Mrs. Gore’s Hot-off-the-Press Guide to Silver Dollar City

After spending four days at Branson’s Silver Dollar City a couple of weeks ago, I feel the need, not only to jot down some things for us to remember next time we go, but to pass on my newfound expertise for those of you who have never been before.

These sorts of blog posts make all the difference when you’re planning for a trip. I know so because the blogs I read beforehand about how to navigate Silver Dollar City made a HUGE difference in the success of ours!

Thus, without further wordage, I present to you Mrs. Gore’s Hot-off-the-Press Guide to Silver Dollar City (as written in June 2017):

The packing and planning stages:

  • Call ahead (or swing by the day before you go) to talk to someone about all your options during the week of your trip, or ask for an up-to-date newspaper. You need to be armed with all the available info about special deals that might apply to your stay!
  • Likewise, order your tickets ahead of time and look into whether or not getting season passes will be a good deal for you. More on that later.
  • Download the Silver Dollar City app, where you can easily pull up a map, check showtimes, and find special attractions.
  • Study the map the night before and have a game plan. We circled ALL the things we wanted to do on the newspaper map before we went. You don’t want to be standing around trying to figure out where you want to go while everyone else is zipping by you to the fun. Be ready! This is game day, baby!
  • Take your packing really seriously so you’ll have everything you need. If you’re going to be at the park for a long amount of time and have small children…I’d even say children aged 6 and under…some sort of stroller or wagon is essential. There are some crazy hills at SDC and LOTS of walking. This is the collapsible wagon we have and we are superfans. It folds up so easily, it converts into a bench, and we love it. Click on any of the pictures of products below to be taken to the affiliated link at Amazon!
  • If you’re going during the warm months and plan on riding water rides (which you SHOULD, they were our favorite!), make sure everyone has quick-drying clothes and shoes. Our boys wore trunks and short-sleeved rash guards, our girls wore swim dresses from Hanna Andersson, and everyone had a sturdy pair of swim shoes like these. (cheaper versions of this sort of perforated tennis shoe can be found at Gap and other stores).

  • Speaking of shoes, many rides don’t allow flip flops! We took extra flip flops with us in case anyone got blisters, but we were so glad those weren’t the only shoes we brought.
  • Pack your own food and drinks. SDC can become a budget buster if you don’t plan ahead in this department. We saved so much money by taking our own!
  • So you want to pack well, but you also want to pack succinctly. We took two bags with us, both of which stacked perfectly in our wagon, leaving room for two little kids to sit side-by-side. Everyone’s hands were free, except for my husband who was pulling the wagon like an ox.
  • Bag #1 was a small cooler-on-wheels, like this (ours was a red-and-white gingham version of this same bag, but the print is no longer available at Amazon!) 
  • We filled up Bag #1 with frozen Capri Suns (that kept our other drinks cold, but thawed by afternoon for the kids to enjoy), lots of bottles of water, and little cans of Sprite. This bag had mesh pockets on the side that we could quickly slip our electronics into when we weren’t taking pictures.
  • Bag #2 was this medium-size insulated picnic hamper (also red-and-white gingham, also no longer available, but I love this blue version, too!):
  • We put ALL of our other essentials in Bag #2, including a Ziploc of various sunscreens, a Ziploc with hairties and a brush, a small first aid pouch filled with Band-aids (in the case of blisters or any falls and scrapes on the concrete), a Ziploc of medicine for motion sickness or headaches, a small bottle of baby powder (because after four days of water rides and walking, some of our family members had chapping problems, ouch!), my wrist purse, my husband’s wallet, and our kids’ lunch, which included apple juice pouches, Clementine oranges, apples, boxes of raisins, boxes of yogurt raisins, packets of peanut butter crackers (both plain and cheddar crackers), granola bars, and a variety of small bags of chips. Nothing squishy and nothing spillable. Every night before we left, I lined all these goodies up on the counter and let each kid choose which kind of flavors they wanted of everything so we didn’t have any confusion or sadness at lunchtime, plus I’d throw in a couple more of each item just in case.
  • So that was the KID’S lunch. The adults…because we’re adults and we have such fancy tastebuds…got to sample the fare at SDC. Not that we were totally stingy, the kids got to taste pretty much everything we bought without us having to spend our life savings on meals in the park. It worked perfectly, everyone was happy, and it left us with some spending money for afternoon treats like Dippin’ Dots or funnel cakes.
  • Other than that, I packed each of our insulated water bottles, stocked with fresh ice water every morning. When we’d stop for a bathroom break or lunch, I’d refill everyone’s bottle with the extra water we packed in our cooler. This is my own water bottle I bought for the trip. I have the white enamel and I got my mom the copper version because she loves copper and I love her. Another plus, our wagon had two cupholders that held our bottles perfectly! The rest of our family’s insulated bottles snuggled in nicely between our bags and the edge of the wagon.

