Top Ten Differences Between Latvia, Istanbul, and Idaho

Travels to Latvia, Istanbul and Idaho led to these top 10 comparisons about 3 very different places in the world.Thanks to 2016 summer travels I have set a globe-trotting personal record which quite possibly will stand for the rest of my life. In the past 2 weeks I have sojourned in Latvia for a special needs family camp, in Istanbul during a 24 hour lay over, and in Idaho for our annual Shadow Valley Family Reunion Camp. Below are the top ten differences observed in the three places recently visited.

10.  In Latvia, the coffee is delicious. In Istanbul, the teas are delicious. At Shadow Valley, anything on a cool, mountain morning tastes heavenly.

9.  The Soviet-era accommodations at the Latvian special needs camp were adequate. The small, newly renovated, family hotel in Istanbul where we stayed was a beautiful jewel. Our pop-up camper on the side of an Idaho mountain feels like home.

8.  The streets in the old city of Riga, Latvia are immaculate and populated by tourists. The streets of Istanbul are filled with people and garbage. The mountains of Idaho are reached by winding along gravel roads traveled by very few people.

7.  The Latvian countryside sports the biggest snails I’ve ever seen. Cats swarm the streets of Istanbul. Giant slugs slime any Idaho gravel road that skirts a river or stream.

6.  In Riga and Istanbul, there’s no lack of pigeon poop. Deer poop rules the roost in Idaho.

5.  Latvian vistas are Narnia-like. Ocean vistas are breathtaking in Istanbul. Mountain vistas stretch deep, long, and wide in Idaho.

4.  In Latvia, I answered to “Jolee” because most people there dropped the final “n.” In the Istanbul Grand Bazaar, I was called “La-dee, La-dee” but rarely answered because my suitcases wouldn’t hold the carpets, purses, scarves, and trinkets street hustlers were selling. At Family Camp I answer to whatever I’m called: “Jo,” “Jolene,” “Aunt Jolene” or “Miss Jolene” depending on the age of whoever is speaking.

3.  Most Latvian food was an adventure in unfamiliarity. Kabobs in Istanbul were amazing. Food at the Idaho camp is a parade of yummy family favorites.

2.  In Old Riga, there are churches everywhere. In Istanbul, there are mosques everywhere…though the Armenian Orthodox Church was across the street from our hotel. At Idaho Family Camp, church is a gathering of people rather than a place.

1.  The special needs family camp in Latvia provided the blessing of time to talk to moms. The Grand Bazaar in Istanbul offered the blessing of time to walk and drink in a foreign culture. Shadow Valley Family Camp gives the blessing of time to connect with family and to think and dream and write.

Where have travels taken you this summer? Leave a comment.



Top Ten Things to Anticipate in 2016

Much to look forward to in 2016: Grandkids, kids, family camp, Downton Abbey, Katie Wetherbee, Doc Martin, Wednesdays with Dorothy, & Sherlock. Delicious!2015 was a wonderful year that included the births of 2 new grandbabies, the release of 2 new books, meeting more people in the special needs ministry community, and the completion of my mystery novel. (No need to mention chance encounters with kitchen knives and the consequences thereof.) I am looking forward to 2016 with as much anticipation as last year. Here are 10 things I’m excited about.

10. Fresh fruits and veggies from our CSA. Fresh strawberries and sugar snap peas in June. Sweet corn and tomatoes from July through September. Melons in August. Are you drooling yet?

9. New seasons of Sherlock, Doc Martin, and Downton Abbey. I’m even putting together a new outfit, all black, to wear during the final episode of DA.

8. Receiving an email from my agent saying my novel, See Jane Run!, has been accepted by a publisher. I believe in positive thinking.

7.  Spending a week in Idaho at Shadow Valley family camp next summer. (See photo above.) Hopefully with the Man of Steel this year.

6.  Co-presenting a workshop about special needs inclusion with Katie Wetherbee at next spring’s Accessibility Summit in McLean, Virginia.

