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Five years ago, we were traveling around our country in an RV with our four middle schoolers in tow. In honor of that epic trip, we headed north to touch base with the campground life once again. We chose to get out of the Phoenix heat and camp at the Circle Pines KOA Holiday in Williams, Arizona.

We sold our motorhome shortly after returning home from our American journey, but the great thing about this location, and many other KOA’s, is that they have plenty of alternative accommodations for campers who don’t have an RV or a tent.

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We chose to split up between this deluxe cabin and one of the tepees nearby. The kids had a lot of fun going between the two places. We gathered each night in front of the tepee for smores over the campfire.

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There are so many options for outdoor family fun here at the Circle Pines KOA. Our kids used to flip through the KOA directory and beg us to go stay at this location because it looked like so much fun. When, we told them we had finally booked it, they said, “we wanted to do that back when we were 12, not now.” Ha! Too bad….

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And as you can see, they had a ball. Playing Gaga ball together….

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Go Kart racing in the afternoons. The course on property is open to the public as well, but KOA campers get a discount.

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KOA’s signature jumping pillows brought the greatest joy to our kids on our RV trip and it was apparent that their love for them still exists today!

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The Circle Pines KOA Holiday location was a perfect location for us to take day trips from. Bearizona is just one exit west of the campground.

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Flagstaff Extreme Adventure Course is 35 minutes east of this campground. The owners of Circle Pines, also own the KOA in Flagstaff, if you wanted to stay closer to this.

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And our glorious Grand Canyon National Park is only an hour away as well!

The Circle Pines KOA was the perfect hub for our family to go off on day trips and come back to a relaxing environment where we could all find time to decompress and enjoy playful moments together.

Our family received no compensation for this review. I just love KOA and all of the joy, connection and playful moments their locations have allowed our family to share together!

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Our family spent part of our summer vacation exploring our home state of Arizona. We headed up north a couple of hours and visited Bearizona for the first time.

Bearizona is a wildlife park featuring a wide variety of North American animals. You can experience a scenic 3 mile drive through the Ponderosa Pine Forest in your own vehicle or choose to take the Wild Ride Bus Tour like we did.

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We enjoyed the open air guided Bus Tour because not only did we get to learn about the animals and park in general, but we could see the animals so much better than we would’ve stuffed in our Suburban.

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You could take the bus tour and then drive through yourself after if you wanted! The cost of admission to Bearizona is $25 for adults and $15 for children 4-12. They also offer annual passes.

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Bearizona takes great care in providing animals with large, naturalistic enclosures and plenty of room to roam. Many of their animals have been rescued and rehabilitated here. The wildlife park is privately owned and receives no tax dollars.

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More animals are exhibited in Fort Bearizona, a beautiful 20 acre walk-thru area, along winding paths which is more of a “zoo” type setting. After our bus tour, our youngest was so excited to go to the Barnyard and pet some of the animals.

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We also enjoyed the Birds of Prey Free Flight Show and Nix enjoyed getting to ask questions about the birds afterward. There is also a beautifully themed restaurant here and several outdoor stands with treats and drinks. We stopped and took a gelato break! There was even live music on a stage right by us. We thoroughly enjoyed our relaxing few hours here at Bearizona!

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Bearizona was only 2 miles from where we stayed at the Circle Pines KOA Holiday campground! As you can see leaving the park, there are 2 KOA’s very close by. Both of them are owned by the wonderful Bell family, who we got to meet in St. Louis along our 2014 RV journey around the USA.

Thank you to Bearizona for giving our family admission to the park in exchange for this honest review.

Flagstaff-Extreme-Adventure-Course-Family-Playtime

One of our core family values is adventure, so it was only fitting that our family headed to Flagstaff Extreme Adventure Course during our summer travels to northern Arizona.

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As our children get older, it can be difficult to figure out how to connect and ‘play’ as a family, so I try to seek out places where we can spend tech-free time together in nature and this outdoor playground was the perfect place for us to do this. Plus, we had enjoyed several adventure courses during our RV trip around the USA in 2014, including Olympic Park in Utah and Whitefish Mountain Resort in Montana.

What is an Adventure Course?

