Summer Road-trip: Maryland

Family are the people who know you best and the ones who are most familiar.

Maryland hasn’t been a part of our family’s history until Michelle and her family moved there a few years ago. Even when your gathering is not at the place where you grew up, being with family gives you the sense of being home.

15 July-7849-2

I grew up in a family of three girls who were great friends even as little girls. As we grew up we did everything together–playing, working, and homework were all done side by side as often as possible.   We got married and moved 22 hours of driving apart from each other, but when we got together we were shopping, working on projects, and talking, serving the latest great recipes we’d been enjoying, and hanging out late into the night.

Then suddenly there were babies and lots of them. At mealtimes adults would need to stand up to pass a serving dish over three little heads to the next adult . Between cutting food into bite sized pieces and cleaning up spilled drinks and feeding babies and stepping away to take care of a baby, there wasn’t much time for adult conversation. Sometimes we’d step back and just watch the blur of  motion–not that there was much time for pause. It was good. Crazy. but just full of amazing energy and really cute little people.

A few more years have passed and the children are growing up so much that weekends like this are such a breeze in comparison.  The older children play so well together and can handle their own plates. It’s just fun to sit and see all the life that has come from what was a small family.

While there is still a lot of action and noise, we grownups have time to sit around and talk again. But there are more layers now, and in the background of these conversations there are the happy sounds of children while in our circle babies toddle from one person to the next.

We’ll never again be that family of three little girls that made everyone smile or the three pre-teens who could seem shy on the outside but had a whole book of stories they were keeping inside.  We keep aging and reaching new stages in life.  Family dynamics will keep changing–giving us the opportunity to love the familiarity of what has been good and nudging us to keep growing.

family 3

We used to get to see family several times a year, but now these trips are more of a yearly treat. This year Michelle and her family hosted us all at their house in Maryland.

15 July-7701
Beth has a dry sense of humor and can have us belly laughing with only a few words.
15 July-7714-2
Cousins playing non-stop. They always have so much fun together. I’m so happy the boys can grow up knowing their cousins as some of their best friends.

15 July-7713


15 July-7715-2
Frisbee Football

15 July-7720-2

15 July-7721-2
Sweet Zara
15 July-7725
Thoughtful Chloe
15 July-7733-2
Just out of reach
15 July-7754
Grammie blew bubbles for the little ones to pop. I think she was expecting them to use fingers, not tongues.
15 July-7771
Post-game talks and catching a breath
15 July-7709
Backyard camping for the kids. Originally we had talked about camping for the weekend. With our troop of little ones, we decided it would be nicer to stay in a house with electricity and comfortable beds and toilets and showers. So we did, but almost all the children slept in this tent. They were making memories they’ll talk about for years.

The weather was so lovely and we got to spend the day Saturday at a lake. It was absolutely beautiful, happy, and relaxing.

One evening Michelle brought out sparklers for the children which they loved!

15 July-7791

15 July-7796

15 July-7799

So, WordPress  tells me I’ve used up all my space and I can’t upload anymore pictures. :( I’ll wrap this up for now.  We ended our roadtrip with a stop at my parents on the way home.  It was a perfect ending–a little more summer. A little more family.

15 July-7873

Then we left for home, so full of happy memories and ideas and words.


Summer Roadtrip: Pennsylvannia

After visiting Virginia, Philadelphia, Boston, and New York City, we headed off to spend some relaxing time in the country. Because we live far from both of our families, most of our trips are travels to see family.  It was really fun to have a couple of days this time to visit a few friends, too.

15 July-7331

Speaking of friends–a trip like this makes us realize how BLESSED we are with having hundreds of friends!!  There were so many people we would have loved to have seen while we were traveling, but we just couldn’t see everyone.  Living in a community where so many people have only a few friends and only a few family members who they can stay connected with is a good reminder of what a gift these friendships are to us. We might not get to see our friends as often as we wish, but having that network of friendship is so precious!

