Sunday, June 30, 2019

Our Favorite Things To Do In Zion National Park



Zion National Park was a favorite of our family. There are so many things to do in Zion National Park. Southern Utah has 5 major National Parks but we were only able to visit Zion along with the Grand Canyon on this trip. Previously we were able to visit both Arches and Canyonlands National Park. Bryce Canyon and Capitol Reef are on our list for future trips. We took this trip before we were fulltime RVers so we had one week in March for Spring Break and were traveling with our minivan and popup camper.

Where to Stay

We tried to be spontaneous this trip and stay at 1st come, 1st serve campgrounds in the national parks. Despite being March, we had no luck getting a spot in the national park campground. Thankfully because it was March the RV parks right outside the national parks were mostly empty. We ended up at Zion Canyon Campground and RV Resort. We really enjoyed our stay here and would definitely recommend this RV Resort (not sponsored). The location was literally just outside the park entrance. You could walk to the visitor's center. Since Zion has a mandatory shuttle bus we did walk to the park entrance on several occasions and then road the shuttle bus into the park.


Driving into the area

Things To Do In Zion National Park

Visitor Center

The visitor center is an important 1st stop for your time in the park. National park visitor centers and national park rangers are a wealth of information. Not only do they have exhibits and typically a park film, almost all the rangers love talking to visitors and help them plan their trip into the park (talk about dream job). My favorite thing to do is take the time to talk to the rangers about their favorite part of the park and ask what they would do with kids our age. I also often ask what is a less visited part of the park they would recommend. On many occasions I have received insider tips about the park and been told to visit things I wouldn't have seen otherwise. The park rangers are truly the experts on the park and most love their jobs. Don't skip this step!


Zion National Park

Junior Ranger Program

The visitor center is also where you can pick up your junior ranger books. The National Park Junior Ranger program is another highlight of the National Parks for our family. Each park (or monument or historic site) has a booklet of information, activities, and challenges for the kids to complete. Once the kids have completed the activities they can return to the visitor's center to be sworn in as junior rangers and receive a badge. Our kids have become junior rangers at 21 National Parks sites so far. Junior ranger books make for an awesome day of homeschooling. You spend the day in the park exploring, hiking, learning, reading the visitor center exhibits, and watching the park video.


All 4 kids being sworn in as junior rangers at Zion National Park

Showing off his badge and his cheeseburger smile

Ranger Led Activities

Ranger lead activities are another National Park favorite for our family. If you visit in the off season the activities will be limited but if you visit during peak season there should be several activities each day. Ranger talks are informative and a lot of fun. Ranger lead hikes are some of our favorite as the rangers take you on a hike to a specific area and narrate the hike with their wealth of information. Such a great experience! Some parks even offer special junior ranger activities that are geared towards kids. We have done things like play games focused on learning about the park or getting to touch animal hides or bones. Read your park newspaper and map and ask what ranger activities are available while you are visiting.


Zion National Park

Hike The Narrows

Hiking The Narrows is a highlight of visiting Zion National Park. It is a narrow section of canyon that can only be hiked by walking up or downstream. If you want to hike upstream, as most people do, a permit is not required. If hiking in a river isn't your speed, you can view The Narrows area of Zion National Park the paved riverside walk one mile from the Temple of Sinwava. Since it was March when we were visiting it wasn't too hot outside and the water was really cold so we only hiked in a short distance. Our youngest was also almost 4 years old so that limited how far we wanted to hike in the river. Even if you don't plan to hike The Narrows, I still recommend visiting the area. It is beautiful!


The Narrows

Silly faces at The Narrows

Weeping Rock


Hiking to Weeping Rock was another favorite for our family while we were there. It is a short trail but Weeping Rock is really neat. The area is a lush hanging garden where water flows year round. Unlike a waterfall the water seems to just seep out of the rock continuously. It is quite the sight. The kids especially thought it was neat, as they had never seen anything quite like it. I see how the rock got its name, it looks like it is weeping. Definitely add this to your list of places to check out in Zion. Check out this quick video clip of Weeping Rock:




Angels Landing

One area of the park where we wanted to visit but weren't able to was Angels Landing. Angels Landing is a strenuous trail with steep drop offs but the view from the top looks amazing. It is not recommended for small children or those afraid of heights and we had both in our group. If you are a good hiker and have older kids I would definitely recommend this hike. Next time we visit Zion it is on our list.