5.  Visiting my sister and her husband in Phoenix from January 16-23. This one’s doubly sweet with 8 inches of snow on the ground.

4.  A year’s worth of Wednesdays with Dorothy playing Rummikub, Uno, and waiting for her sense of humor to peek through.

3.  Going to Latvia to participate in a special needs family camp. Yes, you read that right. Latvia. At the end of June and beginning of July. More on that later.

2.  Watching our kids navigate the world as adults and marveling at how well they do it.

1.  Hugging and smooching the grandkids every chance I get. They’re all at that completely kissable age and love to cuddle. This stage doesn’t last forever, but should hold firm for 2016. It’s gonna be great.

What are you looking forward to in 2016? Leave a comment.

Rainbows in Paradise for this Fantastic Friday

In drought, in flood, come rain or come shine, the promise of the rainbow remains.

We’ve had plenty of rain in central Iowa this summer, but the same was not true in Idaho during my visit a few weeks back. They are having the hottest, driest summer anyone out there can remember. So this Idaho post from July of 2011, when Family Camp began with a cold and rainy bang, caught my eye. As did the rainbow on the mountain. Lovely!

As was mentioned in yesterday’s entry, the weather introduced a chilly, wet number on the first official day of camp. Day 2 dawned sunny and cool, but by lunchtime the clouds moved in, turning things chilly again. The showers held off until supper, but we stayed happy, safe and dry beneath the pavilion.

After the meal was over, folks stayed put, talking while they waited for the rain to end and the hymn sing to begin. The sun, on the other hand, didn’t wait for anything. Not even for the rain to stop. It showed up for the hymn sing a little early, and pretty soon our side of the mountain echoed with shouts.

“A half-rainbow!”
“Everybody, look at the rainbow.”
“It’s getting bigger!”
“It’s all the way across the sky.”
“Come quick!”
“Look before it fades away!”

The cries of wonder faded with the passing of the fractured light. But a bit of magic, a touch of promise lingered all around, weaved in and out of the music, breathed hope into every heart. We sang with fervor, and our voices lingered over the words of the last song, unwilling to let go of the rainbow, determined to cling to the promises of our faith.

We lift our eyes up unto the mountains.
Where does our help come from?
Our help comes from you,
Maker of heaven, Creator of the earth.

Oh, how we need you, Lord.
You are our only hope.
You are our only prayer.
So we will wait for you to come and rescue us.
To come and give us life.

We lift our eyes up, unto the mountains.
Where does our help come from?

Come quickly, Lord Jesus! Come!

Another Family Camp Fave: Biscuits and Gravy

Gravel Road's kitchen is closed as the cook is at Family Camp in Idaho. Today's recipe is a camp breakfast favorite, Harold Walker's Biscuits and Gravy.Gravel Road’s kitchen is closed for the week as the cook is at Family Camp in Idaho. Today’s recipe is a camp breakfast favorite. Uncle Harold, we miss you!

Harold Walker’s Biscuits & Gravy

According to Harold, you must use Jimmy Dean ground sausage.

Brown 1/2 pound of sausage and set it aside.
Whisk together:
1/2 cup flour
3 cups milk

Pour the milk mixture into the skillet containing a few tablespoons of the sausage grease. Stir and heat until it thickens. Add the sausage. Salt and pepper to taste. Serve over biscuits.

Mountain Views

Enjoy these views from Family Camp in the Idaho panhandle mountains!

The second week of Family Camp in the mountains of the Idaho panhandle is now in full swing. I’ll be leaving early this coming Wednesday, but before that happens, have a gander at the views to be found every where.

Here’s the view from the porch of the cabin (pictured above) where I’m staying:


And here’s what I spied out the side window one hot afternoon. It’s been very dry here, so we think this doe was desperate for food:

IMG_4623These pictures were taken on my morning walk. The scenery is hazy because of a fire south of here on the other side of the lake. It finally rained this past Saturday, so the mountains are easier to see today:

IMG_4654IMG_4640 IMG_4653

If it weren’t for the Man of Steel waiting in Iowa and sweet corn season, this Iowa girl would have a mighty hard time leaving all this beauty!

