Thursday, September 21, 2017

Adventures at Steen's Mountain

Day 1
Four-forty-five in the morning may seem like a perfectly normal time for some people to rise, but such was not the case for these four girls. With eyes at half mast, they packed up their bags of clothes and food for a three day camping trip at Steens Mountain. It was their first visit to these desert lands. A good friend of the family’s had been wanting to share his love for this place with some of us kids. He had carefully planned each detail of the trip with each of us girls in mind! There would be plenty of photography opportunities for Kayleen,; Cosette was told that she might get to see some wild horses, and there would be plenty of good hikes for Leisel and me.

A necessary stop was made at the beginning of the trip for a cup of coffee. Our next stop would be in Burns Oregon where we would fuel up. We pulled up to the pump and a hillbilly man walked up to our window and inquired, “What can I do for you boss?” While the car was being filled up, we got out of the car to stretch a bit. We stepped into the convenience store and when I saw the man at the checkout open carrying, I knew that we were finally entering “cowboy country”.

We spent the next three hours of the trip enjoying the rugged beauty of acres and acres of sage brush and tansy weed. The desert scenery never changed, and yet there was an arid beauty to be enjoyed there on our drive to Steen's Mountain. The streets were so dry and dusty that you could see a billow of dust following our vehicle for a mile, obscuring the road behind us. The color of the truck was hardly distinguishable after about an hour on the road.

We arrived at the town of Frenchglen, an hour and a half from where we were headed. The town literally consists of a very old school, the mercantile, and a historic hotel. We stopped first off at the mercantile to get ice creams and introduced ourselves to some genuine farmers. They were sitting out on the porch sipping their drinks. He wore a broad rimmed straw hat and an old brown vest. 

As we got to talking, we learned that he worked for a company that owned 500,000 acres of land. It takes him four hours just to get from one end of the property to the other. They farm 2,000 mama cows and 10,000 heifers!

We finally arrived at the first campsite and decided to check it out. Fish Lake was not at all appealing to these campers who were looking for something a bit more rugged :)  It was a small campground, enclosed in an area with absolutely no view of the canyon. We then proceeded to check out our next option, Jackson campground, which proved to be equally distasteful. Mr. Bowers set before us two choices: we could drive to the last campsite on his list and check it out, or we could venture to a "middle-of-nowhere" spot overlooking a canyon that he had only seen mapped out by satellite. 

We weighed the options, and came to the unanimous agreement that the adventure of an unknown location was definitely the more appealing of the two options! With that, we set off. After driving for an hour on a dirt road, we turned off onto a rocky trail where we four-wheeled it in the 4x4 F250 truck for the next half hour. Due to the extreme conditions of the road, the truck couldn’t go faster then 10 MPH and it was a 3 ½ mile stretch to where we wanted to go. 

We found the perfect campsite at the edge of a 1,500 ft. cliff siding Blitzen Canyon. This is where we decided to set up camp...or not, as the case ended up being. When the four girls had adequately admired the beauty of their view, they came to the conclusion that there was no need for a tent. What could be better then going to sleep with the view of the stars above your head and to wake up to the sun rising from behind the hills in front of you. Our room accommodations were a couple sleeping bags on a tarp. This was the true definition of primitive camping :D
Our kitchen was a few yards away from our campsite, complete with two coolers of food, a three burner campstove and two tables.

The smell of sage permeated the air. All around us, we could hear the clicking of grasshoppers flying through the air. Fortunately, we were at too high of an altitude to share our campsite with any rattlesnakes. Our only battle was with the many wasps and balled faced hornets that surrounded us...they seemed friendly enough and left us alone for the most part.

That night, we headed up to the east rim of Steen’s Mountain to watch the sun go down. It was voted by many of the campers as being their favorite place on the trip.
We hurried back so that we wouldn't have to drive that rocky trail in the dark. The path was so overgrown with weeds and large boulders, we were pretty sure that no one had traveled down that way in many years. There would be no fear of anyone disturbing our campsite :) We held our breath each time the truck tumbled over a rock, hoping that we wouldn't be stranded in the dark, changing a popped tire. 
We made it back to our campsite. The light of the moon illuminated the area! We hit the hay early that night so that we would be energized for the next day.  