Final Thoughts

Zion National Park is a beautiful National Park and should be on everyone's list to visit some day. It's location makes it easy to plan a road trip from many western states. It is easy to include Zion on a trip to Moab, Utah (and Arches National Park and Canyonlands National Park) or The Grand Canyon (what we did), or even Las Vegas, Nevada. Including more than one site into a trip makes the drive or flight seem more worthwhile. If you are able to camp and plan your own meals and bring the food you need, you can make a national park vacation very affordable. Another money saving tip is to purchase the America the Beautiful National Parks pass for $80 and enjoy unlimited National Park visits over the next year. Happy adventuring!


Sunday, December 30, 2018

Not All Rainbows and Sunshine


When we first started telling people we were going to travel the country in an RV we got varied responses but most fell into one of two categories: I am so jealous, that is so neat, I wish I could do that, or that is crazy, I could never sell my house, let alone all my possessions, I wouldn't want to travel around that much. For those in the first camp, I am going to share some of what has been going on behind the scenes the last two months since we launched full-time.

It really isn't all rainbows and sunshine. I have blogged about this already but homeschooling is hard. It definitely is not something I feel called to do but I do it as means to allow us to travel full-time. The longer I do it, hopefully the better I get but Orion and I butt heads often. He is a very active 6 year old boy who doesn't like "school" in a traditional sense but is very advanced in both math and reading so balancing enough active, physical play, along with experiments and hands on learning, with book work to keep him learning is a challenge. My two girls don't love homeschool either but their school is pretty straight forward, despite being more challenging academically than public school.

Close up of the 2nd tire blow out and resulting damage


Then you have RV repairs! I feel like we are in the shake down period. Our RV is a good quality 5th wheel that is built for full-time living but it feels like something is always breaking. We went to move the RV in NC and the jack motor broke, forcing us to hand crank the jacks on a very unlevel spot on my dad's property. On our trip from NC to FL we experienced our 1st trailer tire blow out going 55MPH on I-95. Nate changed the tire on the side of the interstate and we were on our way. Then 3 hours later on the road to the RV park we had a 2nd blow out. Both accidents did significant damage ($2500) and left our RV immobilized. Thankfully Progessive has been very helpful and after our $1000 deductible the damage to the RV should be fixed today (waiting on repairman's arrival).

1st tire blow out was slightly less dramatic but still did serious damage


Though our tires had good tread life, showed no signs of wear, and had been inspected and aired up that morning we no longer trusted them and decided to spend the $1000 for 5 new trailer tires. Hopefully they last us 2-3 years minimum and we never had to experience back to back tire blow outs again.

Then you have the stuff that breaks every time you move the RV. I have to think we'll get better at this but every time we move the RV there is some major interior disaster. Last time it was my favorite dinnerware I received as a wedding gift. Numerous other things have broken too. Nate calls it stowing for sea and it is no joke. Anything and everything that can break or fall, will. Everything needs velcroed down!


My poor dishes :-(

We have recently had some expenses come up with the truck as well. We had $500 in routine maintenance about 2 weeks ago. I knew diesel engines were going to be expensive to work on but didn't realize that meant about twice as much as the Ford F-150 gas engine we used to have. As part of our kids Christmas gift we took them to Sea World for the day (give gifts of experiences not things). As we were approaching Sea World the truck overheated. Nate found the overflow coolant tank empty. Another $700 out the window. 

The thing is as these things come up you can let them consume you. One expensive thing or one difficult thing after another, can really get you down but I am trying to keep a positive attitude. Getting upset about things you can't control doesn't make the problem go away or any better or worse, it just changes your experience of the situation. Most days things are great. We are loving being able to see new stuff, visit with family and friends, and see the beach, but it isn't all rainbows and sunshine.

Tuesday, October 16, 2018

Embracing Minimalism


Only 2 more days until we leave on our full-time RV adventure! Part of downsizing from a 2400 sq ft home to a 400 sq ft 5th wheel is embracing minimalism! How did we get to a point that we could truly embrace minimalism in order to move onto the next stage of our life? It has been a bit of a journey. Moving across the country multiple times we always tried to purge before our moves but it wasn't until I read The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up: The Japanese Art of Decluttering and Organizing by Marie Kondo that I really started embracing minimalism. The book outlines a strategic way to declutter your home and get rid of stuff you don't need. One key question she has you ask as you go through items is, "does this bring me joy?" That was a big change for me. I read this book about 4 years ago. I started going through things asking myself, "does this bring me joy"? It was a huge mind shift.

