Categories
Conversations

Spaces Surging with Stunning Splendor are Something to See #2

Hello again! Welcome back to the “Something to See” mini-series. I just have to say THANK YOU so much for your help! I’m fascinated to learn what you know about the stunning splendor that is surging in open spaces all around me. The flowers are incredibly beautiful!

Waiting for my photos to load might take away from your reading time, so I’m posting just a handful a day for a few days. Aren’t today’s specimens spectacular? And oh, I wish you could see them up close and personal – they are breath-taking!

(Click any pic to see it larger and for the ability to scroll through them.)

Amazing, right? All flowers, but so different in size, shape, and color. Each is a masterpiece of God’s unbelievable creativity. Hmmm… not unlike you and me!

I would love your assistance identifying these blossoms in the comments. Just use the number in the photo’s caption and tell me what you know! And if you don’t know what kind of plants these are, simply comment on your favorite blossom. I am anxious to hear your thoughts!

I was reminded that I wrote about the surprisingly stunning summer blossoms when I visited Northern Arizona, on vacation, just last year. You can read my thoughts in this post from only months ago, when living here was still a future dream.

So much has happened in such a short time! I’m daily pinching myself, trying to comprehend how God saw us through all that it took to move. I feel extremely fortunate to call this beautiful place home. I’m grateful for the opportunity to share the spaces surging with stunning splendor, which are truly something to see.

I’m so blessed to have you along for the adventure. Thank you, my friend. You are precious to me!

Categories
Reflections

Out In the Pines, I Understand The Popular Mountain Vibe

“What is the vibe of Northern Arizona?”, our friends asked us. When we first fell in love with the place on our vacation in fall of 2020, people wondered why. I don’t think it was the vibe then, although we definitely noticed there was one.

“Outdoorsy”, was our answer. People ski, play disc golf, raft, climb, bike and hike, just to name a few of the most popular pastimes. Residents of the area work hard and play harder, outside in the fresh mountain air.

In the first week after moving here, I commented to a friend that the whole region smelled like Christmas. The fragrant cover of fresh cold pine reminded me of tree lot excursions and piles of bough wreaths. Being outside and inhaling deeply made my heart happy in an almost giddy way.

“The smell of pine needles, spruce and the smell of a Christmas tree – those to me, are the scents of the holidays.”

Blake Lively

I suddenly wonder whether outdoorsy people are drawn to the mountains or if the mountains draw people outdoors.

Mama Lava
Blooming cactus coming up amidst the pine needles and pine cones.
When you live in the mountains, but it is also the desert, you get pine cones and cactus. This is spring in the mountains of Northern Arizona.

But now that spring has sprung, and the sun has warmed the pine needles, the musky scent is an altogether different kind of wonderful. It smells like camping trips and adventure. I can barely stand to be inside. I suddenly wonder whether outdoorsy people are drawn to the mountains or if the mountains draw people outdoors.

I suspect it is the latter. Out among the pines, I understand the popular mountain vibe. It beckons me to join, and I feel helpless to resist.

“The ground’s soft with pine needles and the occasional crunch of a cone. The air smells like it’s just been born.”

Libba Bray

“To me a lush carpet of pine needles or spongy grass is more welcome than the most luxurious Persian rug.”

Helen Keller

“God dwells in His creation and is everywhere indivisibly present in all His works. He is transcendent above all His works even while He is immanent within them.”

A.W. Tozer

“Lord, you have been our dwelling-place throughout all generations. Before the mountains were born or you brought forth the whole world, from everlasting to everlasting you are God.”

Psalm 90:1-2
Categories
Reflections

10 Little Updates and Latest Looming Praise Reports

Good morning and Happy May! I wanted to come to you today with 10 little updates and latest looming praise reports. I know many of you have been praying for us as we’ve settled in a new situation, in a new house, in a new state. There have been glorious answers to your prayers regarding our move to Arizona and it is my privilege to share what God has done!