Day 2
We were awoken at 4:45 that morning by Mr. Bowers so that we could enjoy the milky way above us. The moon had gone down and we could see the full splendor of the stars. The four girls, still curled up closely in their sleeping bags, enjoyed the view for only a few minutes before they dozed off again. They re-awoke at 7:15 just in time to see the sun peaking up behind the hill. The rising of the sun brought with it the burning heat of day. Even though it was cool and pleasant first thing in the morning, as soon as the sun came up, it became intensely hot!
Breakfast was bacon and eggs, a meal so much more enjoyable when eaten in the outdoors! After cleaning up, we headed off down the familiar rocky trail. 

We got to talking about adventure and how exciting it would be to get stuck up in the hills. The idea of running into some kind of trouble had an enticing appeal to it. Little did we know that adventure was waiting just around the corner…or right over the rock as it turned out to be. We came upon a jugged rock in the road. In an attempt to drive around it, the tire scraped against the rock and POP! The tire completely deflated. There we were, in the middle of the path, a couple miles from the main road, in an area infested with bees, and we needed to change the tire of Mr. Bower's new F-250 truck. Cosette held the manual and gave step-by-step instructions while the rest of us went to work retrieving the spare tire. In an hour, we had the new tire on and the old one in back of the truck.

Mr. Bowers cautiously drove down the remaining stretch of the trail, knowing that if it happened again, we were at the the mercy of the nearest passerby. He told us that he couldn't run the risk of this happening again and he would need to ride into the nearest town to get the tire changed. The nearest place meant Burns Oregon, a two hour drive from where we were. And it was a Sunday, so trying to find a place that would be open that day might prove quite difficult.

Before he made the trip down there, we planned to visit a couple sites and then he would leave us at the Riddle Ranch to explore until he came back.

Our first stop was at the Keiger gorge, a majestic canyon, dipping 2,000 feet. Lush green trees covered the bottom of the canyon and a dusty peek stood out at the top. It was interesting to see the snow in small piles at the top of the hill followed by a trail of green running down the hill where the snow had watered the grass. 

Mr. Bowers informed us that we had to hike to the top of the Steen's summit just to say that we did it. It wasn't far, but the thinness of the air at a 9,750 ft altitude  rendered us breathless. From the peak of the mountain, we could see Nevada. The day was hot and Horse Lake sitting at the bottom of the canyon was looking sorely tempting. We filed it away that it would make for a fun hike someday in the future. The last lookout he wanted to show us was Big Indian Canyon.

After that, we headed for the Riddle Bother Ranch where we were to spend the next five hours.  It held some amazing history there that would keep us busy for some time! The land had been settled by three brothers in the early 1900s. Two of the homes were still standing, equipped with all of their household furnishings. We learned that one of the brothers had founded the school in Frenchglen and then become the judge of the town.
The land is now managed by a couple that live in an old cottage on the Riddle Brother's land. From what we saw, they lived in a very primitive way, drawing water from the creek, washing their clothes by hand, and hanging them on a line to dry.

After exploring for a bit, Kayleen and Cosette wanted to rest in the shade from the heat of the sun. Leisel a I opted to go on a short hike to further explore the 1,120 acres of land. We followed the trail that led us along the Blitzen creek. The day was so warm, one of us mentioned just wading our way back though the Creek instead of retracing the trail. Along the way, we encountered two Rattlers. They scurried away before we got a chance to get a good look at them.

Leisel and I reached the end of the trail. The path seemed to cut off into the forest and we couldn't go any further. With our packs on our backs and our shoes tied around our neck, we decided to make the journey slowly back through the stream. I think a combination of laughing at our own clumsiness and trying to find stable ground made our progress through the waters rather slow.

 We asssesed our progress after about a half hour and determined that we had only made it a few yards. At this rate, we wouldn't be back till 10 o'clock at night :) We were a little worried that Mr. Bowers might already be back at the ranch and waiting for us...little did we know ;)

Meanwhile, Mr. Bowers was beginning to realize that the one hour drive he had originally thought lay ahead of him was in reality a two hour drive to Burns. When he finally got there, he was third in line to have his tire repaired. Apparently, four other unfortunate drivers had suffered the same fate. 