  • Lay everything out…including the kids clothes and shoes…the night before, pack your hamper, and have all drinks ready in the fridge. Every good pastor’s wife knows that if you want to make it to church on time, you’ve got to start getting ready the night before. The same is true at SDC, people!

Getting to the park:

  • We had heard about the magic of the season pass before we went, but now we’re believers. If you are planning on going to SDC for more than one day, a season pass is a must. With it, we went to the park for two full days of our trip, and then we decided to go ahead and go every morning the rest of the week until the park got busy. It was season pass early hours week (SCORE!), so we would be IN line by 8:30 each morning, ride all the rides we wanted (with no lines!), go and enjoy one of the little children’s sections for about an hour (with hardly any other people there), and be pretty full up on fun before the park started getting even the slightest bit busy. Then we’d be on our way out by noon, just when the lines were started to get long. It was…AMAZING!!! We’d go every single day if we lived closer, and with a season pass, you could actually DO that. If you purchase your passes before a new season starts in March, you can also get free guest vouchers! We missed that deal, but it is ON our radar for next time! Season passes are just a great deal, all around.
  • If you have a season pass, you can also purchase preferred parking for $7/day. Worth it. My husband would drop us and our stuff off at the door (anything to save little feet and pregnant feet from more walking), then park the car in the adjoining lot nearby. It made the trip that much more dreamy, and we never had to wait on the trolley to pick us up from the more remote parking areas.

IN the park:

  • If you get there early…and it’s a thousand times worth it to do that (even if that means you all wake up at 6:30 every day of your trip to start getting ready!)…do all of the popular roller coasters that you want first. The lines will be minimal to nonexistent.
  • After that, do the water rides, *especially* the Lost River of the Ozarks. This ride will have a HUGE line by lunchtime, sometimes over 45 minutes. By following our routine, we rode this ride (our family favorite) four or five times in a ROW without ever waiting in a line. We usually didn’t even have to get out of our boat! After you’ve had your fill of Lost River, hit the American Plunge (a classic log ride) a few times. Family members can watch from a viewing stand, which is fun, and this ride has pretty fun pictures available for purchase at a hut nearby. If you’re going to buy a souvenir at SDC, I think this is  a pretty good one. This is our little guy, Shep, and his friend, Daniel, who also happened to be at the park that day. They loved it, I promise: 
  • After enjoying the big roller coasters and those two water rides, if you have little kids (ours range in age from 3 to 10), go to either The Grand Exposition or Fireman’s Landing. These are both very large kid-friendly areas that have a ton of fun little rides. Our family especially liked Fireman’s Landing which, aside from a collection of rides that our children loved most, also had a little splash pad and one of the most amazing playhouses ever. I liked to sit on a rock in the sun to dry off after getting drenched at Lost River and just let my kids run amok. The playhouse alone kept them busy and thrilled for nearly an hour every day. And it’s all so clean! And beautiful!
  • Now that you’ve gotten your fill of rides and play areas, let the rest of the folks deal with the growing lines while you go catch some shows! We got to watch an amazing Dog Tricks show one day, the Harlem Globetrotters the next day, a couple of good concerts, etc…it’s a nice way to rest, usually in an air-conditioned room, after racing up and down those hills to get to your favorite rides all morning. These shows change with the different festivals of the year, so be sure to check your paper or the app to find out what’s available to you!
  • Scope out a perfect spot for your lunch as you meander around. We found a little bench outside of The Opera House where we ate our lunch every day. It was covered in shade, very private, and gave the kids room to mill around while they ate. An added bonus to that Radio Flyer wagon is that the side zips down to convert the wagon into a little bench, giving us two places for kids to comfortably sit.
  • SDC has clean restrooms (and several nursing stations!) in every major area of the park. Be smart about your bathroom breaks! Make everyone go when you get to the park, make everyone go when you stop for lunch, make everyone go before you go into a show…otherwise, you’ll be taking someone to the bathroom all day, every day. It’s all about coordination. 😉
  • If you have big kids and little kids, it’s just a good idea to split up, at times. My mom and I would take the two littles to one of the kid-friendly areas while my husband did rides with the big kids, and if you need a place to take your littles in the afternoon when The Grand Exposition and Fireman’s Landing are packed with people, I can’t recommend Half Dollar Holler enough. Our littles went through this play area on repeat, for a good hour, while my mom and I sat and rested in the shade. 
  • You cannot go to SDC and miss out on Grandpa’s Mansion!! It’s a classic staple that must be enjoyed by the whole family.
  • The train is a neat feature that should also be enjoyed once (and once is enough, I recommend going in the afternoon), but be warned that there is a little show in the middle of it that could get long for tiny kids. Ours did okay with it, and so I’m glad we went. It’s especially neat to see the outskirts of the park and get an idea of the land that SDC was built on. It’s in the woods, basically! Amazing!
  • The BEST things we ate all week…the hot dog wrapped in a long spiral of fried potatoes, the funnel cakes (one a day, baby! Sometimes two…), the kids loved the Dippin’ Dots, and NOTHING BEAT the warm cinnamon bread. I thought it sounded good, but it was REALLY GOOD. If you go early, get you some coffee and a loaf of this bread and think of me.
  • Before you leave, have some fun at Tom and Huck’s River Blast, either riding on the boats or shooting at the riders from the sidelines. It was one of my son’s favorite things to do there, and the lines aren’t long here, even during the busier parts of the day. You will get pretty wet on the other rides, you will get DRENCHED on this one. It’s the perfect way to cool off at the end of your day.
  • If you’re a mom of littles and your little park-goers fall asleep in the wagon (ours did, every day), there is a great seating area in the shade near the front of the park. I got to sit in a big Adirondack chair under an umbrella every afternoon and make friends with elderly people while my family enjoyed the park. Being pregnant, this was a dream come true for me. And sometimes a loving family member would deliver a funnel cake to me, so, hallelujah.
  • Finally, as you are meandering your way out of the park, take some time to check our the artisan booths and houses, which are full of educational opportunities for your family. You could even pick a few a day to focus on. We didn’t do so great in this department this go round, but if we went to the park during a time of year when the water rides weren’t open, I think we’d take better advantage of them.
  • Oops, I have one more “finally” to your meandering…Marvel Cave. You’ll need to get the whole scoop on this experience from someone who works at the park, but we heard this hour-long walking tour through a REAL CAVE underneath SDC was a great way to cool off in the afternoons. It never worked out for us timing-wise, but this would be a perfect afternoon activity for the big kids while babies and toddlers nap. We have a raincheck with Marvel Cave.
  • Let your memories be your souvenirs. You could easily spend a thousand dollars on stuff at SDC…there’s even a toy store there!…but you don’t need to. The park is enough. If you don’t believe me, ask my very happy kids. They didn’t come home with a SDC shirt, or a toy, or a craft, or *anything*…but their hearts are bursting with memories.