15 July-7355

During the years Steve was teaching we spent two summers at FBEP. We got to know Jason & Gloria and Phil & Jolene during the summers we studied there, and we always have such a great time together.  They have invited us several times to visit. Actually being in their homes seemed so natural, yet I wanted to pinch myself to be sure it was actually a reality.  Over the past few years Gloria and Jolene have been two prayer supporters who listen when I need to spill, who pray and offer advice.

15 July-7359

Lucinda spent a few weeks with us twice when I needed extra help, and we love her lots, too.

I did a mini photo shoot for Lucinda one day then we ate lunch together and caught up on each other’s life.

Lucinda’s family hosted us and gave us royal treatment!  We felt loved from the minute we stepped into the house even if it was so late at night that everyone was sleeping.  From little notes inside the door to a pitcher of water and cups in our room, there were sweet touches everywhere. When I tucked the boys into the cozy bed she had gotten ready for them, Ian smiled happily, “Mmmm, this is the life for me.”

15 July-7336-2
So many common parts of life for us growing up are rare and exciting for the boys. They were so excited about a campfire and roasting marshmallows.

15 July-7573

Those few days in Pennsylvania were so restful and we soaked up the quiet, the green, and acts of service poured out on us.

15 July-7393

We enjoyed evenings around campfires and talking late into the night, coffee, laughter, and watching our children become friends, too.

15 July-7666

15 July-7671

15 July-7610

One of the beautiful gifts of this trip was how our hosts were SO generous in planning meals that would accommodate the boys’ and my food intolerances. Looking at packing food for two weeks on the road looked daunting, but they made it so much easier!

15 July-7693-2

It’s beginning to seem really funny to me that I casually titled this series “Summer Road-trip:” as if it was something we do yearly when it’s actually a huge, monumental highlight for us. :)  This trip was such a gift to us and so encouraging to us personally and in our ministries here. 15 July-7684

After Pennyslvania we headed to Maryland for  a weekend with my family. But I’ll tell you about that in the next post.

Summer Roadtrip: NYC


New York City was such a nice break for us, and gave us a time to be alone as family–yes, in a city bustling with people–which felt familiar and good.  It was so great that the boys had hours of fun playing with other friends, but I’ve gotten so used to having them close all the time and had been missing them. Our day here also seemed the most like a vacation with no agenda and goals, but a laid back, exploring kind of day.

Steve and I both love NYC, and the two times we’ve visited have been so rich and made us wish for more time there. Originally our trip route took us directly from Boston to our friends’ home in rural Pennsylvania. Once we saw that we’d be traveling right past New York City, we knew we had to spend at least a day in the city.

15 July-6924

We settled into a hotel that Steve had found in Queens and headed out for the evening.  Friends of our future church planting teammates had generously invited us to spend an evening with them.  On the way to their house we made a stop in Chinatown.

1) Zac traveling in comfort with an audio book and a snack 2) my face when Steve squeezed the van around the tight corners in NYC 3) Feeling the love 4) Zac with a new friend 5) Steve and new friends sharing stories of life 5) Zac snoozing in the morning after a late night 6-7) reading a map
15 July-6971
Cities are amazing places for getting a taste of other cultures. Ooooh, that was punny.
15 July-6973
Pax fell asleep on the train. –May I just pause to say how much I love the public transit system in NYC. Atlanta, please, take lessons.– He slept all the way through Chinatown, through the metro station and halfway through our ride. I thought it was funny that we had been on such an adventure, but for all he knew we’d simply had a long train ride.

15 July-7015

The Nisly family welcomed us warmly.  We shared stories and our dreams for life over  salads, summer vegetables, and grilled chicken. In less than a few hours felt not at all like strangers and more like friends.

The children finished dinner first and left the table to play games–running until they were panting and sweat trickled down their temples. We smiled at shouts and laughter that drifted our way.

When Dwight talked about about his students, inner city kids with really rough lives, he spoke with so much passion and care that tears filled his eyes. To see so much love for his work and people when he has been engaged for close to twenty years inspired both Steve and I a lot.