Four girls were now waiting by the creek for any sign of a white truck. It was an hour and a half past the time when the gatekeepers usually close the gate to the Riddle Brother Ranch. The little Australian lady was beginning to wonder if she had been left to babysit four abandoned children. We finally felt that we could intrude on their graciousness no longer and decided to make the trek towards the gate and wait outside. We had only walked a few yards when we saw the white truck coming down the dirt road.
We all piled in and made our way back to camp, four wheeling it in the dark, praying all the way that we wouldn't run into any treacherous rocks that night.

Day 3
The next morning, Mr. Bowers expected to exit his tent and find that all four girls had taken refuge in the truck. The wind was blowing at the speed of 50 MPH all night, and by our own choice, we had no tent to cover us. Strangely enough, we had slept through it all...and there had been no casualties over the side of the cliff that night :)

We were leaving that morning, and Mr. Bowers was hoping to be out by ten. We had the gear packed and the truck loaded in a matter of two hours. Even though we were driving back that day, Mr. Bowers had several places that he wanted to see. As we pulled out of our camping spot and out onto the main road, we noticed a sign beside the trail that had fallen over. On it, we could read the words "Private Property" wonder we had had such a peaceful stay at our little camp spot :) We left behind our rustic campground, said goodbye to the beaten path, and made for the town of Diamond. There was a historic hotel, established in 1897 that had earned a reputation in the area; an 8 bedroom hotel with a grand total of 3 bathrooms :)

Mr. Bowers had promised Cosette from the beginning that at the end of the trip he would take her to the Keiger Mustang viewing site where there was a chance that she could see a herd of the legendary Keigers. We drove for an hour on this dusty trail and didn't see a thing. It was discovered later that we had taken the wrong turn anyway :)

Cosette may not have seen a  Keiger Mustang in the wild, but there was an opportunity waiting for her at the Steen's Mt. Guest Ranch. That was our next stop. We had the privilege of meeting the dear lady that ran the little lodge. We learned, much to the joy of Cosette, that they provided a program called "The Authentic Cowboy Experience". They take a group of six people out on horses and ride for four days straight doing everything a cowboy would do: rounding up cows, branding them, mending fences, and spreading salt in the fields.

After we left the Steen's Mt. Guest House, we headed off on the road. It wasn't very long before we encountered a herd of cattle crossing the road. Traffic stopped as the lazy animals sauntered across the road, curiously eyeing the strange vehicles in front of them.

Our last stop was home...little did we know then how long it would take us to make those last few hours of our trip. There were a few minor mishaps on the freeway. We pulled over once to recover an escaped bin from the highway, and the other nine times were to further tie down our load to ensure that we didn't lose anything else.

We all agreed that it was strange how time had stood still there on Steen's Mountain! Everything seemed to be moving at a slower pace; nobody was in a hurry to do anything. It was almost like stepping back in time. There were also a lot more historic buildings around the area that you don't see a lot of where we live.

We girls are immensely grateful to Mr. Bowers for organizing this three day special excursion. It was an amazing experience and left us with some life-time memories! We are also very appreciative that he willingly put up with with four giggly girls, dozens of inside jokes, hours of country music, and the many adventures that we had along the way :)

Wednesday, September 13, 2017

Snippets From Home

Dear Jonathon,

     I know that I have been neglectful of posting on my blog these past two weeks. Although there is no excuse for such negligence, perhaps I can give you a window into the Spafford home of late. Although the busyness of Summer, the craziness of fall has just begun. I am beginning to think that life never actually slows down, it only accelerates ;)

Since I last wrote, we have started up school, taken our first field trip, left on a three day camping trip to Steen's Mountain, processed a ton of garden produce, spent two weekends working on shaping up the property; Cosette has been interviewing for a job, Charae received three job offers in Korea and accepted the position in Gyeonggi-do, Leisel began her work at Hockinson school as a financial secretary. Along with teaching school and making dinners, I began picking up a little boy from school every day, and Dad and Grandpa have just returned from a two day trip to Mao clinic.
All around, it has been a very uneventful few weeks
That is just the condensed version of our story.
Here is the longer rendition :)

School began three days after we got back from family camp. It couldn't have begun soon enough for Ania who was eager to break out her new school books and start the new year in the new school room. Annalise on the other hand was working hard to persuade her principle to wait till after Labor Day to begin school :) ...the teacher's assistant won and they began on the 28th :D

Dad and I met for our weekly Friday lunch at HP. The subject of our discussion was school field trips. We made a list of everywhere that we wanted to take the kiddos this year, but we didn't figure out where we would be going first. That was, until I got an email from the Clark County Community News announcing FT. Vancouver's annual "Campfires and Candlelight". It didn't take Dad and I long to decide that that was where we were going on our first field trip of the year. What we didn't realize was that the sky was going to open up the floodgates that night. Few of us had come prepared with sweatshirts, and Ania had worn her sandals, of all things. But we enjoyed it all the same, soaking in the first rainfall. The rain added an authentic ambiance to walking through WWII tents and Civil War hospitals. 