  1. We LOVE it here! We aren’t as content as we will be when we finally reach our eternal home, but while we’re on earth, Northern Arizona is awesome! We are so grateful for the kick in the pants God gave us. My faithful readers know that I waivered a bit, but God was clear with His direction and I am fully awed by His gracious faithfulness. (*See photos below.)
  2. We found a great church! That might not seem like a big deal to some, but it was priority for us. We did a lot of on-line research, and we only had to visit two. The first one was nice, but we quickly discovered some theological differences and decided not to return. The second one checked all the boxes and then some! We’ve been attending ever since. Praise the Lord!
  3. We have been unaffected by the fires. You might be aware of a couple of major wildfires burning in Northern Arizona. A few of you have even reached out to check on me. Wow – thank you! We have not been “in the line of fire” but have been daily reminded to pray for those who are. It seems the hard work of many firefighters is paying off and the danger is subsiding. There has been no loss of life reported, but several homes have been lost and I’m sure those affected would be blessed by your prayers.
  4. I have a “prayer chair”. I’ve always wanted one. Several years ago, I read a challenge by Anne Graham Lotz to create a dedicated space for devotional time with the Lord. Since then, I’ve had my “typical spots” but, because I lived with so many people, my spots had to serve several purposes. That was ok. But now, I have my own prayer chair in the corner, overlooking the pine and oak trees. (**See photos below.)
  5. God has been so faithful! I found a prayer list I’d written last fall in regard to, what was then, our upcoming move. It had 4 specific requests. All of them were answered above and beyond what I could have imagined. The most touching part is that this list had gotten misplaced shortly after I’d penned it. I hadn’t prayed over it daily, as I’d planned. But you know what? Our God is not dependent on us to be organized. He answered every item on that list, buried as it as, and I was blessed and blown away when the piece of paper resurfaced today.
  6. My son got a job! 4 of my kids stayed in California for the time being. My youngest, Marcus, is 18. He left a job he enjoyed to move to Arizona with us. We expected he would continue working for the same company here. They don’t do transfers, so he had to quit and reapply, but he had great experience and glowing recommendations from the managers in CA. They had open positions in AZ. He applied. He went in person to introduce himself and drop off his resume. Nothing. He called. He went in person again. It was shocking to us when he couldn’t even get an interview. After a month, we had to assume God just didn’t want him to work there anymore. So, he applied somewhere else. He got called in for an interview the next day and was hired on the spot! Well, to God be the glory! He made His will abundantly clear!
  7. I’m enjoying quality time with my youngest child. By the time Marcus was born, we had a loud and busy family. It is true that the squeaky wheel gets the oil and he is the quietest of my bunch. I’ve told him over the years that his time would come. Eventually, he’d be the only one left in the house and he’d probably get more attention than he wanted. Well, that time is now, and we’ve found something fun to do together. He has a YouTube channel and we’re making a series of reaction videos. I’ve not seen any of the Marvel movies, so Marcus and I are watching them together, one by one, and he is recording my reactions. Who knew people would take an interest or would consider my newbie questions and expressions as entertainment, but apparently that’s a thing. I’m just enjoying the time with my son.
  8. My girls are doing well. One of my biggest concerns, which I wrote about before I moved, was the wellbeing of my daughters and grandkids. They needed to find affordable places to live. I put it out there, you prayed, God miraculously delivered. They are teaming up, taking care of each other, and this mama’s heart is at peace. Thank you, Jesus! Thank you, prayer warriors!
  9. I’m settling into my new job with my old company. I had expected to quit before I moved but, at the last minute, was offered the opportunity to stay in a new role, working remotely from Arizona. The logistical transition has turned out to be more complex than any of us realized. I’m happy to report that I’m at least 75% settled in – maybe more, depending on the outcome of an open ticket with IT. God is faithful!
  10. I’m getting to explore the Arizona Trail! I am concluding my list of 10 little updates and latest looming praise reports with this detail because it was like a housewarming gift from God. We had no idea, when we applied to rent this home, that it was right across from the Arizona Trail. This relatively new trail runs the entire length of the state. North, it goes up to Utah. South, I can take it all the way to Mexico. I’m not likely to hike for days on end, but it is a wonderful escape which intersects countless other trails and offers hours of interesting exercise and conversation with Jesus. (***See photos below.)

I feel certain this update and praise report post would have been different if it weren’t for you all. You have prayed for me, encouraged me, and been an amazing support system. Today I find myself steadied, strengthened, and settled. Glory to God and gratitude to you! God bless you, my precious friends! Please enjoy some photos below.



Categories
Reflections

How An Eerie Scene Provoked Me to Run and Keep Running

The cinematography was foreboding. It was essentially black and white. A stark contrast of light and shadows made me shiver as if I were standing in the mud beside the lake’s eerie, frosted shore.

I had been washing dishes when the movie on the living room TV caught my eye and drew me in. A man and a woman were in an isolated location, living in a cabin which seemed sparsely equipped for the cold. He appeared comfortable there. She did not.

Was he keeping her against her will? I wasn’t sure. He made her get in the frigid water and swim. Was he trying to acclimate her? Was she training for something? I didn’t know.

