Top Ten Differences Between Latvia, Istanbul, and Idaho

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

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

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

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

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!