We have been studying the time of the Reformation during our history reading each morning. To switch things up a bit, I assigned the kiddos the job of writing their own Reformation play instead of using an online script. Some of the music used during the scenes will be their own work as well. They are hoping to have it completed by the time you come home and in time for the 500th celebration of the Reformation. 

Austin's garden did not produce as many tomatoes this year as he had expected from eighty tomato plants. But what we lacked in tomatoes was made up for in cucumbers, basil, and apples. Mom has been working tirelessly in the kitchen bagging pesto, turning cucumbers into bread & butter pickles, and processing five crates of apples into applesauce, pie filling and apple butter. 

Austin has been fed up with the deer that come in the wee hours of the morning to eat his garden produce. One night, he came to Dad in desperation and requested that he be allowed to go out at 2 AM and watch for deer. He would, of course, be armed with his pellet gun. He set his alarm, and went through with this plan, but never did catch the culprits responsible :)

Charae received three job offers for teaching English in Korea. Over the course of two days, she was interviewed by these three companies. It was agonizing for her trying to decide which job to accept. She finally came to the decision that she would take the position in Gyeonggi-do. The school is affiliated with a church there. She will be teaching a range of preschoolers to second graders. It's hard to believe that this goal that she has been striving for these past three years is finally here! 

I quit my housecleaning job, as well as my part time babysitting early September so that I could begin picking up this little guy from Kindergarten every day. He has already filled a special place in my heart in a very short amount of time. In the two hours I have with him, we work together on projects, experiments and reading. He makes sure that I also allow for plenty of outdoor sports and activities. We have even fought a few light saber battles. He always reveals a host of hidden powers that I never even knew existed. He is quite the Star Wars expert ;)

Of course, Grandpa has had all of us worried for months now with his many health issues and weakened condition. Several trips have been made to San Francisco to get testing. Leisel and I even took an unplanned trip down to California to help him and Grandma out. Finally, Grandpa was able to make an appointment with Mao clinic in Minnesota for some further testing. He was sent home while the doctors assessed the results of the tests. This past week, Grandpa and Dad traveled back to Mao to learn what his condition was and how they could solve it. Much to our relief (and amusement), Grandpa was in good health. His only problem has been a depletion of protein in his body. Grandma will never again have any of this "vegetarian diet thing"! Their freezers will be purged of all "black bean burgers" and stocked with pounds of beef patties :D

Cosette is very nearly employed at a veterinary clinic. Our new neighbor owns a dog dental hospital and she has recently offered Cosette a secretarial position there. She has had several interviews, and will know next week whether or not the job is hers. Being the dog lover in the family, it would be a perfect fit.

The trip to Steen's Mt. will be recounted in another post as that one requires greater details then this blog post can express. 

Lastly, Costco has officially decorated for Christmas. I know! it made me think of you right away! (it's your favorite part of the year ;)
It won't be long before Burgerville gets in their pumpkin milkshakes and sweet potato fries. Fall is just around the corner and we'll be pulling out our winter jackets, wrapping up in scarves, and drinking cups of chai tea before you know it :) just won't be the same going through those haunted houses this October without you to hide behind :D

Don't worry! In the midst of all our busyness, we have not stopped thinking about you and counting down the days, down to the minutes, when we will see you again! 
It is now 53 days, 1 hour, 42 minutes, and 50 seconds...but who's counting ;)

See you soon!

Tuesday, August 29, 2017

Family Camp Twenty-Seventeen

Family camp has been part of our family traditions for the past 22 years. Mom and Dad had only been attending TBC for a few months when they ventured to bring their three children to Eagle Fern Camp, mom being two months pregnant with her fourth at the time. In all those years, we have only missed going twice.