I watched for maybe 10 minutes before I turned back to my chores. The last eerie scene I saw had the two characters out running in the fog. The man was fit and proficiently able, but the woman was struggling and falling behind. Her respiration was labored, and easily identifiable because the icy air made it visible. He advised her “Don’t try to breathe to keep up with your feet. Find your breath and then set your pace by it.”

That one scene has played again and again in my head. I am a distance walker. I put hundreds of miles on my shoes and wear through them in months. But I struggle to run.

I have the fantastic excuse that I am often holding hands with people I love and enjoying their pace. (See related post: How Hand in Hand with My Girl Plunged Me Heart to Heart with My God.) I jog maybe once every two weeks. It is definitely not often enough for it to get easier.

The woman in the movie was not a runner, yet she settled into a sustainable rhythm when she heeded the advice to set it by her breath. It was a movie, I know. But I was curious. Could I prolong a pace if I used my breath as a guide?

Running shoes: How an eerie scene provoked me to run and keep running
Photo by Mikel Parera on Unsplash

I have always allowed my feet to lead. If I start out too quickly, I will be out of breath in mere minutes. I have learned to slow my pace at the beginning and work into a more robust stride. But my focus has always been on my feet and after a mile or so, I tire of running and settle down to a walk.

If you read Truth 4 of the Halloween Series last Sunday, you may remember that I jogged to my old neighborhood in search of some décor. I expected to run for the usual few blocks and walk the restt of the way, but I wanted to put this new idea to the test.

I walked about half a block, focusing on my breath and hearing its cadence. Then I started to run, my feet keeping time with my breathing. And you know what? I jogged the entire 3 miles! That is the furthest I’ve been able to run nonstop in a very long time.

If you’re a runner, talk to me. Is this something you have known about forever? How did you learn and how did I miss it until I was last-week-years-old?

If you’re not a runner, but would like to be, give this a try! I guess I have to add the caveat that you should always check with your doctor before beginning a new exercise regimen and all of that. But if you decide to experiment, let me know how it goes for you!

I had it backwards. I was allowing my feet to lead when they should have been following. Are there other areas of my life where my cadence is being dictated by that which should be subordinate? I’m praying it all through with the Lord.

I’m thrilled to have a new strategy for exercise, but I suspect God has something deeper for me to learn. Once He gets it through my knuckle head, I’ll be sure to share it with you. Until then, what is God giving you to run with? Have you been impressed lately by any ideas, big or small?

“The drum to which we march reveals the conductor to whom we’re listening.”

Craig D. Lounsbrough
Categories
Vacations

Are a Vacation’s Lows Determined by the Wonder of its Highlights?

Do you live in your dream location? Many people do. I used to live in Hawaii, which was amazing. While there, a neighbor shared a challenge with me, which had been presented to her. Whenever she had a complaint, she was to end it with “in Hawaii”. I tried to make a habit of it too. “I have a flat tire… in Hawaii.” It really did infuse gratitude where I might otherwise have been prone to grumble.

Flat tire in Hawaii: Aren't Vacation Lows Determined by the Wonder of its Highlights?
photo by Olga Subach on Unsplash

Thinking along these lines, I wonder, are a vacation’s lows determined by the wonder of its highlights? If I add “on vacation” to a low point, does it remove the sting a bit? I pondered that question as I thought over my recent trip.


If you follow this blog, you have read about the highlights my husband and I experienced in Phoenix East, Valley, and Northern Arizona. In a previous article about vacation decisions, I also promised to share our lowlights. There weren’t too many, in fact, I’d call them “lessons learned”, for the most part. But, in comparison to the heights of the highs, there were some lower points to mention.

1. We didn’t accurately plan our breaks.

We drove approximately 12 hours each way. But we did not plan our stops at the half-way point. We reserved hotel rooms 4 hours from our home. That meant our 12-hour drive was broken into 4 hours one day and 8 hours the other.

Next time we make this trip, we will stop in the middle and drive 6 hours each day. We are seriously considering a move to Arizona and our adult kids will be staying where we currently live, so we may be driving this route frequently in the future. We are thankful to have learned this lesson now.

2. I got sick.

Well, not sick exactly, but I was under-the-weather the first day we spent in Phoenix. I was lethargic and my brain was a sort of mush. Has that happened to you?

My friend, in whose home we were staying, suggested that maybe something inside of me was just waiting to get on vacation so I could shut down and relax. She encouraged me to nap and take it easy and I did. The next day, and every day thereafter, I was fine. I have determined not to wait as long before I take another vacation. I was at the end of every strand of my extremely frayed rope, so to speak.