Fantastic Friday Without Children on the Baggage Carousel

This Fantastic Friday post relives air travel moments that included warnings to keep children, not mine thankfully, off the baggage carousel.This post brings back memories of a most eventful trip to Idaho in July of 2011. So it was the perfect Fantastic Friday post for a week filled with air travel to Idaho once again. Wary travelers will be relieved to hear I saw no children on the baggage carousels in airports.

After an entertaining and/or character building (depending on your perspective), virtually un-re-create-able travel adventure, we are finally home.


Perhaps the deer that darted onto the busy highway between Sand Point and Coeur d’Alene in front of our driver’s car was an omen. But since the car missed the deer or the deer missed the car (depending on your perspective), we blithely continued onto the Spokane airport and arrived there with time to check in and eat lunch. We even snagged a free pizza since whoever ordered before us never picked up theirs.

Buoyed with the anticipation of snarfing down free pizza once we landed in Denver and ran to catch our connecting flight, we blithely walked to the gate and waited to board our Southwest Airline flight to Denver. Maybe strange overhead announcements were an omen of what lay ahead, but we and the other passengers only laughed harder as the warnings progressed:

ANNOUNCEMENT #1: It is against safety regulations to allow children to sit on the edge of a baggage carousel. Please do not allow children to sit on the edge of Baggage Carousel #2.

ANNOUNCEMENT #2: It is against federal safety regulations for children to sit on the edge of a baggage carousel. When it starts moving, they could be injured. Parents, be sure your children are not sitting on the edge of Baggage Carousel #2.

ANNOUNCEMENT #3: This is the third warning about allowing children to sit on the edge of the baggage carousel. It will start moving in 2 minutes, and they could tip onto the carousel or lose fingers when it starts moving. Please remove your children from the edge of the baggage carousel immediately.

ANNOUNCEMENT #4: Parents, this is your third warning. (Apparently, the announcement maker had lost count.) Get your children off the edge of the baggage carousel immediately. The luggage will be arriving soon. Remove your children immediately.

We were still chuckling about the announcement 2 hours later on our approach to Denver, but the laughter dried up when the pilot mumbled, “The Denver airport is closed due to a severe thunderstorm, and we’re being rerouted to Amarillo, Texas.”

Amarillo, Texas?

No one was laughing fifty-five minutes later when we landed in Amarillo. No one laughed when the pilot continued his mumbling. “The storm has moved out of Denver, so we’ll get gas and go back. All your connecting flights have been delayed, so there’s a good chance you’ll be able to make them.”


Except that half of the 200+ passengers were in line to use the 2 tiny airport potties, and  the good news went right over our heads. The other half were staring out the windows at the oddest looking aircraft we’d ever seen.

“Looks like a dolphin,” said the young woman next to me. “And it has NASA printed on it.”

“Or it could be Shamu,” I suggested. “Who knew there was a Sea World on the Amarillo, Texas airport? Or we’ve been rerouted to a hush, hush NASA site for flight training.”

Pretty soon, we were on our way and arrived in Denver just in time to board our connecting flight to Omaha, snarfing free pizza as we ran.


That flight was uneventful, as was our late night drive home and our arrival at 3:30 AM. We were asleep in our beds by 4:00 AM. Our luggage, which did not make the connecting flight is supposed to arrive tomorrow. And I cleared up the NASA Shamu mystery with a little online research. It revealed that our NASA Shamu is really a NASA Super Guppy. Which leaves only two loose ends to wrap up right here, right now.

To the person who ordered and forgot to pick up the Hawaiian pizza at the Dave’s House of Pizza Kiosk: It was delicious. Thank you so much for sharing your supper with us.