I had spent my entire adult life accumulating things. Always thinking we needed a bigger house, a bigger yard, nicer furniture, but you know what those things did not bring me happiness. I am even going to go out on a limb and say if you look deep inside yourself those things don't bring you true happiness either. Sure, having nice things is nice but beyond your basic needs being met having more things doesn't necessarily bring you happiness. I like nice things but honestly having a big house payment is stressful. Having a big house to clean and maintain is stressful. The most stressful and time consuming for us was having a big yard. We spent our entire lives wishing we had a big yard for the kids to play in but having had 1/4 acre lot the last 2.5 years it is so much work to keep up with the weeds, lanscaping, mowing, watering, and planting. 

In order to fit 5 people into 400 sq ft we had to get rid of almost everything. I am not going to lie it was hard! Furniture I didn't care about. We like getting things for a bargain and Facebook marketplace (and previously Craigslist) is the way to find nice stuff, at a good price. When we settle down somewhere next we will just buy furniture 2nd hand. Sentimental stuff was hard for me to let go. We sent several boxes of pictures with friends. Pictures, projects, and things the kids made we took pictures of that we will keep forever as digital photos. Hobby stuff was hard to get rid of too but when I thought long and hard most of it had been accumulated but rarely touched.

Nate and I both really enjoy travel. We enjoy meeting new people, seeing new places, and experiencing new cultures. We would rather spend money on experiences rather than stuff. We love being outdoors and things like hiking, camping, and being out in nature. Having less stuff, will allow us to explore without being tied down to a mortgage, a place to come back to, or a house to maintain. It will also allow us to spend extended time with our loved ones, both family and close friends.

A huge added bonus is I have sold a lot of our stuff on Facebook marketplace and while I haven't kept exact track of every dollar made I think we've made close to $2500. Not bad for old stuff, mostly not getting used. This also ties into our Dave Ramsey journey towards debt freedom. We were debt free except our mortgage as of June 2016 and once our house closes we will be completely debt free!

We are so excited for this next chapter of our lives and the opportunity to live a life of freedom and adventure. I hope to post regularly on my blog so subscribe and follow along!

I also will be posting on my blog Facebook page and Instagram.


My life the last 5 months!


If you liked this post, check out my posts:


Our Journey To Debt Freedom Part 1 and Part 2

Sunday, September 2, 2018

Tales of an Unexpected Homeschool Mom



If you would have asked me several years ago about homeschooling I would have told you that I have a lot of respect for moms that homeschool but it wasn't for me. I enjoy working out of the home and I feel like both my kids and I are better with a break from each other sometimes. But, here I am homeschooling 3 of my 4 kids as they enter 12th, 10th, and 1st grade.


1st Grade

10th Grade

12th Grade

This is a year of transition for the Brown family. Brennan started college a couple weeks ago at NDSU and moved into the dorms. Our house sure feels different with only 3 kids in it.


College Freshman

In June, Nate started a new job that is location independent. This led us to explore where do we want to live? We came to Fargo, ND for Nate's job 2 years ago. We could stay here but we no longer had to. There are lots of great things about Fargo and they kids truly have great friends here but for Nate and I we didn't feel like Fargo was our long term home. We considered going back to Fort Collins but once we looked at homes online and realized we would have to have a $300,000+ mortgage to move back and we decided that didn't make financial sense.

So where did this leave us? We prayed, talked about, and weighed pros and cons, but we decided to sell our home in favor of a 5th wheel and be truly location independent. Traveling full time in an RV has been a dream of Nate and mine but it always felt like a far off dream. Maybe once the big kids are out of the house. Maybe after all the kids are out of the house. We knew we could save up enough money to live this way for awhile but we never quite figured out how to afford health insurance or other things covered by a full time job. Once Nate was presented with this job opportunity we felt like the Lord was leading us to take a step out in faith and follow our dreams.

