First half of our East Coast tour

What's better than chocolate?!

Nathan and our new uke on the beach in NY

Christ UMC in Port Jefferson near our old house

Teaching a new song at Christ UMC

The auditorium at Manhattan School of Music where I gave my master's recital

At the Metropolitan Museum of Art

Glinda descends to the stage in Wicked on Broadway

Near Ground Zero

At Cape Cod Covenant

One of the seals having a great time doing backstroke off of Cape Cod

We met Constance Hopkins at Plimoth!

Watching them burn out a canoe in the Wampanoag village

One of the views in Vermont

Beautiful Federated Church of Castleton during sound check

In Vermont - we didn't even know we had a general store!

Rachel learning to kayak at the cabin in Vermont

I’m sitting in a cabin in Vermont about halfway through what we’re calling our “Family Odyssey 2013.” We have been given such a wonderful opportunity this summer. I have had several churches on the East coast invite me over the past year, but none of them are really big enough to be able to bring me in on their own. In talking to them, we were able to put together a little tour that would get us to all of them and give us room for some vacation as well which is really fun. We’ve been (or will be) in or heading through 10 US states and 2 Canadian provinces, so I’m so excited to show it all to the kids and have the whole family with me.

We started about two weeks ago by driving out through OH and WV (for those counting the states!) to Hershey, PA. Our first “real” stop is NY, but as a total chocoholic who has chocoholic children, when I found out we’d be within a couple of miles of Hershey, we had to stop! We spent the night there, and then about half a day at the factory seeing the ride and the trolley tour and making our own chocolate bars. Since they hand you a small chocolate bar about every 14 seconds when you do anything there, my kids really didn’t know what to make of it. “Wow, we must be on vacation! Mom’s letting us eat chocolate every 14 seconds and it’s not even lunch time!” We also visited the museum – I had no idea Milton Hershey was such a philanthropist. Their school for kids in difficult situations is still there. We had a great time, and it smelled amazing!

Then we drove to NJ to visit my cousins and spend the night there. We don’t get to see this branch of the family much, and it was so good to see them! Unfortunately, my aunt and uncle who also live there were out of town, so I guess we’ll just have to make an excuse to go back. 🙂

The next morning we drove through NYC out onto Long Island where we used to live. We showed the kids our old house and our church, and the port and the restaurant where I used to work during graduate school. We took them to a real NY diner and showed them Nathan’s old school, SUNY at Stony Brook. Then we went to our friends’ house for dinner. They were leaving on vacation the next morning which was so sad, but they were so kind to let us use their house while we were in NY. They were some of our dearest friends while we lived there, and it was so good to see them, even if for a short time!

Saturday we drove down to the beach and it was absolutely packed! We’ve been to a lot of beaches, and I think the population density was what made the kids realize we were in NY. We brought along my new baby, a koa wood ukulele that I got just before the trip (everyone’s been learning, so that will be about 3000 miles of beginner ukulele in our car before we’re done, yep) and got some really amused looks from those around us – hope we weren’t too annoying, but no one moved anyway. 🙂

Sunday morning I was with Christ United Methodist Church in Port Jefferson. This church is a couple of miles from where we used to live, and their music director is my friend who was letting us use her house. They have asked me in a few times, and wanted me to come back, so it just seemed like great timing to have me take the service when my friend would be out of town and needing a sub anyway. They gave me pretty much the whole service, and wow, this was an amazing church! Their heart for worship was just unbelievable, and it’s doubly unexpected here because the culture on Long Island is usually a lot more reserved. My kids just loved the whole congregation and we had a great morning!

We took Monday and Tuesday to go into the city on the train. We showed my kids my old school (Manhattan School of Music) on the upper West side and took them for lunch at Ollie’s Noodle Shop (can’t miss that!). Then we spent the rest of the afternoon at the Metropolitan Museum of Art looking at entire Egyptian buildings and armor (Toby loved that!) and real Monets and Renoirs. So amazing – you could spend days and days in there. That night we took the kids to see Wicked on Broadway and it was absolutely stunning – the woman playing Elphaba was incredible! So glad we took the plunge for those tickets.

We spent the night in one of those tiny NY hotel rooms (they give a new definition to smart use of space) and then headed down to see the statue of liberty. This was our one bummer in planning – by the time we got there, all the tickets to climb the statue were gone. Should have ordered ahead – I was so sorry. But we headed instead to ground zero and saw the nearly complete memorial. Then we took the train home after some NY pizza and actually ended up sitting with one of the construction workers who was working on the memorial and who had been working ever since the towers came down. He was a “sky walker” and did all the stuff on top needed to get the big equipment up there, so he was walking that high in the air and wasn’t even tied in because there wasn’t anything to tie to yet! Crazy. Chalk that up as a job I don’t ever need to have. I get nervous on a ladder.

Wednesday we took the ferry off the East end of Long Island into CT and then through RI to MA and out onto Cape Cod. I gave a concert Wednesday night at Cape Cod Covenant, a wonderful church who has also hosted me before. They have always been so warm and inviting! Then we got to spend the next day looking around some gorgeous parts of Cape Cod. One of our favorite things was stopping at the fishing pier and seeing all the seals who were drawn there by the fishing boats. They were everywhere! And so cute – like the dogs of the sea. What we didn’t see but heard a lot about are all the great white sharks who have been drawn to Cape Cod because of all the seals. Yikes! We were told they’d already caught and tagged nearly 30 off the beaches that summer alone. So we decided maybe just wading ankle deep was a good idea. 🙂

The next day we realized our route was going to take us right past the Plimoth Plantation (that’s how they spell it), and we couldn’t pass that by, so we spent a really fascinating morning learning all about the pilgrims and the Wampanoag. If you’re ever there, you should definitely stop. And by the way, “Indian Pudding” tastes like uncooked molasses cookie dough made with cornmeal. Just in case that’s useful information for you.

Then we headed up MA, through NH into VT. Man, it’s gorgeous up here. Just stunning! We spent the night at at inn on top of a mountain and the views were absolutely spectacular! We saw all kinds of animals in our backyard too. Amazing.

Saturday night I gave a concert at the Federated Church in Castleton, and I also did some worship and special music on their services the next morning. The church was founded in 1833 and is gorgeous, both inside and out. They were so kind to us, and it was our first time there, so we loved getting to know them! One of the pastors owns the very cabin I’m sitting in right now, and offered it to us for some rest in the middle of this trip.

So after being with them on Sunday, we came up here. And now I’m sitting looking at this lake, listening to the bird calls and seeing their gorgeous flowers – this place is peace itself. And I can’t help but think that there is no better place to remember all the Lord has done. The last couple of weeks have been totally frenzied, but He is our peace in the midst of it all, and it’s not hard to remember that here. What a great place to praise God and regroup and spend some time with our family. I’m so thankful tonight, I can hardly express it. Thank you, Lord!

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