A Tree Top Adventure Course is an adventurous obstacle course set in the natural environment where the course is located, in this case, Flagstaff, Arizona. The obstacles are suspended between trees and participants stay securely clipped into a red safety cable throughout the course. The obstacles you will find in the park include suspended bridges, scramble nets, swinging logs, a skateboard, and much more! If you complete all five adult courses and 70 obstacles, you will also have been on 8 ziplines plus the short one on the Demonstration Course. You also may just find a surprise at the end of the 5th course! Only two of our sons made it through the entire course.

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There were lots of laughs shared and lots of obstacles to overcome….

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Pricing for the Adventure Course is $52 per guest + taxes and fees for ages 12 and up. Kids ages 12-15 must be accompanied by an adult. There is a Kid’s Adventure Course for children ages 7-11 for $27 + taxes and fees.

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Our youngest who claims to be afraid of heights, challenged himself and made it through three of the five courses. Although scared out of his mind at times, it was awesome to see him challenge himself and build his resilience on this course.

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Flagstaff Extreme Adventure Course is Arizona’s only Adventure and Zipline course and is located two hours north of Phoenix. Booking your spot online in advance is highly recommended.

WHEN YOU GO TO FLAGSTAFF EXTREME:

  • Bring gloves to wear because after awhile your hands will be happy you did. They do sell fingerless gloves there, but we bought a 3-pack of inexpensive utility gloves at Walmart before we went and those worked perfectly.
  • Bring a refillable water bottle and a carabiner to hook it to your harness. There is a station to fill your water bottles outside where you check in.
  • Be sure to bring lunch or snacks to enjoy at the picnic tables throughout the park.

Flagstaff Extreme graciously comped our entrance to the park in exchange for this review.

Strengthen-kids-at-sleepaway-summer-camp-Kanakuk-K2

In a few days, our kids will shut down their technology. All Snapchat streaks must come to an end.

They will bid farewell to their normally scheduled academic and athletic programming and head to the woods.

Our four teenagers will go live amongst strangers and bugs and humidity and uncomfortable beds. I’m going to assume they brush their teeth, put on deodorant and apply sunscreen on some of the days, but I can’t be so sure.

What I know for sure is that these few weeks at summer camp will be some of the most important days spent in their childhood.

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2016-New-Years-End-Review-Questions

Before you jump in and start making your new year resolutions, goals, and dreams for the upcoming year, you must first REVIEW your 2017.

You can’t know where you are unless you take note of where you’ve been.

Reflect on your past year by answering these important questions……

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1.  Stay Overnight at LaPosada Hotel
LaPosada entrance

The crown jewel of Winslow is the LaPosada hotel! This amazing piece of historic architecture is known as the last of The Santa Fe’s great railway hotels. It has been beautifully restored and I would love to tell you all of the details of this special place, but I don’t want to spoil your visit.  The grounds are gorgeous and it’s so relaxing to just walk around and take in all of it’s beauty.
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National-Parks-to-Visit-With-Kids

“Hey guys, want to go to the Grand Canyon this weekend?”

“No thanks.”

“That’s too far.”

“I’m so glad I have to work.”

“I’m not doing that.”

Excuses, excuses fly from the mouths of our four teenagers who seem all but done with family adventuring and memory making.

That’s why you do a 7-month family sabbatical around the USA and hit as many National Parks as you can before your kids become teenagers! We had our foursome exactly where we wanted them in 2014 when we wore out our National Park pass traveling 44 states by RV.

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Girlfriends escape to Sedona now if you’re in need of relaxation and rejuvenation.

My dear friend, Toni, makes it a tradition to visit me from Minnesota during her birthday month of April every year. I wanted to do something special with her this year, and Sedona was an easy, but special place to take her.

How to spend 24 amazing hours in Sedona, Arizona

From Phoenix, Sedona is an easy 2-hour drive north. Take the I-17 north to
the AZ-179 N exit, EXIT 298, toward Sedona.