So, by the way, is mine.

One last word of encouragement before you leave, while there are so many fun things to do in Branson, if you are on a budget like most young families, let your tickets to Silver Dollar City be your vacation. It has everything that the whole of Branson does…food, shows, crafts, music…so get your money’s worth and stay from opening to closing. I guarantee you won’t run out of things to do, though I can’t promise you won’t run out of energy. They even have an amazing concert at closing time!

Ah, it is easy to underestimate Silver Dollar City if you’ve never been there, but it is a beyond fabulous place to take your family. My husband has been to some of the biggest parks in the U.S., and this place is his all-time favorite. I second that, 100%.

I hope you love it as much as we do! If you have any questions, shout them out in the comments section! And if you have any fun or helpful tips to add to this list, please share! I might just need your advice for my next trip to SDC, which I hope will be sooner rather than later…

I mean, we have season tickets! Maybe we’ll go today!!

Selah Springs: The Conclusion

Wow. I had a lot to say about our little vacation to the Hill Country, and I’ve got to thank all of you for hanging in there with me as I recorded some important moments, not only for your hopeful enjoyment, but for posterity and memories, and…for my Mom. What can I say? She loves Mrs. Gore’s Diary.

I could go on and on about Selah Springs Ranch, and especially about the proprietors, Phil and Andrea, but even Mrs. Blogs-a-lot knows when it is probably time to move on to other subjects. That said, I would be remiss if I mentioned all of these wonderful things about our vacation in the heart of Texas without providing the Ranch’s contact information…for surely, you’ll be planning your next vacation to Selah Springs Ranch, yes? (Let me be quick to add, however, that I am not being paid or pressured into this promotion. This is legit, no kick-backs, no nothing…except for a share in all Ranch profits for the next 20 years. Just kidding). At the bottom of this post, you’ll find all the important details that will enable you to further team up with and explore this truly special family-friendly getaway.

But now let’s see if I can wrap this puppy up…

As I mentioned before, our little family stayed in the Ranch’s bunkhouse:

This guest house is smaller and less swankier than the Main Lodge, but it was P-E-R-F-E-C-T for our young family. No stairs, no elevated porch, and our kids (including our little stinker, Betsie) had such fun exploring every inch of this house and yard. And there were awesome bunk beds in each of the two bedrooms:

But the back porch was our favorite place, providing a gorgeous view that we just couldn’t get enough of. We took most of our meals onto the huge table outside and I especially enjoyed having my morning(and afternoon!) coffee from this perch.

