For a homebody like me, this summer is full of all kinds of surprising travel. This morning I leave for Ghana. Yep, you read that right. I’m headed to Africa for 10 days!

I can’t even wrap my mind around it. I’ve dreamed of setting foot on that continent since I was 17 and now the time has come. I’ve literally been waiting half of my life for this day. And all the sudden it is here. Though I am so very excited, this day is also bittersweet. My sister was supposed to join me on this trip. An epic sister trip…one we’d talk about when we are gray and our grandkids are running around our feet. Lesley shared on her blog yesterday why she is now unable to join me. I could never do justice to her story, you can click here to read her words.

So what am I doing in Ghana and how did this come about? It is a long story, but I really have to finish packing so I will fill you in on all the details when I get back. I’ll be there with a few friends and making so many more I hope. We’ll be at a home for women rescued from trafficking and I’ll see first hand what it is like when a community receives safe, clean water for the first time from a well. I’ve been warned that I might get asked to dance at church. That is possibly my biggest fear in going…that someone is going to make me dance. I can do the sprinkler and the running man. Scary.

Several of you have asked questions about our RV trip…about the trailer, hiking, our itinerary, etc. I’ve written posts answering all those questions and have them scheduled to post while I am gone. So, there will still be posts happening here, but I’ll be on another continent! EEEEKKKKK!

As excited as I am for this trip, it is always so hard to be away from my family. I’m trying not to be anxious about that part; their dad will make it the best week ever. I’ll sure miss them though!
Leaving on a jet plane….

These pictures have nothing to do with this post. They are just random shots of my niece from this week and they make me happy…

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I told her I couldn’t see her eyes and that I really wanted a picture of her eyes….7.14leaving-2

She’s super awesome. Just like her mom. And her Nana.

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  • Jenn - I am so excited for you. I know you will have a great time and bless everyone where. I have a feeling you will be blessed while there too. I am broken hearted for your sister but have a sneaky suspicion that she will be cheering for you from back home. have a great trip

  • Sprite - God is going to do such amazing things on your trip! I’m so excited for you – what a wonderful opportunity!
    My heart breaks for your sweet sister. Praying that the Lord would draw near to her and give her more peace than ever before during this time.

  • Kimberly Oyler - ahhhhhh!!! so excited for you! also really excited for all the scheduled posts. haha. so proud of you and can’t wait to hear all about it!!

  • Monique - Ha ha – the dancing… I have a feeling that once you are surrounded by those people with such genuine faith and joy in the Lord that you won’t be able to help yourself from dancing :)

  • Sue - Praying that God will bless this time away and for safe travel. I am also praying for your sister. That has to be hard for both of you. You bless my life with your words and photos and I hope that God will continue to bless yours!

  • Natalie - Safe travels! Love the pictures of your niece. My heart goes out to her and her momma.

  • Paige - I’m warning you, you WILL fall in love with the Ghanaian people. They are amazing people but their dancing is more like stomping and swinging arms so you should be safe! Prayers for you!

  • Megan - Best of luck for a safe trip and safe travels! I clicked over to your sister’s blog — incredible writing, incredible sadness, incredible faith. Praying for your family.

  • Kate @ Songs Kate Sang - Oh sweet friend! I’m so happy for you. I hope you dance!

  • kelleyn - Hope you have a safe journey!

  • heather - i am so excited to see the pictures of your trip!!

    i have never read your sisters blog or posted so didn’t feel right offering my support to her directly, but i cry for her loss and yours too…it broke my heart to read her words…sending positive energy and healing thoughts her way and the rest of your families way

  • Theresa - Have an amazing time in Ghana. My fiancé started a school in a refugee camp for Liberian refugees. The school has closed because the Liberians in the camp finally got to return home. He will be in Liberia in the fall doing research for his phd. I look forward to hearing about your journey and sharing you experiences with him. Africa has a special place in our hearts.

  • Amy Rendziak - I am so excited for you to be going on this trip (and praying for your sister). My church, Parkview Christian in Orland Park, IL, just had two groups of people on missions trips there and I believe two more are planned. They go every year and we all sponsor children through CMF International. Praying for safe travels!

  • Ellen Tillery - Can’t wait to read all about your trip! The instagram pics are so great to see.