15 July-7000
The Nisleys ingeniously used their tiny back yard space to include a patio, chicken coop, grape vines, a line for line-drying laundry, and a playspace and garden.

Both Dwight and Marlene have a gift of drawing out our own stories and, best of all, the parts where we have seen God in our story. They were so supportive, offered a few words of wisdom, and prayed with our family. We left feeling so encouraged by who they were and by the words they had spoken to us.  Even though this stop hadn’t been in our original plans, it turned out to be a highlight of our trip.

15 July-7043

We got back to our hotel close to midnight and Steve had a mission-related meeting at 7:00 the next morning with an hour commute. Meanwhile the boys and I caught up on some sleep and enjoyed a nice breakfast and a little reading.

15 July-7069

Steve got back a little before noon and we headed out to tour the city! Steve and I wanted to go e.v.e.r.y.w.h.e.r.e, but tried to keep the day simple and enjoyable for the children. We had decided to take them to the FAO Schwartz toy store on 5th. For them it was like a museum filled with toys. :)

A collection of cellphone pictures. First column: 1) the Statue of Liberty built out of Legos! 2) Paxton’s dream of becoming an astronaut comes true a little sooner than we expected 3) drowned rats waiting out a downpour under an awning. Middle column: 1) rain on the streets 2) We passed a Lindtt chocolate store just as the rain started pouring again, so of course we ducked in out of the rain 3) When I took this picture a lady said, “Now that’s a refrigerator picture.” She explained that when her boys were little she always kept a picture of them on the refrigerator, and she thought this one would be worthy to hang on ours. :) Far right: 1) Leaving the city sadly, but eagerly soaking in the beautiful sights 2) obvious 3) my birthday dinner in Little Italy with my favorite people=Heart FULL.

15 July-7045

The boys had hot dogs high on their must-do list for NYC. :) That’s a classic, right? We took our food to Central Park–our next destination.  We had just finished eating and were ready to enjoy the park when…it started raining. That changed our plans really fast.

We dashed out of the park toward the train station, but within minutes were soaked. There was no sign of a break, so we huddled in a store entrance and people-watched. It might have been fun, really, if the three year old wouldn’t have been crying.

Finally the rain slowed and we walked our crew as quickly as we could. From a photographer’s point of view, the city was just beautiful. The colors were super saturated and light sparkled off of nearly every surface. It was really hard to keep moving instead of stopping to photograph it all.

15 July-7088

We were close to our station when we passed the public library.  I had heard it was quite amazing and we wandered inside just for a quick look–or so we thought.

15 July-7114

From the ornate carvings on the door, I knew we were in for a treat, but then we walked into the entrance…I mean are you even kidding me? It was so, so gorgeous.

15 July-7120-2

This^ is the lobby.  The lobby!

I “breezed through” (to me) an art exhibit.

15 July-7125

15 July-7134

We decided to check out the children’s section and conveniently waited out another downpour.

15 July-7144

Steve found a map of the library and discovered that there was a Gutenberg Bible on display on the third story which we obviously wanted to see.

15 July-7157
On the way out we passed these phone booths, “Hey guys look! Longer ago we didn’t have cell phones…” Um, wait. This makes us sound really old. Haha! They thought they were quite a novelty.

15 July-7161

This room. I was speechless and stood at entrance with my hand on my chest drinking in the grandeur and the beauty.  In the center of the room the Guttenberg Bible, one of 42 remaining copies, was on display.

As we shared our excitement with the boys and explained the history depicted in the paintings on the wall, an older lady, an interpreter for tourists, told us in broken English, “They are so lucky to have you as parents.” I’m not sure what she saw, but I do so love when others can see how much we love each other.

