Friday, June 2, 2017

Waiting, Camping, and Lord of the Rings...Only 2 of Those Are My Favorite Things

I wish I had more news to offer up on the adoption front, but alas, things are still moving pretty slowly for us. However, I have been in contact with several other families from our agency who have seen their cases start moving very quickly so I'm hoping for some good news soon. If all goes well, Dylan will be here before the end of the year. Fingers crossed and good vibes only!

In more news on the adoption front, we're starting a fundraiser to help us cover some of the adoption expenses. I'm not going to lie, international adoption is expensive. (If you want specifics, I'm not shy, so feel free to ask and I will happily give you the break down.) Anything we can put towards these costs is incredibly helpful. We've partnered with Gobena Coffee to sell some of their delicious caffeine, I mean coffee (as well as mugs, t-shirts and more), with 50% of the proceeds going towards our adoption expenses. It's good coffee for a great cause (and it makes a great gift as well!). If you're interested, here is the link Jensen Adoption Fund and, if not, that's totally fine. Prayers and positive vibes are also very welcome!

Anyway, on to some fun camping memories/suggestions for camping with kids at one of our favorite places...Black Canyon of the Gunnison! Enjoy :) 

Ahhh,'s one of our favorite activities to do as a family as well as one of the cheapest ways to explore our lovely planet. It's important for us to not only save some dough when traveling but also to fully experience as much as we can at each place that we visit. One way we save cash is by bringing almost all of our own food (the kids' allergies pretty much require that anyway). We also tent camp whenever possible. It's not glamorous or even comfortable, but we love getting to see new places and that's what makes it possible.

The cheapest lodging...$30 for 3 nights!
The picture above is at the Black Rock Campground at Joshua Tree National Park. I'll cover that trip in detail in a future post but mostly I'm just providing a little glimpse into our tent set-up. For warmer climates we prefer layering blankets on our air mattresses but colder climates definitely call for our cozy sleeping bags. And Black Canyon, though super warm during the day, definitely got chilly at night. 

If you haven't heard of Black Canyon of the Gunninson National Park, you're not the only one. It's a pretty under-the-radar destination, which is nice for a National Park. So, if you're looking for something in the Rocky Mountains that isn't as crazy as Rocky Mountain National Park, or an alternative to the Grand Canyon, this quiet park is the place for you! I really do think this is one of the greatest parks for Introverts ;)

Black Canyon NP is located off of Highway 50 on the Western Slope in Colorado. Fun fact: It's actually closer to Montrose, CO than Gunnison, CO, but it's named Black Canyon of the Gunnison after the Gunnison River that carved this canyon.

There's an amazing space called the Curecanti National Recreational Area that runs along Highway 50 for quite awhile. It's a beautiful area that's mostly known for water recreation but there are hiking, camping, and bird watching opportunities there as well. We stopped briefly to check it out and do Jr. Ranger Workbooks.

Driving up to Black Canyon was gorgeous, the Western Slope is truly a unique pace. But, honestly, I had no idea what to expect when we pulled up to the first viewing area. It. was. magical.

It's obviously not as big as the Grand Canyon, but it's depth and the sheer rock walls combined with the darkness make it an incredibly dramatic place. It looks like something out of the Lord of the Rings which, if you know me, that's a very good thing...

Now, hiking at the Black Canyon is not for the faint of heart, especially on the rim trails. We found out after we returned that a young man had fallen from one of the trails and died while we were there. This is heartbreaking and terrifying, especially when trying to hike those types of trails with young kids. Honestly, had I known how close the Rim Rock Nature Trail was to the edge I wouldn't have hiked it with the kiddos but it really was a gorgeous hike with stunning views (and we made it to the Visitor Center from our campsite safely).

Living life on the edge...literally.
For families with small kids (or uncoordinated adults, like myself) the Cedar Point Nature Trail would be a better hiking option. The South Rim Road Scenic Drive is another fantastic option that shouldn't be missed. It's a relatively short drive that goes along a 7 mile stretch of the canyon and has several pull-off areas where you can take a short hike to some really stunning scenic viewing areas.

Less perilous nature trail.
Painted Wall on the South Rim Scenic Drive.

Our campsite was one of the best parts of the whole trip - and undoubtedly the best campsite we've had at any campground. We stayed at the South Rim Campground in the A Loop, which I highly recommend. The sites are large and private and bathrooms are close...a great combo for families with noisy kids who have small bladders. Small disclaimer here: This campground only has vault toilets as they have to haul their water in. Not ideal, but they do a good job of keeping them pretty clean.

View from the campsite.
There was a ton of space around our site and lots of wildlife stopping by to check us out. As fun as it was to check this place out during the day time, the night sky was quite possibly the best part of the entire trip. There was a really great night sky program put on by the park rangers and a local astronomy club was there with telescopes. We had our telescope and camera on hand to join in on the fun as well. We're not professional photographers by any means (and night sky stuff is tricky) but here are a few photos we were able to snap.

Overall, a fantastic trip to a beautiful place that the entire family enjoyed. I have a feeling we will be heading back there soon!