The kids, too, loved the back porch and yard and spent most of their time there, exploring, looking for critters, and lazing the day away…

But as much as we loved the cozy Bunkhouse and as fitting as it was for our current situation, I look forward to staying someday at the Main Lodge. This structure is truly magnificent, a testimony to the creativity and ingenuity of Phil’s late father, as well as an obvious display of his love for the family – and the land – he had been blessed with. Elevated on a hill, it overlooks the San Saba River, and would be the perfect location for a large family vacation, or a reunion, or a church staff retreat…or a wedding! Phil and Andrea have just plunged into the wedding business and you can read more about that on their website or facebook page. But if you are looking to visit the Hill Country, or need a place to stay near Fredericksburg, PLEASE…look no further! I can’t imagine how much fun it would be for all of the cousins to get to stay here someday and discover the maze of upstairs rooms that they would get to sleep in.

Obviously, I love everything about Selah Springs Ranch. The lodging, the location…even (for a week) the landscape!

There was so much to see and to do…

But nothing beats uninterrupted time with the ones you love. I will always cherish the days of free time I had at Selah Springs to love on my little ones, to spend time with my husband, to enjoy my parents and to reconnect with Phil and Andrea. I know every day is a gift from God, but on our days at the Ranch, I was fully aware of the blessing and drank it in like a parched and weary traveler. And I come home, resolved, that we should live every day like we did at Selah Springs Ranch.

It was one of those places that I was wishing to get back to the minute we left the driveway…

~

And then, God help us, there was our 8-hour drive home…

~

Want to visit Selah Springs’s facebook page? Click here. To receive special updates and promotions from the Ranch, be sure and “like” their page once you get there (and let them know Mrs. Gore’s Diary sent you! Phil and I are kind of obsessed with tracking the networking…)

And to visit their website, click here. I think the Survivor Weekend sounds especially fun for youth-aged groups, and of course, if I was a bride-to-be in the Hill Country, I would be reserving my wedding date straightaway!

Again, cherished readers, thank you for joining me on this feast of a vacation to Selah Springs Ranch!

Selah Springs: The Revelation

~ The following post finally sums up what God did in my heart as I was happily holed up in the Hill Country. I hope it is a lesson I never forget, and that it encourages you, as well. ~

So here we are at the end of our second full day at Selah Springs Ranch, and I’ve realized something…

I’ve got to cut down on my time at the computer when I’m at home.

Here’s what happens.

During the children’s naps, or after they’ve gone to bed or when they’re watching a movie, I sometimes (often) sit down just to mindlessly peruse facebook or Pinterest. I have no qualms about admitting this out loud. As the youths say, its how I roll, yo.

But most of the time, during this daily downtime when the rest of the house is sleeping, I truly and actually sit down at the computer to “work”…which, in my world, means to make important internet purchases (I can HEAR my husband guffawing from here), or to edit and organize photos, or to work on inspiring and world-changing blog posts (like the one where I looked like a beached whale on the Slip n’ Slide). And in the process of my work, when I’m waiting for something to load, or when I can’t think of what I want to write about, or when I absentmindedly wonder if I have any new notifications or e-mails, I consequently pull up a gazillion tabs, including Pinterest and facebook and my antique AOL account and my Anthropologie wishlist, and…I get irretrievably lost.

Sometimes I emerge from this coma-inducing Internet Neverland feeling grouchy and discontent, and my heart knows full well that I have poorly misused my time, but…more often than not, I enjoy the heck out of myself.

I love the internet.

I could spend days on it.

That said, here at Selah Springs, without this delightful hobby lingering enticingly in my home office 24/7, I am finding that I was sorely in need of a week-long internet detox…

if only for the purpose of realizing how much I needed to have an internet detox.

And the reasons have surprised me.

For it is not uncommon to hear people resolve to fast or withdraw from the computer, is it? They might realize that the internet has encroached upon their time with their families or has kept them from doing their chores, and they need to step away for a bit in order to reinstitute who is machine and who is master.

But that’s not really my issue (this time). Because, even though I am a huge fan of all of my favorite internet haunts, I usually rigorously guard my family time, and have even refrained from purchasing an iphone to keep the internet in our home office only. I rarely allow myself time on the computer when my kids are downstairs, and spend most of their naptime at least trying to do my aforementioned “work”, and that’s usually after I’ve completed (a few of) my daily chores. And so the problem I have been awakened to goes a little deeper than that and stung a little worse…

For I’ve been slapped upside the head by the following realization: Not only do facebook and mindless internet surfing potentially replace face-to-face time with the people in my life when we are in the same room together, it also replaces something when the people in my life are asleep or out of the house…

my thoughts of them.

It distracts me.

It exchanges the quietest and richest times of my day with dull and shallow entertainment.

In other words, during the most potentially meditative moments in my life, I am voluntarily allowing my heart and my thoughts to be pulled away from the ones I am called to love more than anyone or anything, and worse, including my Heavenly Father.