15 July-7168

15 July-7172-2
I wonder if these girls have any idea how lucky they are to get to study in such a great space.

I really love our city, but after getting a good look at three other great cities I was beginning to have a little city envy. :) Then this–comparing this place to our central library which is huge but housed in a boring cement box I lamented dramatically, “We have nothing. Nothing!” =)

Our next stop–a ferry ride past the Statue of Liberty took us through Grand Central Station. This is on the list of places I want to come back to when there’s time to really absorb the details. (Who is up for a photowalk weekend through NYC?)

15 July-718215 July-721015 July-723115 July-7236

After a few encounters on the ferry with people who made rude remarks about the children or I (not a big deal, really. Just not the right time at the end of a day of touring and to a tired mom) I recanted my earlier statements. Maybe we don’t have all the amazing places, but at least the people in Atlanta are really, really nice. :)

15 July-7276
Last ride before we got back to our vehicle. The boys were troopers all day!

We hadn’t eaten anything since an 11:00 hot dog and snacks, and were all really hungry.  We were hoping to find something authentic–a little hole in the wall kind of place.  We didn’t pass the right place and I was resigning myself to stopping at a fast food chain outside of the city.  I told Steve that I had never been to Little Italy, and he said we were about to go right past.  He said we could drive through so I could at least get a look.

15 July-7314

Oh, was it ever dreamy. Dusk was beginning to settle and the lights strung over the streets added even more charm to the streets lined with cafes and happy people.  I asked Steve if we could maybe eat here for my birthday gift.

15 July-7279

He agreed and it was one of the sweetest ways we could have possibly ended our day.  Five years of leaner times have taught me to be satisfied with little; they have also made my heart absolutely burst with gratitude when it receives much.

This was a much moment.  A time when I realized how good my life really is–the ability to travel, the rich input we’d received from other people, the day full of exploring  and drinking in beauty. But best of all this family sitting around a table smiling and enjoying the atmosphere and street music as much as I–these gifts from heaven, each of them, stretching my heart wider than I could have dreamed and filling my whole life with so much love and teaching me to forgive and extend grace. There couldn’t possibly have been a better present.

I took a little video clip that for me, captured a little of all of that. I’m still learning how to shoot video with manual focus, so the fact that I managed to get each person in focus was a victory, too.

Aaaaahhh. All the happy sighs.


Our next destination was rural Pennsylvania to spend a couple days with friends.

If you’ve missed the previous posts on our summer roadtrip, here are Virginia, Philadelphia, and Boston





Summer Roadtrip: Boston

Catching a glimpse of NYC as we crossed the George Washington Bridge.

Visiting Boston was especially exciting because none of us had been there before.  We had met two couples from Boston at a church planter’s retreat a year ago who had invited us to come visit their community.

This year we’re going to use Story of the World as part of our history curriculum.  I bought the audio version to take with us on our trip, and saved it for a surprise for this next segment of our trip.  It helped the hours pass by much more quickly. Right as we were passing NYC, the narrator described how Broadway got it’s name, then we heard about Boston’s history as we got close to the city.  I couldn’t have possibly coordinated the details so well if I had tried.

A) An airplane landing over the interstate B) George Washington Bridge in NYC C) reading lots during the long hours of sitting D) I enjoyed seeing the change in structures as we drove further north E) Boston made a fantastic first impression F) A passenger window shot as we first got into the city

Medford, our destination, is suburb located on the north side of Boston.  Boston is packed with history–a homeschooler’s delight. Jingle Bells was written here (see the plaque below), and it’s so easy to imagine a winter sleigh ride on these streets. 15 July-6774

It’s also the location of Paul Revere’s famous midnight ride. A hitching post where he  tethered his horse is preserved here. 15 July-6780

This area is really lovely with a lot of homes built in the late 1800’s.  The group we were visiting lives in intentional community–sharing often in daily life. Three of the families live in two houses on one property. One home is a two-story house big enough for one family to live upstairs while the downstairs is home for another family and includes a large room used for church services. Several other families live close by.