I didn’t want our trip to end, which is surprising because I am such a homebody. I think the biggest difference this time is we kind of took our house with us. Having the trailer felt like home in a lot of ways. We weren’t going in and out of hotels or dealing with the temporary situation of a tent. We arrived home to sunflowers that are more like trees and three of our hens are now very much roosters. Anyone local want a rooster? The ones on the right and left need a new home. I really want to keep the black one, but my 8 year old really wants to keep his…the one in the center.

7.14home-7I planted Mammoth Sunflower seeds about 5 years ago. They grew to be nearly 3 feet tall. Evidently, I should have left for a month and let someone else make sure they got watered. We came home to sunflower trees. They make me giddy every time I look out the window or step outside. I knew we weren’t going to be around to take care of a garden this summer, so I just planted flowers. It was a very good decision.

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We also got home just in time for FireCracker to celebrate her 5th birthday with family. Both girls got to blow out candles and be spoiled by grandparents they haven’t seen in a while. Family and friends is what will keep me rooted…though I’m already planning our next RV trip.

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Whew…it has been a whirlwind since we walked in the door. And it is only getting whirlier…that is totally a word, right?

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  • Amy Espinosa - Welcome Home Y’all!

  • the inadvertent farmer - Welcome home! Next year how about a sunflower house now that you have the hang of it? I know someone that could help you with that! Kim

  • Lisa | Winter Heights - Wow, those sunflowers are amazing! Welcome home!

  • Billie - I sure enjoyed following your family trip. Glad you are home safe. Thank you for taking us all along.

  • Jessica - Those sunflowers are amazing! We planted some this year and I love watching them grow…literally by the day. I am enchanted with them.

  • Mek - All 3 hens looks gorgeous… you can’t keep more than one hen in same place?

    Love the sunflower trees! and Little One’s eyeing the cake so cute!

  • Sandra - Are you doing something different with the photos in your posts? For some reason most of them won’t load in my reader anymore. I don’t want to miss out on your lovely photography or family.

  • Erica Baker - Those sunflowers!! Your yard is looking magical. Welcome home!

  • mandi@herbanhomestead - My favorite part of coming home is checking in on the garden. I swear it is always twice as big as I left it (even when I’m just gone for the weekend!). And your thoughts on RV life. They mirror my own. Homebody that loves to travel. We are like snails, you and I. Have our homes on our “backs” and anywhere is possible! I loved all of your travel pictures and cannot wait for the day that we can do the same. Welcome home! Just in time for Africa!!!

  • Randi - those sunflowers!! love your garden – you guys have done wonders with it!

  • Kristin C. - Happy birthday, Firecracker! I am so glad y’all got the opportunity to take such an awesome trip and see such amazing sights =)

  • Debbie H - Ha! It didn’t take the little one long to learn about cake, candles and frosting. hahaha The look on her face here is sure different than with the cupcake on her own birthday celebration. Such a HUGE step in a few days. Thanks so much for sharing! Fun when you can “see” their wheels turning! And I 100% agree about Mt Rushmore. Mind boggling place if you think about the engineering,work and craftsmanship required back when they created it. A National Treasure for sure. So glad your boys “got it”.

  • Kate @ Songs Kate Sang - Totally a word. And excellent choice with the flowers. Excellent.

  • Janine - Thank you so much for sharing all this with us! It’s so sad there are only few people in Germany really living their faith, for our faith is the thing that carries us through everything . and LOVE and HOPE of course! I really enjoy reading all this and regarding your photos of real family life that GOD has given us. I have a wonderful husband and a little daughter (5 months) and I LOVE the idea of sharing my time with them, and watching my family grow (my biological one and the one we have in Jesus Christ).

    I live in Germany, in a small town in north Bavaria, so sorry if my English is a bit incorrect.

    I would like to share the things with you I write about in my blog but I’m afraid you cannot read it unless you speak German. It’s just at its beginning, maybe one day I will translate it.

    Be blessed by HIM, I wish you and your family all the best,
    Janine

  • Maureen - Welcome home! I love Little One’s face in the last picture. She knows cake now! Cannot believe Firecracker is 5, oh, my!

  • AshleyAnn - Mek – they are all roosters and it is best not to keep 3 in a small flock!