To anyone who was in the vicinity of Spokane Airport’s baggage claim area between 2 and 4 on Tuesday afternoon: If you know what happened to the kids on Baggage Carousel #2, please leave a comment. We could use some closure and a final hallelujah!

Family Camp: Grandma Annie Cookies

Grandma Annie cookies were the brainchild of my husband's grandma. They are enjoyed by her descendants at family camp every year.I’m at Family Camp in Idaho this week. The food here is always fantabulous, so today’s recipe features a camp favorite previously posted here on Gravel Road.

These cookies were the brainchild of Mary Anne Walker, known as Grandma Annie to her grandchildren, my husband included. Their lovely memories of their grandma making cookies are easy to see. When they first see their favorite grandma treats lined up on the cooling rack, their eyes light and their smiles spread. “Grandma Annie cookies,” they say one-by-one, “a meal in themselves.”

For me, they were an acquired taste. Now I love them, too. My eyes light up when they’re served at Family Camp. But best of all is listening to Grandma Annie’s descendants talk about the remarkable woman whose faith and love made a deep impression on all of them. And whose cookies have an impressive impact on waistlines, too. But let’s not talk about that!

Grandma Annie Cookies

3/4 cup butter melted in 1/4 cup water
1 cup brown sugar
1/2 cup white sugar
1 egg
1 teaspoon vanilla
1 cup flour
1 teaspoon soda
3 cups oats
3/4 teaspoon cinnamon
1 cup raisins
1 cup peanuts

Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Mix the dry ingredients in a bowl. Add butter, water, vanilla and eggs. Mix thoroughly. Shape into large balls and drop onto cookie sheet. Bake 12-15 minutes.

Top Ten Reasons I Love July

Hiram and Jolene engaged

July is a hot and sticky month in Iowa. Even so, it’s one of my favorite months. Here are 10 reasons why.

10. I save so much time in July not having to dress in layers, pull on boots or coats, or hunt for gloves before going outside.

9.  Fourth of July celebrations are great fun, but they are more than fun. They are a time to be grateful for the freedom we enjoy in this country thanks to the courage and wisdom of our country’s founding fathers.

8.  What is more lovely than gazing at fireflies twinkling during as long summer days fade from dusk to darkness?

7.  Sweet corn.

6.  My birthday is in July. I will celebrate the arrival of my 59th year, grateful to be in good health, relatively sound mind, and able to walk miles each day.

5.  My sweet daughter turns 27 in July. She is a blessing worth celebrating all year long, but especially in July.

4.  That same daughter and her husband were married in July five years ago. They are an amazing, faith-filled couple who are living an amazing life together.

3.  In a few weeks, I get to spend a week helping out with our youngest grandson. A whole week of toothless grins, coos, and snuggles. What’s not to like about a July that holds that kind of joy?

2.  Shadow Valley Family Camp begins tomorrow in Idaho. Look out mountains, here I come!

1.  The Man of Steel and I were married in July 38 years ago. I can’t imagine enjoying July without him.

What do you like about July? Leave a message.

I Can Please God? Are You Serious?

kneading breadThose who are in the flesh cannot please God.
However, you are not in the flesh but in the Spirit,
if indeed the Spirit of God dwells in you.
Romans 8:8–9

I’m back from a memorable gathering at Family Camp in the Idaho mountains. For a week, close to 40 rellies gathered to work, worship, and play together. From daytime sandbox fun near Hammock Haven, to nightly board games in the Nerd’s Nest, to cooks preparing meals in the camp kitchen, three generations of family members rubbed elbows day after day.

One morning, a spunky four-year-old wanted to “help” knead dough in the kitchen. After washing her hands, she climbed on a wooden stool. Her grandma stood behind her, placed strong hands over her granddaughter’s small ones, and guided her through the process. “Push in with the heels of your palms, pull them out, then turn the dough and push again.” While the little girl didn’t quite master the art, her motions grew smoother with practice, and her grandma was pleased.