As I have been without my dearly loved imac this week and have lolled around the Ranch or even spent a day shopping with my girls in Fredericksburg, I have once again become acquainted with how long a day can be, full of opportunities to think and to pray and to love. At home, I most usually fill those empty spaces up with my computer. A quiet moment comes and I slip into the office and check for facebook notifications. Or  the kids run upstairs to play and I sit down for “just a second” to add a book I’ve been meaning to buy to my Amazon shopping cart. Or I get lost in the midst of my “work” like I mentioned above. But here, at Selah Springs Ranch, I am finding that those empty spaces are much better filled, and completely – and I mean, completely – change the way I relate to others…

I find myself missing my husband more often and wishing to cuddle up next to him on the couch (but no funny stuff, Mister)…

or thinking intently about my role as a wife and mother and asking for grace to live like Christ…

or communing with God as I drink in the beautiful world He made for us…

or thinking about my kids and cherishing their sweet faces and mannerisms…

or thanking God for my entire family and praying for their well-being…

Thus, by the time the empty space is over and we are together again, my thoughts are not wrapped up in some distant world. They are focused. In the quiet of the day, I have been meeting with God and thinking of and longing for my family, and I am ready to show them my love when we are once more reunited.

The result?

I reach over and rub my husband’s back more often when we’re sitting beside one another.

I am happy and prepared to sit and read a book to my kids when they ask.

I can more easily discern what is true and honorable and just and pure and lovely and commendable (Philippians 4:8) from what is fleeting and self-absorbed and unedifying.

I have patience stored back up when the quiet moment is over and welcome my children back downstairs with open arms rather than hopping up with an addled brain and foggy intentions…

Its amazing what God can do in your heart when you allow yourself to be talked to.

And so, really, my “revelation” was a simple one: what I had at Selah Springs – the focus, the intentionality, the gratitude…I want that every day.

And so from now on, I’ll be more closely monitering my extracurricular computer activity, not just when the kids are awake, but when they are sleeping. And when I am blogging or writing, I will not open extra tabs. And I will still enjoy facebook as much as ever, but once a day, in one sitting.

The rest of the time, I want to use my brain and resourcefully use the peace that God allows me each day to mindfully – rather than mindlessly – recharge and reset.

I’ve been operating for years under the assumption that naptime was ME-time. But the conviction of the sweet Spirit of God has shown me this week…

Me-time (without serious moderation) is sinking sand. But living for others – even when they are asleep – is some kind of beautiful and makes the heart much, much happier when naptime is over.

~

Coming up tomorrow ~ the FINAL Selah Springs installment! 

Selah Springs: The Cave

Since our arrival at Selah Springs, we had heard adventurous and intriguing stories about a recently discovered cave chamber on the Ranch’s property.

Phil had promised to schedule a time to take us to this underground lair of fascination, and on the 3rd and last day of our stay, he followed through and picked up the willing participants – Mr. Gore, Gideon and my Daddy (and me, with my camera) – and drove us to a location on the map that I could never get to by myself if I tried. A lodger at the Ranch had come across this hidden hole in the ground while exploring the property, and Phil had become obsessed with digging deeper and deeper into the chamber. His exuberance was catching and I was actually quite excited to see this marvel with my own eyes.

Pulling the pick-up to a stop in the middle of the road, Phil instructed us to unload and then challenged us to point in the direction of the cave’s whereabouts. Each of us squinted into the distance, looking for clues, and not surprisingly, the 4 of us pointed in 4 different directions.

None of us were right.

“Follow me!” said Phil, and off we tromped through the wild Texas wilderness, dodging cacti, ducking under mesquite trees, eyes roaming about looking for the hidden cave.

When we least expected it, Phil came to a sudden halt, and pointed at the ground. “Here it is.” he said.

There, right in front of us, was a rock, and in that rock was a triangular hole about the size of my generous hips.

Well…maybe my hips aren’t that big. Still yet, any thoughts I had entertained of following the boys into the cave morphed instantly into a rock-solid resolution that I wasn’t budging from my place safe above ground. I later told Phil “the cave might be fun for you, but for me, it is a collection of too many things I have problems with: claustrophobia, bats, worms, ladders, heights…to me your cave is nothing more than a hole of horrors”.

The men, however, were intrigued. It was a study to watch them, iffy at first, curiously peering into the hole, then unable to quelch their curiosity with what I would call good common sense (just kidding, guys). One by one, they would disappear beneath the ground, first Phil, then Mr. Gore, and then even my Dad, who had retreated to this Texas getaway to rest his ailing back. He had been sitting like a good boy next to me while Mr. Gore and Phil explored the cave, but finally said “I’ve got to go down there,” and soon, he, too, was in the cavernous hole underneath my feet, throwing rest and recovery to the wind.