  • Friday Favorites | Cupcakes and Commentary - […] plan idea for next year’s garden at my […]

So…..we are home. I’ll post more about that tomorrow, but I wanted to add this post for my future reference. Our final stop on the trip was Mount Rushmore…it felt like a perfect ending to an American roadtrip.

Mount Rushmore.

I was super excited to get to visit Mount Rushmore. The kids and I have been learning bits about the presidents and we’ve watched a few documentaries on the creation of Rushmore. Seeing those films before our visit made standing in front of it even more incredible. We visited on the same day our trailer broke, so we were chasing light to get there before darkness fell. There were a few hours when we we didn’t think we were going to make it. The disappointment on the boys’ faces broke my heart. Thankfully, we made it just in time.
7.14rushmore-1I’ve been taking “happy jumping” shots at national parks and forests with my phone. I snapped this one with my phone of all kids jumping, but the low light meant a blurry picture:

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I wanted to try again with my dslr. Better pictures, but I didn’t get them all in the air. (a dslr is so much better in low light!)7.14rushmore-2

1 out of 57.14rushmore-3

4 out of 57.14rushmore-4

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Win some, you lose some. And we kept on walking.7.14rushmore-67.14rushmore-77.14rushmore-87.14rushmore-10

Edited to add: There is a trail that goes behind the main viewing area, that trail gives you so many more closer and better views. Just wanted to mention it in case any of you visit. We went on the trail as the light show began and we had the whole area completely to ourselves. We also were able to get great, closer shots of the monument when it got dark.7.14rushmore-11As we were leaving, the older boys commented on how they would never forget that night. I had read a few online comments from people disappointed with Mount Rushmore. I couldn’t disagree with their comments more. Sure, there were lots of people there (we went 4th of July weekend!), but it was so incredible. To have even a glimpse of understanding on what was required to create the monument and then see it in person – awesome. I told the boys to really soak it up because we may not make it back. They responded that we have to visit again when the girls are older and understand it better. They are probably right.

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  • heather - Thank You for taking us along on your beautiful trip. I’ve been so transported at the start of every work day to these beautiful places with you. I am so inspired to take my kids and go–hopefully next summer–instead of “someday” and at the very least go camping and hiking some time in the next few weeks. Thank you thank you thank you

  • Erica Baker - What a perfect end to the trip! The joy on your kids’ faces is just adorable. I hope you are all settling in to life back at home and that planning/packing for Africa is going well too. What an eventful summer you have!

  • Debbie C - I have to echo the previous comments…thank you so much for “bringing” us with you on this beautiful trip. I’ve been so inspired and now I putting these places on my vacation list (when the kids are a little older)! Truly an unforgettable experience for your kids…awesome.

  • Gretchen - What an amazing trip … the whole thing! Definitely inspiring to so many of us to get out there and see these amazing sights! We took our children to see Mt. Rushmore last year and we felt it was awesome! So incredible to see it in person!

  • amber - Agreed. An awesome way to end your amazing trip! Thanks so much for sharing all of these…it’s been so fun “following” you guys through all these great American places. Your family sure makes it all look super fun & super sweet. And makes me ready for the day we get to travel through this amazing country of ours. However, that may take a while. Lol. For now, this was perfect. Glad y’all made it home safe & sound. But, I’d be having trailer withdrawals… :)

  • Jenny - What an awesome trip you’ve all had. Thanks for sharing and inspiring us all to get out and see new things. My family has gotten out our road map and we are planning a couple day road trip to see new things in our area. I always think about going to far away destinations, but forget to see the beautiful things in our own area. Don’t know why it’s taken us so long. I guess better late than never. :)

  • Suzette - Beautiful trip!! Love seeing the gorgeous pictures of your lovely family! Being from California, we are usually the destination for many people but my husband’s whole west coast family treks back to Lake Erie in the summer (Grammy and Poppy were originally mid-westerners). One year we decided to drive from CA to OH. It was amazing to see part of our country in a new light! One of our stops was Mount Rushmore/Custer State Park. It was unplanned and probably the highlight of the trip (except for time with family). So glad you made it before the sun went down!

  • Emily - My family went to Mt Rushmore when I was around 7 and I STILL remember being awed by it. It is so amazing and the scale the artists worked on and their dedication blows me away. Also, your boys seem like such sweet guys, always thinking about their sisters and taking care of them. Amazing work Mama! ??

