back out to see Mt. Rushmore at night. And now for the rest of the story...

I had called the ranger office earlier in the evening and learned that no tax payer monies would be lighting the sculptures tonight. This was because:

Yep. A movie was being filmed at Mt. Rushmore tonight. Can you guess which one? Here are a few more clues:
Leading Actress: Diane Kruger
Supporting Actor: Jon Voigt
Leading Actor: Nicholas Cage

Any ideas yet? OK, if you need one more hint, here's my last one:
This will be a sequel, and it is about riches that belong to our country.

Yes, the girls and I saw a few minutes of taping of "National Treasure: The Book of Secrets" tonight. I think I was more impressed than the girls were. :)

If you look carefully, you can see Diane Kruger and Nicholas Cage in the center of the picture. Aren't you jealous of me. *giggle*

So now, it is way past 1 in the morning, and I had hoped to get out of here first thing tomorrow morning. However, I need to finesse our plans a little bit, as I think we'll try to see Devil's Tower tomorrow on the way to Yellowstone. Plus, I'm a bit sore after hiking around underground with a toddler on my back. I think I'll sleep as late as the girls let me. :)