But as nervous as I was about the ones I loved being trapped underground, I relished hearing their voices and laughter float up to my safe perch on a rock nearby – this was to them what a day of shopping at Fredericksburg was to me, and it was great fun observing their boyish delight at their adventure in uncharted territory under the earth. I even sent my beloved camera down the hole with Mr. Gore, who took a pretty cool photograph from inside the heart of the earth:

But Gideon was holding out.

“I’m not going in there.” he had been saying since first laying eyes on the cave, and had been sitting resolutely on a bucket near my rock.

But he was acting kind of weird, talking a bit like a baby, repeating his mantra of refusal, even though no one was pressuring him…or even talking to him.

“I not going in dere.” he kept saying to me.

“Okay, Gid…” I kept replying, “you don’t have to.”

“I NOT going in dere.” he repeated.

“Okay…” I said once more.

And I soon came to the conclusion that he was waging an inner war with himself. As much as he didn’t want to go in there, he wanted to go in there; therefore, he wasn’t really talking to me as much as he was talking to himself.

Thankfully, I have learned, after 5 years of playing mindgames with this most complex of children, that sometimes it is best to just leave Gideon be and let him work out the conflict that is coursing through his brain and causing him to use bad grammar and vocabulary.

I sat quietly on my rock, knowing that if I pressured him to give it a try, he would step up his refusal, and that if I babied him about it, he would eventually become just that…a baby. And not just about caves, but about life, in general.

Finally, after saying “I not going in dere” one more time, he meekly and quietly asked one question: “Mama…will you ask Papa if he will help me get down there?”

I hopped up, before he changed his mind.

“Chris!” I beckoned through the hip-sized hole, “Gid wants to come!”

We all sprang into action, lest we lose our window of opportunity. It takes a village to raise a Gideon, and the entire family has learned to work fluidly with his quirks and foibles.

Mr. Gore and Granddaddy came to the bottom of the ladder.

“Come on down, Gid!” Mr. Gore exclaimed with what I assume was a huge smile on his face.

But the nearer Gideon got to the hole, the more afraid he became of it. His hands were clinging to my legs.

“I can’t do it!” he cried.

“You can do it, Gid! I won’t let you fall. I’ll hold on to you the whole way,” his Papa continued to encourage him.

“Come on down, Gid!” my Daddy said.

Gideon began to cry. “I don’t want to go!”

“You don’t have to!” Papa assured him.

“But I want to go!!!” he wailed.

“Then come on down!” Papa laughed.

After what seemed like 15 minutes of encouragement and discussion, I’m so happy to report that…he did it.

My baby boy played the man and entered into a secret cave chamber. Now, menfolk are a bit of a mystery to me, but as a sympathetic observer of all people and an avid reader of Christian fiction books, I happen to know that this (cave-mongering) is the stuff of dreams for little and big boys alike. And if I didn’t know that already, I knew it when I saw Gideon beaming up at me from the ladder that took him to his adventure.

With his Papa, his Granddaddy, and a really great guy named Phil, my son spent the afternoon digging in previously untouched dirt and even unearthed a rock that had never been held by anyone else in the history of the world. As far as vacation attractions go, this was pretty stinkin’ awesome.

It is a beautiful thing to watch a little boy – step by step – become a man, and I think this day will go down in Gideon’s history as a very big step indeed.

The last to go down, Gid the Kid was also the first to come back up for air, but he emerged energized and confident. Rather than returning to his bucket of shame, he began to work, pulling up buckets of dirt from the cave and dumping them in the nearby pile. I can’t imagine how it felt to his little heart to contribute to the tunneling process of the Selah Springs Cave. This was important work!

Before too long, the big boys said goodbye to the cave and joined us aboveground. It was really quite strange to see a human head poking up from inside the earth, and was rather reminiscent of a dream I had when I was a child. (Except those heads belonged to aliens. And they were cartoon characters. And there wasn’t any cactus or mesquite trees and we weren’t in Texas..but everything else was exactly the same).

Our cave adventure was over, but I am fairly certain this will be a memory we will cherish for years and years to come, a highlight of our stay at Selah Springs Ranch.

On our drive home, I looked down and noticed that Gideon and his Papa were holding hands, and my heart melted a little at the bonds they are growing as father and son, bonds that I pray remain strong and Christ-centered for the rest of their lives. May the adventures they share be varied and happy and frequent, and may they always love each other as they do now.

Oh, and thank you, God, for not making me go down into that cave.

Selah Springs: The River

On our first full day at Selah Springs, we met Phil and Andrea’s family by the river in front of the Main Lodge for a hot dog cook-out.

Planned arrival time: 11:00 a.m.

Unplanned departure time: 6:00 p.m.