  • MagpieLovely - Agreed! Mt. Rushmore did not disappoint. Aside from the monument, there’s something so charming and hopeful about Americans from all over the country coming together to celebrate our shared heritage at Mt. Rushmore. We loved it too!

  • Kelly - When I was 11 we moved from Michigan to Idaho. We took our time, stopping at many great places along the way. Mt. Rushmore was one of my favorites. I still remember catching the first glimpse of it as we drove up. An amazing sight! I’m hoping to drive back to Michigan with my boys next spring and this will definitely be a stop on our trip!

  • Andrea - We visited Mt. Rushmore when I was younger and I can’t wait to take my own kids. Your pictures are amazing! You do a great job of capturing reactions and emotions. (However, I can’t help but think the guys in the red shirt could have gotten out of the way:) )

  • heather - I grew up not far from the mount and we spent lots of time visiting :) if i had known you were heading that way i would have suggested a few stops for ya….storybook island in rapid, reptile gardens in rapid as well….and crazy horse memorial….all awe inspiring places to visit :)

    it is awesome to see that the walkway still looks the same i’ve not been back for close to 20 years :)

  • danielle - I loved seeing mt. rushmore! Probably more so since the first time I went was a flop! Their was so much fog we could not see anything at all! The next time I went I was just so happy the day was clear! I can’t wait to bring my boys!

  • Kate S. - I am glad to hear that you enjoyed Mt. Rushmore. We stopped there last July on a cross-country road trip from Illinois to Washington, Oregon, and California. I was very excited to see Mt.Rushmore and thoroughly looked forward to that part of the trip. Sadly, I am one of those who was terribly disappointed.

    I couldn’t believe the traffic, the number of people, the horrendous parking situation, and that you are SO FAR AWAY. I expected this magical, majestic view once we got there and it wasn’t that (for us). I was very disappointed.

    But it really pleases me to hear that you enjoyed it and that your boys loved it. When I saw your post title I had a moment of dread that you would say you did not enjoy it, either.

  • MrsFun - I’ve never been, it’s one place I would love to take my kids. Love the jumping photos, they are priceless.
    Glad you are home and safe.

  • AshleyAnn - Oh bummer Kate. Did you go on the trails that got closer? That was my favorite part to view it was much closer than that main view. We also arrived right before dusk so parking wasn’t an issue.

  • Diana - I was incredibly impressed with Mount Rushmore as well. Finding out how they made it before going made it extra cool to see in person. Were you there for the night lighting? I don’t think I’ve ever felt more patriotic than when we were there for that!

  • kassondra - can I suggest a post about the logistics of this kind of road trip? like how much money you saved, what plans you mapped out before hand, cooking, cleaning, baths, gas and rest stops, ect. It has been a dream of mine to go on a trip like this but it seems too overwhelming and I just always imagine we would have to wait till our kids are older and we won the lottery :)

  • Missy - We went to Mt Rushmore last summer with a 7 year old 3 year old and 6 month old. We went on a multi state tour including Utah, Wyoming (especially for Yellowstone) and south Dakota. Mt Rushmore was by far our favorite stop. I really hope you stayed for the lighting ceremony because it was one of the most patriotic and meaningful things I’ve been able to do with my family. We had been traveling for so long the parking didn’t bother us nor did the walking. My kids got their junior Ranger badges and we climbed the rocks to the base of the statues and had an amazing view. The ceremony was the best part for us. A lot of it went over my kids heads but I was literally in tears as they had all of the service men in the audience come to the stage for the flag ceremony. And the crowd cheering when it lit up and the reverence everyone showed during the ceremony. It was just incredible. We want to go back in a few years when our kids are older and can really appreciate it. I am so glad you loved it too!

  • DeAnna - So glad you guys got to go. I have always wanted to visit. I need to make that happen. Thanks for sharing your photos with us!!!

  • Emily - What a marvelous trip you had! Thank you so much for sharing. Can you recommend some of the documentaries you watched? I’d love to bone up on my history that way!