Cat resting in fluffy bed: Aren't Vacation Lows Determined by the Wonder of its Highlights?
Photo by Aleksandar Cvetanovic on Unsplash

3. We chose poor entertainment for the ride.

We tried! We planned ahead and purchased 2 audio books. We listened to one on the way to Arizona and the other on our way home. We chose non-fiction, thinking we’d learn while we drove. Well, one of them was odd and the other put us at odds.

Next time, I think would rather listen to an adventure story or podcasts we could easily change for variety. I think either would help pass the time better and feel more like vacation. Do you have any good suggestions?

4. This one still stings. I lost my pillow.

This is not the first time this has happened to me. I like to take my pillow when I travel because it comes in handy. It is great for napping in the car. It is nice when a hotel does not provide enough. My husband and I ‘prop’ and ‘support’ achy joints and use a lot of pillows. Tell me we’re not the only ones…?

But when I leave a hotel, and visually scan the room for anything left behind, my brain does not register a pillow on the bed as ‘out of place’ and I am prone to leave it. My pillow isn’t special enough to warrant a 4-hour drive back to the hotel for retrieval, but I do miss it. Maybe I need to buy highlighter yellow pillowcases for traveling, so I won’t accidentally leave my pillow behind again.

Open road: Aren't Vacation Lows Determined by the Wonder of its Highlights?
Open Road on Pixels

Let me say right here, that I’d endure every one these lowlights over again to repeat my vacation. The wonder of the highlights does determine the depths of the low points. The lows are raised significantly if I say, “We didn’t accurately plan our breaks… on vacation.”, or “I lost my pillow… on vacation.”

Stay with me here, because I want to take this a step further. If we are Christians, if we are “in Christ”, shouldn’t our lows be weighed in light of the wonder we are promised? Doesn’t it stand to reason that our trials can be endured more joyfully because of what Jesus has done, is doing, and will do for us?

What ails you today? If you add the words “in Christ” after your problem, does its burden become lighter? For instance, mine is “I feel inadequate today… in Christ.” Hmm… suddenly my inadequacy is overwhelmed by He who is infinitely able! It is not just a vacation’s lows that are determined by the wonder of its highlights. This applies to all of life! Try it – what examples can you think of?

“For the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.”

Romans 5:23

“Therefore, there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus…”

Romans 8:1

“It is because of him that you are in Christ Jesus, who has become for us wisdom from God – that is, our righteousness, holiness and redemption.”

1 Corinthians 1:30

“Now it is God who makes both us and you stand firm in Christ. He anointed us…”

2 Corinthians 1:21

“Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, the new creation has come: the old has gone, the new is here!”

2 Corinthians 5:17

“And you also were included in Christ when you heard the message of truth, the gospel of your salvation. When you believed, you were marked in him with a seal, the promised Holy Spirit…”

Ephesians 1:13

“And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.”

Philippians 4:7

“And my God will meet all your needs according to the riches of his glory in Christ Jesus.”

Philippians 4:19

“And the God of all grace, who called you to his eternal glory in Christ, after you have suffered a little while, will himself restore you and make you strong, firm and steadfast.”

1 Peter 5:10
Categories
Vacations

1 Best Kept but Emerging Secret You Want to Know: Northern Arizona

When you imagine the state of Arizona, do you think of fields of flowers and evergreens? If not, I have to let you in on 1 best kept, but emerging secret you want to know: Northern Arizona. It has a vastly different topography than the state’s southern side and it feels like an entirely different place.

In winter months, Arizona is a phenomenon where you can ski in the snow-covered northern mountains and be back in the desert warmth in just a couple hours by car. I visited the Phoenix, East Valley (click here to read my 3 favorite things about that portion of my trip) and the mountains of Northern Arizona in the summertime, traveling low to high elevation. This took me from triple digits on the thermometer to cool and breezy low eighties temperatures on a short stretch of highway.

I experienced three main highlights which completely convinced me that Northern Arizona is the 1 best kept, but emerging secret you may want to know.

1. Summer Flowers

Northern Arizona is bursting with life and color! The evergreen trees already provide a surprising year-around hue for what is known as a desert state, but the summer flowers are on a whole other level! Northern Arizona is anything but dusty and dry.

‘Consider how the wild flowers grow. They do not labor or spin. Yet I tell you, not even Solomon in all his splendor was dressed like one of these.