Such is the unscripted joy that takes place when you are surrounded by interesting people, beautiful weather, and a river that is just right for wading and, eventually, swimming – the longer we stayed, the deeper the kids got in the water. The riverbank was soon littered with their clothing and boots, and I have rarely seen them so completely occupied by nature and nature alone. I’ve always wanted to go to Disneyworld with my little ones, but I’ve got to say, a free day in the beautiful outdoors, far away from the fast pace of the rest of the world, is good medicine for the entire family, the kind that vacations should be made of. Oh to revisit this perfect day over and over again!

Take a look…

Behind us stood the absolutely beautiful Main Lodge – this place is a true gem, perfect for large families or church groups.

Cooking hot dogs over the fire…

Betsie didn’t get a hot dog OR swim in the river, but she attacked this can of Country Time Lemonade like a champ!

S’mores!!

Phil saw this photo op and had Mr. Gore capture it for us…wouldn’t it be nice to sit on a riverbank every day with your little boy lying next to you? I could go for that.

My children spent the next several hours exploring the river while we relaxed on the bank and talked with our friends. Who knew rivers made such outstanding baby-sitters? (Unless you’re going out for a night on the town. Then you really shouldn’t let the river baby-sit your kids).

Its funny, isn’t it? You can never really plan perfect days like this. They just happen sometimes, and you realize on your way home that God just showed you immeasurable grace, the kind that makes your heart sing.

The kind that makes you pull your children in closer for hugs and kisses as you get out of the car.

The kind that makes you wish you had a river in your backyard…

~

Coming up next…Selah Springs: The Tweedledummies

Selah Springs: The Friendship

I’ll never forget just how much I needed to meet her…

No matter how I tried, I was a fish out of water at the University of Oklahoma. Turns out my niche was at home with Mama and Daddy, and my home church was always heavy on my heart, making it extremely difficult to forge deep relationships, even at the Baptist Student Union…a place that should have been my stomping ground. The ministry there was amazing, bringing up a thriving and passionate group of young believers who loved the Lord and lived on mission. During school breaks, many of them were traveling overseas to spread the gospel, and everything they did was very intentional and very inspiring.

In contrast, I stuck out like a sore thumb.

Rather than finding a new church home in Norman, I made the 2-hour drive home every weekend to drink in the home air and attend church where my heart was. The thought of an overseas mission trip made my knees wobble. And while I was in awe of the staff leaders and absolutely thrived under their large-group teaching, I was pretty sure from our attempts at one-on-one time that we were on totally different pages. Maybe in different books. Perhaps written in different languages.

Looking back, I can clearly see now that God had definite and unique plans for my life that involved those tight bonds to the homefront staying securely in place, but at the time, I was extremely conflicted, trying to do what I thought I was supposed to be doing, but feeling very alone and like a total oddball, even as I admired and became friends with many wonderful students in my small group. In fact, my brothers and I even referred to me as “the black sheep of the BSU”. This was no one’s fault: I was a people-pleaser who simply did not know where to fit in…and they did not know quite what to do with me! (And I can’t blame them…what are you supposed to do with a girl who is “there” but SO not there?!).

But then I met Andrea.

She was visiting our BSU small group one night, considering the possibility of making a permanent move to Norman to join the staff as a sorority ministry leader. We hit it off immediately, and I was drawn to her like a crayon to Baby Betsie’s mouth. We had many shared interests, mostly involving shopping and music and popular entertainment, but it turns out, God had deeper plans for us, that would eventually involve discipleship and accountability, and several years of sweet fellowship as Andrea allowed me to help her with her ministry to sorority girls. Our favorite times together happened over steaming cups of hazelnut at Panera Bread, or at my parent’s house on weekends as we melted under the ministrations of my Mom’s hospitality, and laughed at Andrea’s city girl ways. But here was a woman who loved me as I was, seeing the beauty of my life at home in the country, appreciating it, and even finding ways to employ it – I’ll never forget the week she was brave enough to bring a small group of sorority girls to Mama and Daddy’s house for a retreat, titled “Pampered on the Prairie”. I don’t remember all of the details, but I do remember lots of laughter and joy and feeling…vital. Useful. Normal. My life was once more in one piece and my heart was no longer torn between where I needed to be and where I wanted to be; the BSU and the homestead had finally found a way to share custody, and as a result, I was at rest.

Life went by quickly as it always does, and graduation soon came. I happily returned to my home, this time with a shiny engagement ring on my finger, and two years later, I was married, living in Kentucky, and great with child…

But if what happened to me during my years after leaving OU was a whirlwind, Andrea’s was an F4 tornado: my blond-haired city friend fell quickly and deeply in love with a Texan who had made a short pit-stop in Norman, and was whisked away to his game ranch in the Hill Country, complete with rattlesnakes and scorpions and…the nearest Target? Who knows where.