  • Rebecca A - My husband and I stopped in at Mt Rushmore a few years ago as a way to break up a LONG day of driving during a long road trip. Sure the parking situation wasn’t great, and it was a little out of the way, but even as Canadians we couldn’t help but be incredibly awed and amazed by the monument in real life. And to learn about the time, planning and the amount of people went into it. We loved doing the hike, and we talked about how we couldn’t wait to go back and visit again when we had children. We weren’t really bothered by the amount of people that were there – it is a national monument after all, so we expected it to be busy ;)

  • AshleyAnn - Kassondra – Yes, I am working on a post like that!

  • Janna - Sigh….My Home Sweet Home:) I grew up going to Mt Rushmore so I’ve never thought it was anything special either…I now live in WA state and have for almost 18 yrs. And you are right…it really is a special place!!! I know that now…bringing my little kids there was so much fun. We need to do that again too! I think my youngest daughter was prob 2 or 3 when we went last and she is 10 now!!! Def past time!! On our next trip to see the fam we are gonna do it! Thanks for the reminder:)

  • Allison - This brings tears to my eyes and fullness to my heart! I know they will remember this vacation forever (the sights, the knowledge, the adventure and the spirit of your family being all together). We took a very similar vacation when I was 11 years old. Our family of 4 kids. A month long. In a tent trailer. From Oregon to Glacier, across Montana, South Dakota, back through Wyoming and Yellowstone. Side note: our car broke it’s timing belt while we were at Custer’s battlefield (100 degree day)and my dad spent the whole day at the mechanics although that was one of the sites he was most looking forward to seeing. Those have been some of my most cherished memories as a family. I LOVE your boys’ comment so much at the end of wanting to have their sisters experience it again. Priceless. Hopefully you make it back one day.

  • Krystin Robertson - I have always wanted to visit Mount Rushmore. I think it’s so fascinating. The photos are beautiful, by the way.

  • Christina - One of my absolute favorite areas of our country to visit. The ‘heads’ are amazing, but the surrounding landscape is breathtaking. My first visit to the area (we stayed at the Franklin Hotel in Deadwood) I declared Spearfish is where i’m going to retire one day. The area around Lead is just beautiful. I haven’t been able to take my son there yet, and really hoping to do so very soon. We will have to take the little trail. I’m so glad you shared all of this!

  • Eva - I think those jumping shots are pretty awesome. And I’m a wee bit jealous of your visit to those honored men. One day we’ll make it out that way….

  • Meredith - My parents took me there when I was in high school and we were disappointed. Growing up near Stone Mountain in Georgia probably had something to do with that disappointment. If you ever take your family to Georgia, you have to check it out! Your boys would love it! My great grandfather actually assisted with the carving on Stone Mountain so we have all these cool old pictures of that. So neat!

  • Jennifer - I was born and raised in South Dakota so have many trips to the Black Hills and Mount Rushmore under my belt. As a kid and young adult, I did not appreciate any of it. I just made a trip out there last week with my husband and 2 kids (ages 5 & 3) and can not get enough of Mount Rushmore! We did do the entire trail this trip (I had previously done the first part a few years ago) and loved that we could get so much closer. The ramp, auditorium and trail were not there when I was younger so I think the experience is much better now! Thank you for sharing what looks to be a great trip for your family!

  • Katlyn Richter - Ashley, I have been a long time reader of your blog, but don’t always comment. However, I have to comment on this one. I work for the South Dakota Department of Tourism, and while I was watching your trip, I was secretly hoping (and crossing my fingers) that your trip west would include Mount Rushmore.

    I knew that your family would love it, based on the little I know of your children’s personailities and knowing how much your boys enjoy reading and history. I’m so glad that you were able to make it, and it sounds like you made it for the evening lighting ceremony too? It’s so moving!

    Perhaps you were able to try Thomas Jefferson’s icecream while you were there also?

    It’s been fun for me to read the comments on this post with others sharing their memories, and others who now really want to come because of your story. THANK YOU for sharing about your time in South Dakota. Did you make it to the Badlands?!!

  • AshleyAnn - Katlyn we loved Rushmore and we wish we had more time. It was on the tail end of our trip and we had some trailer issues which slowed us down a little. We got to see Rushmore and that was about it so we are ready to go back! It seems like some of the national parks and such there are pretty amazing and honestly we weren’t expecting it!

    Chris Campbell