Thursday, April 13, 2017

Santa Fe and Adoption Updates

I was waiting to write another post in hopes that I would have some good news to share but, alas, things are progressing more slowly than we had hoped. I had mentioned in my last adoption post that the next big step is getting our paperwork over to Korea to start the exit process for Dylan (known as the EP submit - yay for lots of new terms! It's a whole new language...). We were one piece of paperwork away from getting our papers sent to Korea with our cohort the last week of March - one piece of paper from getting this exit process started.

While our agency assured us that most people wait a year from referral to this portion of the process their statement was less comforting than it could have been as I watched all of our new friends moving forward with their process. I'm so sincerely excited for others that have moved forward but, I will admit, I have cried many tears wondering why our paperwork had to get slowed down - why does our son have to wait longer to be united with his family?

I could cry about it being unfair all day but the real issue here is the red tape and bureaucracy involved. So many little steps, appointments, papers, signatures, interviews, and so on are needed, and each state and country have different requirements. It's a very convoluted process, and my hope is to one day work with different agencies to help make this who ordeal more streamlined and effective so these children do not have to wait so long to start their lives with their families.

I appreciate the thoroughness of the process - we certainly wouldn't want people adopting that weren't qualified - but to be fingerprinted by several different federal agencies, and told we will have to renew our fingerprints in 15 months if we still haven't brought him home (whose fingerprints change in 15 months????) is a little overkill.

So, for now, we wait. Once we receive that one piece of paper from USCIS we can wait for the next batch of EP submits to be requested, which can be anywhere from 2 to 3 months (or more). Hopefully things move relatively quickly but, for the time being, I will get to practice being patient (and maybe work on learning some Korean - I need all the help I can get there). So, for now...

On a happier note, we were able to take a quick spring break trip with the kids to our favorite place in March - Santa Fe!

First stop, Charlie's Spic and Span which is our favorite little diner in Las Vegas, NM (truth be told, it's the only one we've gone to but we've been there about a dozen times and it's always fantastic).

Then it was off to the big city. The kiddos were on the tail end of a cold, so we spent more time in our hotel room than usual, but we still managed to spend time with some of our favorite people who happened to be visiting the same time that we were! Saturday morning started with meeting Daniel and Amanda in the Plaza.

We love Collected Works, it's a super cute coffee shop/book store that often has live music as well. It was a great place to start our trip. We had to check out our current favorite record store after we had our coffee, so we went down to Good Stuff/Cafe Vinyl after. Both Collected Works and Good Stuff are in the Plaza, which is super walkable. My best advice for spending time in the Plaza is to get there early (before 10am), especially on the weekend, and park in the parking garage off of Water Street. It's cheap and always has room so you don't have to drive around those narrow streets for ages looking for a spot. Been there, done that, not fun.

The kids love to hit up some of the toy stores in the Plaza too, so we try to make sure we can always get to Doodlet's and Moon Rabbit Toys. Deke has been waiting and waiting to buy his first Ugly here's Frank!

We spent a couple of hours walking around on Saturday but went back to the hotel after lunch to recuperate. 

Thankfully, everyone turned a corner on Sunday and we were able to hit up several fun places that we hadn't been to before (and a couple that we try to visit every time we're in town). First stop...Whoo's Donuts!

I got their Blue Corn Lavender (my favorite) and Nick "settled" for a Maple Bacon Pecan since they didn't have his usual go-to, the Habanero. Thankfully, he survived.

After our tasty treat, we parked at the Plaza and walked to the Georgia O'Keeffe Museum with a stop in Burro Alley. Amazingly, we hadn't been to either of these areas before (although we've seen the Burro statue numerous times). 

The kids were feeling much better...

And so was Nick...

On the way to the museum...

Now, you are allowed to take pictures of some items in the museum, without a flash. But, due to a very embarrassing faux pas, the InstaMax camera I was using reset itself when I added new film and the flash went front of a $40 million painting. I didn't get in trouble but, needless to say, I was stalked by security the rest of the time and didn't even touch either of my cameras again. Not embarrassing at all.

Georgia O'Keeffe's work is incredible, and we saw paintings and photos that really gave us insight into who she was. I highly recommend this stop to anyone going to Santa Fe. We've been to several other museums on past trips - I'll give more info on those in another post :)

After the museum we went to another favorite destination, the Railyard District. We mostly walked around and took in the sights. The old buildings are so are the brick roads and sidewalks.

We took some fun train pics here but, sadly, they were with the InstaMax camera and not my iPhone.

We also had to stop by Big Star Books, which is my favorite used book store in town because we always find a TON of good stuff here. And the prices are fantastic! After that, it was back to the hotel for swimming and to rest up for our trip home the next day. We decided that we wanted to leave early so that we could spend some actual time in Taos rather than just drive through it.

Taos is a neat place, smaller than Santa Fe by a lot but more congested since the main road drives right through the center of town. We spent some time in the Taos Plaza before checking out a few stores.

Even the sewer lids are cool...haha.

The kids favorite spot, and probably ours too, was a cool toy store/playground called Twirl.

It was a bit surreal inside, with the unique fireplace and a magical Koi pond.

But the outside playground area was their favorite by far...

Soooo much fun. And they worked up quite the appetite so we stopped by Taos Diner on the north side of town. 

The food was good, not as great as Charlie's in my opinion, but the mountain view out the window was amazing!!!

All in all, it was another wonderful New Mexico adventure...quite possibly one of the best yet. And we can't wait to go back!