Whenever I think of Family Camp, it brings a flood of memories and traditions to mind. I think of the woodsy cabins with bunk beds lining the entire wall space, as well as the single bathroom that all eleven members of our family shares :)  The room has that familiar aroma of pine trees, mingled with the scent of an old cabin. It used to be such a big deal as kids to claim which bunk we were going to occupy for those four nights. 

The mornings were always a little on the chillier side around Estacada. I remember waking up and trying to quietly climb down from my bunk without waking the family. My feet immediately came in contact with the cold cabin floor and I would hurry to bundle up in a sweatshirt. The few of us that were awake would softly tip-toe around the cabin getting ready for the day and then gently open the squeaky cabin door.

The aroma of pancakes wafted up from the kitchen to our cabin. Down in the kitchen, the men would be busily preparing breakfast, armed with aprons and pancake turners.
At first, there would be just a small gathering of early morning risers sitting around the camp tables, warming their hands with mugs of steaming coffee. Gradually, little groups began to assemble in the main hall. The lodge becomes suddenly alive with the shuffling of people putting up more tables and chairs and setting around dishware.

Our afternoons centered around activities by the creek, usually swimming until closing time. As soon as it was over, we would run up to the cabin to switch into some warmer clothing.
I remember the feeling of excitement as a child, running up those wooden steps to grab my flashlight at nighttime before darkness set in and the games we'd play at dusk, running around the porch shining our lights....

This year was the church's 37th year at Eagle Fern Camp. Though our numbers were few, it made the time none the less precious. We have had to change up the structure of camp over the past years due to the low attendance, but it has proved to be a delightful change. The kitchen duties that used to be run by the crew age kids, ages 12-18, are now duties that involve the entire camp. It's been a rather welcome change, giving everybody an opportunity to get work together.

We arrived at camp around four in the afternoon on Monday and hurried to unload our van and set up the cabin. Charae had been in charge of dividing the camp into three teams. She posted the schedules in the lodge and that night gave a brief talk on what each team's responsibilities would be.

Dr. Paul Felix encouraged us in the morning and evening of each day with a message on Titus 2. By the end of the week, we had made it to the end of the chapter.
There was a separate class for the 3-7 year olds. There was an exceptionally large group this year numbering 16 kiddos..

The lodge is where the largest group of people usually gathers. The room is always alive with the voices of little people. Some of the kiddos make it down to the lodge extra early in the morning with Grandma to get their cups of hot cocoa. 

Just prior to breakfast time, a little crew of children would stand eagerly around the camp bell, waiting for the go-ahead to ring the bell for meal time. Meal times are always full of the commotion of conversations going on from at least six different tables.

Usually, in the free hours when the teams are not at work in the kitchen, they gather to play dodge ball in the gym or swim down by the creek.

Wednesday, we have our barbecue down by the creek. Two trucks are loaded up with benches and tables to take down to the lunch area. A group of people pile into the back to "ensure" that the benches and tables make it safely to their destination.

It's always a special occasion when both churches can witness the baptism of another believer. This year, three people made the public declaration of their faith in Jesus Christ...(and it just so happened to be the coldest day so far for a baptism :)

The lodge is always the fullest on the night of the turkey dinner. After a hearty meal and a wonderful message, we headed down to the fire pit for a hymn sing.

I think Thursday has been the highlight of every family camp that I can remember. It is the night that the camp crew does their special game. Our game that night was called Underground Church. It is played in the camp field and gym. Everyone is divided up into two groups: the Christians and the Centurions. The object of the game is for the Christians to find the "church" and discover the password to admit them before the Centurions capture them or enter the church themselves.
I think Will made the most convincing Centurion that year as well as providing the best entertainment  along the way :)

In these last few years, our camp has also instituted the obstacle course into the day's routine.

Two groups are given the task of finishing a low ropes obstacle course, scaling a wall (or being hoisted over the wall, as the case may be), and completing a challenge game in a matter of two hours.

There are some people that are just staples to Family Camp; people you expect to be there every year because they hold the family Camp traditions together. But it has been exciting to see how many new people the Lord has blessed our congregation with as well as the next generation of children He is raising up.

Camp has a special atmosphere to it that gives our two churches the opportunity to fellowship together in a unique way. It's a special time when we can step away from our day to day routines and come together as a camp, using the different opportunities of service that the Lord has given to us.