But regardless of walking into a completely different lifestyle, Andrea is still refreshingly the same. The proud mother of 2 beautiful girls, she is our own version of the Pioneer Woman, and helps her husband, Phil, manage Selah Springs like a true pro, even cooking for the large groups who rent out the Main Lodge. If you had told me 8 years ago where she would be today, I would never have believed you, but no one is surprised by her ability to adapt to a completely new environment; we knew it the first time we were around her…there is nothing Andrea cannot do.

All that to say, the greatest thrill of my vacation last week had to be seeing my dear friend once more, now in her new element, thriving, joyful, and most excitedly, continuing to grow in the fear and knowledge of God. ‘Tis a wondrous thing to have friends who share not only your memories, but your blood – for in the Savior you find your greatest bond as you hide together behind His great grace and sacrifice. Because of Him, we speak the same language, and therefore, picking up where we left off is as effortless and God-ordained as the day our friendship was forged.

It was a soul-stirring week as I contemplated once more God’s gracious provision for me in bringing Andrea into my life at just the right time…and nearly a decade later, He did it all over again, this time at Selah Springs Ranch.

~

 Me and Andrea at my parent’s house in 2004…

On my wedding day in 2005…

And now, our daughters played together on the banks of the San Saba River in 2012…

God is very, very good.

~

Coming up tomorrow…Selah Springs: The River

Selah Springs: The Prequel

Some of you who keep up with the Mrs. Gore’s Diary facebook page (which thrills me more than is healthy) might remember that I won a trip to the Selah Springs Ranch a few months ago.

Here’s how it went down: in a true attempt to help Selah Springs, as well as with high hopes that one of my friends might win a trip to the amazing guest ranch of my beloved college mentor and her husband, I announced the news of Selah Springs’ facebook contest and consequently had my own name entered about a gazillion times into the drawing – 2 times for every referral I made to the Ranch’s facebook page. Well, the next thing I knew, Phil, the Ranch’s owner and manager, had announced that I had been chosen to receive the free 2-night stay at the Ranch’s Bunkhouse.

I was shocked.

Thrilled!

And exultant. Because I never win anything. “Take that, Baby Gap Casting Call and Little Miss Copportone Contest!” I thought to myself. Quickly followed by a truly humble and grateful prayer of thanksgiving to God, for His unnecessary kindness, and for all of my old and new friends who helped me win that fun facebook contest. (Seriously…thank you!!).

But it was rather strange…after our good news had sunk in and we stopped pinching ourselves, life…or the vacation gods, maybe?…apparently set about making sure that we were viable candidates for this trip. In the course of a couple of months, the entire family came down with strep throat, leaving us homebound for 3 weeks, then we started homeschool and I cried every other day as my level of self-induced stress and responsibility went up about 40 levels, then Mr. Gore apparently contracted West Nile Virus (I know, right?!) and spent a couple of weeks just trying to stay awake. Oh…and then Betsie learned to climb. And life was just kind of all-around crazy and we were sort of just getting by for a few weeks, physically bone-weary and mentally and emotionally exhausted.

And I think, for the 2nd time in my life, I could truly and honestly say “I need a vacation”.

Was I “deserving” of a vacation? Not on your life. But did I need one?…

Yep.

It was perfect timing to take advantage of our trip to Selah Springs.

Exactly one day before I think we would have buckled under exhaustion, after a delightful and soul-stirring Sunday morning worship service, my parents, my husband, my kiddos and I loaded up into our rented minivan and took off for Brady, Texas, the beautiful Hill Country calling our names the entire drive. {I think it is just a fact of life that if you receive a 2-night stay for 2 at a Ranch, you should upgrade and make it a 4-night stay for 7, right?…}

In a teensy little nutshell, a week of relaxation and calm fellowship ensued, and I am returning home a changed woman, completely unacquainted with the one who departed from our nest last Sunday afternoon, renewed, rested, and, after a goodly amount of time spent reevaluating my lifestyle, resolved to make changes that I didn’t even know I needed to make. (I also am apparently in love with the letter “r”. Guess that’s what happens when you spend the week at a rip-roarin’ Ranch, right? Sorry…I’m on a roll).

I’ll be devoting the upcoming posts to what took place in my life and in my heart over the past 5 days, and I sincerely hope you’ll enjoy journeying with me to a place of simplicity and adventure in the heart of Texas, a place where families grow tighter bonds and exhausted and self-centered Mamas learn once more what life and family raising should be about.

I suppose the next best thing to bottling up good days and keeping them in my medicine cabinet is jotting down my memories to revisit on sadder and more stressful days. As ever, I am so pleased to have you alongside me…

And I can’t wait to take you to Selah Springs.

The Bunkhouse

Coming up tomorrow…Selah Springs: The Friendship