A big motivating factor was the ability to spend some extended time with our family who are spread across the country. My dad is in North Carolina and has been ill for awhile, spending time with him is a top priority. My sister is in Florida and just had a new baby. Spending time with our new nephew is another priority. We also have close famiy and friends in Colorado that we will spend time with too. We will also spend time each year back in ND with Brennan.




So here I am homeschooling the kids! I have two weeks under my belt and I am not going to lie. It is hard, a lot harder than I thought it would be. I constantly feel like I have so much to learn and I have to keep stopping to figure out things that are not inuitive. I am a perfectionist and a planner and like to do everything perfectly the first time and have everything planned out far in advance. I am learning with homechooling this isn't the case. I know we will get into our routine and things will get easier but right now it's still hard.

The girls are doing an accredited program where they watch video lessons filmed during live classes and we work at our own pace. They have 170 lessons to get through and take quizzes and tests online. I supervise, check homework, and help if needed but they are fairly independent. Phoenix has the heaviest class load so we have to make sure we start early enough in the morning so we are done by 3pm each day. The girls are still working and then have homework after their lessons to get through. It is a lot of material to cover.


Orion is doing Abeka as well but parent led so I can teach to his level. I bought a complete 1st grade set of teacher and student materials but can teach at his level. He is already on lesson 81 in math and 88 in reading. He is very active and wiggly and not in love with homeschool but I hope to incorporate more and more hands on activities now that I have honed in what level he is at in each subject area.





So my question to you is do you homeschool? If not, have you ever considered homeschooling? Why or why not? 


Saturday, December 23, 2017

Mexico On My Mind!


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A little under 3 weeks ago I returned from an amazing trip with 3 of my long time friends to the Cancun area of Mexico. We had such a great time! We stayed at Iberostar Paraiso Del Mar in Playa Del Carmen. 


Beautiful Resort Grounds and Lobby Areas

 


Peacocks were only one of the many different kinds of wildlife we saw on resort property. We saw Coati, cats, parrots, turtles, flamingos, peacocks, and many other types of birds

This was my 1st time staying at an all inclusive resort. I have been on two cruises, which have all inclusive food and our cruise excursion to Cozumel had all inclusive food and drink, but each place is different. Here at the Iberostar properties if you are staying at the Beach or Del Mar side you can book 2 a la carte restaurants for a 4 night stay. We chose Japanese hibachi based upon online reviews and it was delicious, the best meal of our trip! The 2nd a la carte we chose was The Brazilian Rodizo. It was okay but nothing amazing. We ordered room service once for desserts and wine and that was a lot of fun and a tasty treat. We booked a room with 2 beds at the Beach side but they put us in a room with 1 bed so we ended up moving to a room at the Del Mar side near the lobby. We were near the Del Mar lobby buffet so we ate every breakfast there. The food was satisfactory. Nothing amazing but a huge spread and since it was all you can eat you can keep going back until you find something you like. For lunch we either ate at the beach or the pool buffet until the last day. The food at the pool buffets was definitely not as good as the lobby buffet. We had a really nice lunch at the Beach side lobby buffet our last day. We weren't that impressed with Star Rock Cafe or the Taco place in the shopping center but did have yummy crepes and coffee at the shopping center.


Japanese Hibachi, delicious food and entertainment

Parasailing, one of many activities they had at the resort

Jumping for joy! We love the beach!

The star of the resort, a gorgeous soft, sand beach. We could have spent all day relaxing on the beach

Our room was quite a walk to the beach but the grounds were lush with vegetation and gorgeous and we didn't mind the exercise. There were snacks, a bar, and bathrooms right at the beach. Depending upon the time of day the beach could be crowded but with a little persistence we could always find 4 lounge chairs. Each day there were different activities at the beach. We participated in yoga on the beach on day and Zumba on the beach another day. Both were a lot of fun. We also heard staff rounding up guests for pick up soccer and volleyball games. The water varied from very rough to fairly calm when we were there. The sand was very soft and never hot. There were hammocks near the beach and outdoor beds so plenty of space for relaxing. was seaweed but it wasn't overtaking the beach. There were rocks in some areas but the lifeguards kept swimmers to one area where there were not rocks.


Our 2nd favorite spot, the gorgeous pool. It was huge and had sun loungers, spa jets, quiet areas, and multiple swim up bars.


Swim up bar!