15 July-6769

They really enjoy living in close proximity because they can easily share meals, spend evenings together, and gather for prayer as needs come up. They all homeschool, but they also have the advantage of a co-op of sorts just outside their door. It is not communal living, though. Each family has their own space and functions as a separate unit. However, they are close enough to support each other in so many ways throughout the week.

After we had eaten dinner and taken a short walking tour of Medford our first evening, several families from church gathered on the patio area to talk and eat dessert together. Gatherings like this might happen as often as several times a week for them.  The church families often invite other people they’ve been connecting with throughout the week through work, classes, or in conversation to join them for an evening of fellowship.

In his book King Jesus Claims His Church, Finny Kuruvilla, one of the group’s leaders describes his beliefs on what it means to follow Christ and build His church. Through living together and spending hours in conversation, the group is still working out what kingdom living will look like for them.

The group at Followers of the Way is very warm and welcoming.  We felt a camaraderie among them that easily resembled a large family, and they invited us and other visitors into their circle individually and as a group.

It was a privilege to be a part of these discussions and to learn more of what it looks like to live in close community.  Both Saturday and Sunday evenings a group of us stayed up past midnight engaged in deep conversation. This might have been difficult for families of young children in some places, but here it was easy to get the children to bed then step back into the group.

15 July-6910

A few things we found insightful:

:: Living in community creates an easy gathering into which the church can invite people they meet throughout the week. In urban settings where people do not visit in homes as freely, joining in with a group that has a large family atmosphere will probably feel less intimidating.

:: Living in community requires sacrificial living. I think this may be part of the purpose–the peeling back layers of self and living for the cause of Christ and for our brothers and sisters. Homes become less  our space and more a space where people outside our family are always welcomed into. Each of the three families on the property had at least one single person staying with them and shared their space for large group discussions and/or meals at least once in the two days we were there. Having this many people in their homes was not just a busy weekend for them, but typical life. [For those of you unfamiliar with this culture, it is very common in Anabaptist  groups to host people in our homes for meals or for the night-whether we are friends, acquaintances, or friends of friends.]

:: The group here has an acutely clear vision. Seeing them process and work out their vision in person confirmed the importance of clearly established goals in church planting.

There’s so much more, so if you want to hear more call Steve or I or we would be happy to talk about it more in person. :)

15 July-6792

While we valued community before our visit, we noticed benefits of community that we hadn’t seen before. Living in a community that is this close in a physical sense of living right next to each other and doing daily life together might not be our goal. Still, Steve and I really value learning from other people and we learn a lot by listening to a wide range of ideas.

15 July-6808
A few street scenes, a handsome little man who was behind on sleep and tired of all the traveling, North Church and a statue of Paul Revere

Sunday morning our hosts kindly took us on a tour of Boston–doubly nice because we got to see so much more than we would have if we would have tried to find all these places on our own.

Boston wowed me. We were on a quick walking tour trying to cover as much as we could in just a few hours, but it was the kind of place that made you want to be still and take in all the colors and lines, the movement, the people. We’d walk past places with signs indicating they were the first meeting house or the oldest church in Boston or America.

15 July-6811 15 July-6823

15 July-6832
Watching a live jellyfish
15 July-6843
Christopher Columbus
15 July-6859
A street musician; beautiful architecture
15 July-6803
The church is the site of the Boston Massacre. I didn’t remember what happened at the Boston Massacre, but thankfully I have an eight year old son to fill in the pieces I was missing. I’ll ask him again tomorrow, because I’ve already forgotten the details again. I try to keep plenty of brain space available to absorb all the beauty around me.:)
15 July-6881
Yes, this is THE park where the duck family of Make Way for Ducklings lived. You have read Make Way for Ducklings, right? It is such a wonderful children’s storybook. We got to ride the swanboats–powered by someone peddling the boat from behind the swan. At this point I was starting to battle city envy.