While they worked the dough, I thought about Romans 8:1–13, which I’d been studying all week. Could my imperfect efforts to live according to the Spirit can possibly please God as much as this spunky child pleased her grandma? Later, I reread the passage, and a phrase in verse 8 supplied the answer: Those who are in the flesh cannot please God. Therefore, I reasoned, believers can please God because they live in the Spirit rather than in the flesh.

Woohoo! Our Father is pleased when I, and other believers, try to live in the Spirit. He is pleased by our inadequate efforts and fledgling desires to choose rightly, to become more like him, and to do the work he has prepared for us.

Like a grandparent teaching a child to knead bread, the Father washes us clean when we mess things up. When our hands falter, his Spirit places strong hands over our weak ones and guides us. Day by day, he takes us through the motions of righteous living. Over and over, he reminds us to watch his Son and practice his ways until they become part of us. Until we are able to do his work in his way without hesitation, without the slightest thought of turning away. Until we learn to put to death daily the deeds of the old body and live more fully in the Spirit.

Of course, we can’t complete God’s work perfectly in this life. But we can become more proficient and compassionate as the Father teaches us how to do his business on earth. Proficient enough to pass on priceless lessons to believers new in the faith. Compassionate enough to speak encouragement and hope when we fail.

Isn’t that what being part of God’s family is about? Rubbing elbows with believers of all ages and stages as we work, worship and play together in the service of our Savior.

Photo Credit: Stock.xchng

How to Build a Playhouse with Life-Sized Lincoln Logs

Lincoln Logs
photo source

Lincoln logs have been a source of frustration for me ever since the sibs and I received a small canister for Christmas in the early 1960s. It was the size of the one above–big enough to make a pint-sized ranch style house–much smaller than what was pictured on the container. Between that frustration and my constant lusting for hair as curly and blond as the child model’s, I never master Lincoln Log construction.

Fast forward to Family Camp 2013, where one of the projects was the renovation of the old log cabin playhouse. The dismantling and rebuilding of the structure was an educational experience with life-sized Lincoln Logs, one that demanded to be recorded in photographs.

Playhouse 1
First, try to take down the structure with karate kicks.

Lincoln Logs 2
When that doesn’t work, use a crowbar,

Lincoln Log 3
or climb onto the roof with hammers in hand,

Lincoln Log 4
and pull off the roof.

Lincoln Logs 6 1/2
Kinda weird, huh?

Lincoln Logs 6
Meanwhile, some far-seeing women color code and number the logs for future reference.

Lincoln Log 6
Once the logs are all numbered and the demolition is complete, the playhouse looks like this. The pile of wood in the top right corner is material that needs to be replaced: the roof, the floor, 7 wall logs, and other items.

Lincoln Log 8
They really do look like life-sized Lincoln Logs!

Lincoln logs 10
Replacing the bad logs is easy. Just go to the nearby woods, cut down trees of the correct size, and add them to the pile. Then peel the logs.

Lincoln Log 11
Next, use heavy machinery to level the dirt in the new, shady location not far from the old spot,

Lincoln Log 12
lay the foundation blocks,

Lincoln Logs 14
and haul one log,

Lincoln Log 14
and another…you get the idea.

Lincoln Log 16
Of course, the new logs need to be notched. But that’s easy when there’s a chain saw handy.

Lincoln Log 15
Add the floor joists and another layer of logs, including the door threshold log, to hold the joists in place.

Lincoln Logs 17
Things slow down a bit when it’s time to lay the floor, which is made of deck planks left from another camp project.

Unfortunately, the day of my departure arrived before the floor was completed and more logs went up. So there are no more pictures this year. But just wait until next year when the playhouse will be up and running for Family Camp 2014!

PS: A Shadow Valley relly sent a picture of the playhouse on the final day of camp. It’s not completely done, but with the roof on, it should survive winter.

playhouse with roof

Kinda makes you want to be a kid again, huh?