Luke 12:27

The mild, breezy weather and the summer colors of blue sky and vibrant foliage made Northern Arizona ripe for exploration. And explore we did! This brings me to the 2nd reason why I am convinced that this area is 1 of the best kept, but emerging secrets you want to know.

2. Nostalgia

Historic Route 66 runs through the mountains of Northern Arizona. The museums, shops, and restaurants cater heavily to the theme of nostalgic transportation and adventure. Have you heard the famous song “Get Your Kicks on Route 66” song by the Nat King Cole Trio? Everywhere we looked, we saw nods to this idea, but my silly self got a good chuckle out of this one.

Firewood on Route 66: 1 Best Kept but Emerging Secret You Want to Know: Northern Arizona
Get your Sticks on Route 66, Firewood Pile

Here are more photos I took along the few miles we experienced of Route 66.

We got our kicks, even just on this small portion of Route 66, and wow, did we work up an appetite! The third reason I think you should consider Northern Arizona the 1 best kept, but emerging secret you want to know is my favorite of them all.

3. The Food

In Phoenix, we got spoiled with amazing home-cooked meals. On this part of the trip, we had to rely on local restaurants. We found some favorites in the Northern Arizona city of Flagstaff. I just couldn’t keep them a secret. Here are 4 places I simply have to highlight, because… well you’ll see why.

Mexican appetizer platter: 1 Best Kept but Emerging Secret You Want to Know: Northern Arizona
El Tapatio’s Mexican Food

El Tapatio Mexican Restaurant: We’ve been really trying to eat healthy lately, so this appetizer platter was such a decadent treat! Cheesy goodness upon cheesy goodness! This was more than enough to be my meal. You can see my husband’s taco and chili relleno in the background there. Every inch of this restaurant was decorated in native prints, Mexican style art, and authentic textures, even the backs of the chairs! I hope I get to eat there again someday!

Matty G's Steakburgers: 1 Best Kept but Emerging Secret You Want to Know: Northern Arizona
Matty G’s in Flagstaff

Matty G’s Steakburgers: This was the best burger I’ve had in a long time. Ok, to be fair, it is the only burger I’ve had in a while, but even if that were not the case, this place, Matty G’s, would have made my list. I have to say this was a moment of discovery for me.

I expected to receive Matty G’s sauce for my burger (the orange one in the photos) and ranch for my sweet potato fries. When I opened my ranch, it was super sticky! I licked my finger, and it was sweet…?

“Eww!”, I said out loud. “Is this marshmallow cream?” And then I felt my facial expression change from repulsion to curiosity as my mind thought of the possibilities. I cautiously dipped a fry into the white, clingy fluff. I put it in my mouth with some concern, which quickly turned into happy revelation. Boy, was that good! I ate way more of my fries than I had otherwise intended. Have you ever tried this combination? If not, do it – I triple dog dare you!!

Wildflower: This cozy spot had an amazing atmosphere. From the loaves of fresh baked bread to the imaginative menu and indoor and outdoor fireplaces, Wildflower willed us to linger. We savored the delicious cuisine. My husband ordered salmon toast and fried eggs. My entrée was greens and pepitas with sweet potatoes and fresh veggies under fried eggs and a drizzle of sriracha. I want to return to Wildflower again and again until I’ve tried everything on their menu. If you’re nearby, I highly recommend stopping in for a bite.

Tourist Home All Day Cafe: I’m sorry if I’m belaboring the point with the food I ate in Northern Arizona, but Tourist Home Cafe begs to be mentioned. This was the tallest quiche I’ve ever seen, full of spinach, sun dried tomatoes, and roasted bell peppers. You can’t tell from the way it is hidden behind the greens in the photo, but it was at least 4 inches tall, like a majestic cheesecake. My husband enjoyed eggs benedict (look how small it looks next to my quiche!) with homestyle potatoes, which were also scrumptious.

The last thing I want to share is a photo of a sign I found on a wall at a Route 66 gift shop. It seemed a bit out of place where it was, and I resisted the urge to bring it home with me. It would, however, have fit in very nicely above the desk where I write this blog, which I call Mama Lava’s Back Porch.

Life is Better on the Porch sign: 1 Best Kept but Emerging Secret You Want to Know: Northern Arizona
Life is Better on the Porch! I’m so thankful to all who join me here!

Well, are you convinced? I’ve told you about the perfect temperatures and summer flowers. I’ve invited you to surround yourself with nostalgia on Route 66, and I’ve tempted you with photos of amazing food. Could Northern Arizona be the 1 best kept, but emerging secret you want to know? Are you interested in visiting there some day? Have you already been? Do you have any suggestions for rival best kept secret places?