IMG_3661 15 July-6895

After this we headed back home where the church family was gathering for their weekly church. The ladies take turns preparing a meal for the church. It was a laid back, outdoor affair with lots of time for conversation.  The children played nearby on a small playground then gathered into the middle of the group when it was time for communion. Afterward everyone headed up to the meeting room for the main church service. There were lots of visitors to make a total of about fifty people.

Afterward there was another gathering on the patio. The women had all brought food for an evening meal, so again there was food and more discussions that stretched long into the night. That might sound boring here, but really the time flew by because the conversations were really good. The boys had such a good time playing for hours with their new friends. It was so nice to see them run and play and not need to worry about safety. Parenting felt pretty easy in general because the boys were so happily occupied the whole weekend. It gave me a lot of time to sit with other ladies which was nice.


I’d had a birthday on Sunday, so on our way out of the city Monday morning Steve drove back to a really charming street we’d seen the day before just so I could buy a treat. I LoVe trying new foods. If it had been feasible, I would have loved for us to eat traditional, local foods in all of the places we visited. We really were there to focus on spending time with people and ate our meals in their homes, so we didn’t get to try much local flavor.  To meander into an Italian pastry shop for an iced coffee and a freshly-filled cannoli was a perfect present. Oh, my.

Next up: NYC!

If you missed them, here are the earlier travel entries
Part 1: Virginia
Part 2: Philadelphia


Summer Roadtrip: Philadelphia

If you missed it~
Roadtrip Part 1: Virginia

After a relaxing day with family in Virginia, we were off on our big adventure. The boys were set with a new load of books from Grandpa and Grammie’s bookshelves.   Steve’s playlist kept us tapping our toes and singing along.

We traveled through several cities this day.  I was all, “Look! Boys! Do you see…”

They’d glance up from their books and nod disinterestedly. Skyscrapers are old hat to them now, I guess. Alrighty then.

A friend heard we were in Virginia and told us to stop by a local doughnut shop to buy doughnuts for our family on her tab. 4 of 5 of us may have broken our diet rules, but it was worth it  for the sweet flavor and connection with an old friend!


15 July-6740

15 July-6061
In the months before our trip we studied the history of the city and especially the Liberty Bell. Finally the day came when we were standing in front of this memorial from the past. The boys had a hard time believing that this was really and truly “the real thing.”  Of course being young, they didn’t fully grasp how cool it was to be there. Zac was looking at this picture after we got home and asked, “Do you know what I was thinking here? I was just wishing I could get back to my reading.” :)

Driving into Philadelphia from the South gave us a great view of their fantastic skyline.  The city–its art, it’s buildings, it’s atmosphere–is so classy and beautiful. The architecture definitely has more of an European influence than Atlanta’s buildings.  I also really liked the city’s focus on international peace.15 July-6746

                   Our family spent the first couple hours in Philly                              touring the historic area.

15 July-6067

Then we were off to our real destination–Duane and Lucy’s house! Duane and Steve have been friends since way back when, and we got to know Lucy when she and Duane were dating. We always have great discussions when we’re together. They moved into the city several years before we moved to Atlanta and they care a lot about supporting and building their community. They have good input on urban living and on living well.

This was a special visit, too, since it was the first time we met their beautiful children Anya and Felix.

15 July-6709Friesen_Family-6200The next morning I photographed a documentary style session of Duane and Lucy and their family playing at the park [see it here]. We ended at a coffee shop where Steve and the boys met us for the rest of the day.

We meandered over the Ben Franklin Bridge on foot. The children were fascinated by the duck boats launching into the harbor below, and we adults got to talk some–not always easy with five children. :)


After a relaxing afternoon, we took a picnic to a quiet park where the kids had space to splash around in water. Again I noticed the history in the details of this place.  Even around a wading pool for children you could find statues of historical figures.  Duane also drove through downtown on our way back to their house to let us see a little more of their city.  It really was a place for happy sighs.


On our way out the next morning we ate brunch together at one of their coffee shops full of local flavor–a really nice way to end our time together.15 July-6715

Next up: Boston

An Atlanta family's story: learning to love God and others