The pool area was a huge surprise just how vast it was. It wasn't super wide at spots but went through the property almost as a river. The pool started with the hot tub at the far enter in a covered area. and went most of the way to the beach. There were a lot of comfortable lounge chairs and shade by the pool, outdoor beds, and areas to relax. As you got closer to the beach there were bathrooms, swim up bar, ice cream counter, sun loungers, and jetted area of the pool. One pool was a little more lively and had the games and activities at it. One day we watched guests compete to try to stand up on a surfboard and jump over a rope strung across the pool. That same day they gave a short dance lesson by the pool. Plenty to keep you busy if you like to be busy. Plenty of opportunities to relax if that is what you prefer.


Best of friends on vacation!

The best part for me? Getting uninterrupted time to catch up with my girlfriends. I have known these ladies for 20 or more years but life has taken us all different directions and it is not often that we get to really catch up. The fact that Cancun has a direct flight from Denver and Minneapolis makes it as easy as getting to the east coast. Going through customs as quick and easy and we had arranged to a bus to take us to and from the airport with cheapcaribbean.com when we booked. Rain was forecast most of our trip but we only had one downpour and a couple short sprinkles. Mostly we had gorgeous sunny and 80 degree weather. We truly had an amazing time and I know it won't be a question of it we'll be back but when we'll be back!



Michelle

Wednesday, October 25, 2017

10 Disney Dream Insider Tips - Disney Cruise Line





We spent an amazing 5 days on the Disney Dream last month. It was a wonderful family vacation! This was our 2nd Disney Cruise Line vacation. Disney fans love planning so I wanted to share my insider tips for the Disney Dream.

1. Figure out when your online check in window opens and be ready! You must be paid in full and then first time cruisers can check in 75 days ahead, Silver Castaway Club members (1-4 cruises) can check in 90 days ahead, Gold Castaway Club Members (5-9 cruises) can check in 105 days ahead, and Platinum Castaway Club Level (10 cruises or more) can check in 120 days ahead. The most important thing is to grab an early Port Arrival Time (PAT), book Princess and Frozen Meet and Greet tickets (limited quantity), book Palo or Remy, and book shore excursions (don't sell out as fast typically). I put in just the basic info to grab a PAT and then go back and add flight, transportation, and passport info later. I also registered my son for the kids club online and was able to skip that line in the terminal. Print your paperwork when you are done. 3 days or less before your cruise you cannot make changes online or print documents again so make sure you print before then. If you forget the documents you can still check in, it just speeds up the process.

2. Each adult can carry on 6 cans/bottles of beer or one bottle of wine at embarkation and at each port. This is the policy as of October 2017. Save a little money and bring your own wine or beer.

3.Pack a day bag with swimsuits, important documents like passports/birth certificates and medicine, and give the porters the rest of your luggage. Your room won't be ready until 1:30pm but boarding usually starts around 11:30am. We always head straight for Cabanas for a yummy lunch at the outside tables and head straight for the AquaDuck water slide and pools. The day we embarked the pool deck was HOT so flip flops or sandals are handy.

4. Go to the spa raffle on embarkation day (3:30pm) for us. Not only did several people win $50-$100 spa gift cards, at the end of their quick presentation they ran $100 off special on the bliss package (hot stone massage, scalp massage, foot rub, and facial). I wasn't planning to book a spa treatment but did for the 1st night between dinner and the show and had an amazing 1 hour and 45 minute service. So relaxing! 

5. Book Palo brunch for your sea day. It was amazing! The food was so delicious, the service was great, the view was nice, and the adult only atmosphere was wonderful. Brunch on a sea day means you don't have to miss any of your evening meals and you don't have to worry about excursion timing. The Palo Lasagna, Veal, and Chicken Parmigiana were all some of the best food I have ever had. The cold buffet and desserts were pretty great too. Yum!

6. Check out the Midship Detective Game on deck 2 or deck 5. This wasn't overly promoted but it was a super fun game. I played one night with hubby and our 5 year old. My kids ended up doing all 3 missions over the course of the 5 days.

7. Play family Bingo! It may seem expensive or lame but it's not. It is a ton of fun. Even my teens loved it. Photographic evidence below!


Teens smiling at bingo!