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GET YOUR HIKE ON

Buy your Red Rock Hiking Passes at the Visitor Center/Ranger Station

This will be your first stop to pick up maps of the area and to get info on any trails to hike in Sedona. You want to buy your Red Rock daily hiking passes here which cost $5 a day. You need a pass for a lot of the trails and definitely at the ones I tell you about here. Make sure you stop at this location coming into Sedona. *Beware of all the places that pose as visitor centers in town, but are really timeshare sales hubs.

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We couldn’t resist posing with no other than Smokey the Bear!

Park at the Bell Rock Pathway Trail Head

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rubber-band-camping-clothesline

My creative Mother made me this handy clothesline out of rubber bands and we used it all of the time- inside and out!

Want to make your own? Here’s how….

If using regular rubber bands, buy the thicker ones. Don’t get cheap dollar store type.
Use appx. 20-25 bands and make into a chain by looping end to end.

Make 3 chains of equal length. Holding one end of each chain together in your hand loop the end together in a large knot, leaving a grouping of 3 bands at the end for hanging.

Take the loops formed at the end of knot and hang over something such as a knob and begin to form a braid with the 3 strands, stretching braid gently as you go.

When you get down to about the last 6 inches hold the end loops together again and loop into another large knot.

A lot of campgrounds won’t let you hang clothes outside to dry, so this rubber band clothesline worked perfectly inside our RV too.

I truly thought the book I’ve been reading was called Love Goes. I even told friends they needed to go buy it. Bob Goff’s bestseller is actually titled Love Does. I didn’t even realize that I had switched a letter to make the title my own. Obviously, I believe that Love Goes too. Where does love take you?

Love is why I head to Valladolid, Mexico. I go because I love the people there. I love who I’m there serving with and I love seeing my kids serving alongside me. Love is a good reason to go.

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Our first mission trip to Valladolid back in 2011.

Our family closed out our summer with a week-long mission trip to the Yucatan. Unlike the two other times I have gone on this trip, I had a moment where I questioned my significance. I wondered whether my presence there was really important. Was I truly making an impact? What am I doing on a medical mission trip in a country whose language I can’t fluently speak?

In the past, I led Vacation Bible School in the villages all day long. Sometimes when we are busy, it’s easier to feel like we are making a difference. With such a large group from our church on the trip this time, I was “just” part of the soccer camp crew. I try my best to never question any role I’m given because I do believe that God puts us exactly where he wants us and it’s our job to just follow. One morning I simply felt lost without a real role to cling to. Why am I here?

Immediately the Lord quieted me and whispered, stop and look around you. Take a look at your children and husband. These five amazing people wouldn’t be here serving without you. Relax and take it in. I did and you know what, I was immediately humbled.

My eyes welled up as I walked into the room where my middle triplet was quietly cleaning the feet of local men and women as they entered the diabetes clinic. I never coerced him to go take on that role. I didn’t even know that was where he ended up until I walked in and saw him at work.

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Next, I walked out back of the clinic to see my other sons serving in the hot Mexican sun, testing all the urine of the locals. I refilled my boys’ waters, made them laugh and gave them sunglasses. Pride filled my heart as I watched them work together on this thankless job.

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I then went out front to see my husband tirelessly shoveling and moving gravel. The men were covering the bare land that surrounded the colorful new playground that our church had just built. They were working hard, sweating profusely and forming bonds through their teamwork. I felt pride watching my husband always working to fill any need day in and day out on his first mission trip.

My daughter was constantly loving on the village children. She helped in the diabetes and eye clinics as well as in VBS and soccer camp. She was a roamer and filled whatever need there was at the time. Here she is handing out cookies to the local kids.

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One day I chased the kids up and down and all around the hot playground as they chanted over and over… Jugar! Jugar! All they wanted was for me to play with them. At one point I was so overheated and needed a spot in the shade to cool off. The language barrier between myself and my new friends caused them to follow me to my resting place and surround me. My first thought was, how am I going to be able to cool off? And then they began singing.

I don’t even know what they were singing. I asked one spanish speaking friend to translate it for me and what he told me was beautiful.  The time I couldn’t catch a break was the time that spoke the most to me on the trip. I was loved just for being me and showing up. I sat in awe.

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We may have times in our lives that we question our significance when our roles may not seem important enough. But, sometimes all we need to do is look around and realize that showing up in love may be all that’s required of us.