8. Castaway Cay, a Bahamian paradise! I love Castaway Cay, my favorite port. So gorgeous. My insider tip is run the Castaway Cay 5K, it's a ton of fun. If you have kids too young to run, don't worry, the kids club on the island opens early just for them. Bring your swimsuits with you and change into your swimsuit after the race and enjoy a relaxing beach day. We found on the Dream, where there are more passengers than the Magic, the first family beach near the climbing structure was less crowded than the 2nd family beach near the Pelican Plunge water slide. Take time to ride the water slide, especially if you have small kids, they can ride a big water slide with a life jacket on. Adults, I highly recommend checking the kids into the kids club on the island for an hour and having lunch at Serenity Bay and enjoying some adult only time. Even more beautiful and peaceful than the family beach area.

Serenity Bay adult only beach at Castaway Cay


9. Room Service, use it! The cheese plate and the cake of the day are two of our favorites but you know what we loved this cruise? Pre-ordering room service breakfast the night before. Just hang the door hanger found in the desk drawer out the night before with a 30 minute time slot you select. I chose the time my alarm was set for and woke up to hot coffee, donuts, and fresh fruit. My 5 year old asked if someone would bring him donuts in bed once we were back home. Sorry buddy, real life isn't anything like a Disney cruise!

10. Dress up for events! Depending upon your itinerary you may have a semi formal, formal, pirate night, Halloween night, or other special night. My advice is dress up and participate! When else do you get to go all out and have fun? Our 5 day cruise had a Halloween night, a pirate night, and an optional semi formal night. We participated in them all! 


Semi formal night

There are pirates out in those waters!

Kids during the Halloween on the High Seas Celebration

Prince Eric and Princess Ariel

There were several times during our cruise where I looked over at hubby and said, "is this real life?" Our whole trip was amazing and we can't wait to do it again!


Michelle

Wednesday, July 26, 2017

Writing...Because it is Cheaper Than Therapy...




We have reached the point in the summer where mom has had enough! I expect most moms anticipate summer with longing. They get to spend more time with their sweet kids, the days are longer, the weather is warmer, we can play outside, we can go to the pool, we can camp, we can go on fun vacations.

At first, it was fun and I am still loving the warmer weather (winter stay away forever) but my household has disintegrated into utter chaos. Orion is newly 5 and will start kindergarten in August. He is my most challenging child by far. He was a high needs baby who needed his mama all the time and never slept. His intensity has continued on. I love him so and he is so fun and cute but he thrives in routine.

This summer I have 3 high school age kids and 2 of which who drive. In my head that meant I could pay them to watch Orion. He could sleep in, play with friends, the oldest two could drive him to the park, to the pool, to the zoo. He would be happy and having fun and my youngest teen would be happy because she was earning money.

The reality has been starkly different. The oldest 2 are working 32-40 hours each week. Staying up late and sleeping in. Mostly they have been unavailable to drive the 14 year old and 5 year old anywhere. The 14 year old has been uninterested in much besides her phone. She has taken to staying up very late and sleeping in which doesn't work well when you are babysitting your brother. She has kept him alive and usually fed but engaging activities aren't happening and often Orion has dissolved to tears because one of the 3 big kids has upset him. So much for summer fun!

Then we have my job... super flexible, I can make my own schedule except for a few set meetings and events during the week. I can even bring Orion to work with me occasion and can do a lot of my work from home. Working for a non-profit you don't make the big bucks, you do it because you love what you do and you are passionate about the mission. Both of my jobs at the church offered me more flexibility to balance work and home life than typical corporate jobs. Trying to squeeze my work hours in around the demands of 4 kids who are home all summer and still trying to manage my household isn't working out well. Working from home is okay but then I feel guilty that I am not in the office more. Bringing Orion to work with me hasn't worked out well. I should have learned by now. At my last job I brought him every Wednesday morning, which worked fine when he went to his class at church. As much as he should do fine with helping me clean, put stuff away, just play, he doesn't and bringing him to work with me is never a good idea and should only be used as a last resort.

I am feeling exhausted, fed up, and like life is just out of balance. I feel bad I can't provide Orion better routine and structure and that his behavior is suffering. When I am at work I feel guilty that the kids are at home and I am not spending time with them. When I am at home spending time with the kids I feel guilty that I haven't got more work done that week. Mom guilt, it's real!

Only 30 more days until school starts...send wine, send coffee, send cupcakes, and most importantly pray for me. I hope we all make it...



Michelle