4 Day Golf and Hiking Arizona Itinerary

We often gift a family vacation rather than Christmas gifts to our kids. Sometimes the trips happen right away. Other times they are delayed. On Christmas morning 2020, we wrapped a few clue gifts for our kids to unwrap. We wrapped a cactus, a small toy airplane, and other small hints. Eventually they guessed we were headed to Arizona.

We spent Christmas Day packing to fly out the next morning. Our main goals on this trip were golfing and hiking.

Day 1: Fly to Phoenix, stop at In and Out for burgers, and climb Camelback Mountain to burn off the burgers. Ok Camelback was no joke. It was HARD! I was thinking it would be a hike, but it was definitely a climb. Reaching the top felt like such an accomplishment though.

Next we headed to our Airbnb in Cave Creek, which was just north of Phoenix. This rental was fabulous situated on acreage in the desert with a pool and beautiful views. I loved that you could walk right out of the house onto desert walking trails. I don’t have many pictures, but check out the listing pictures. It was gorgeous!

Cave Creek was such a fun spot to stay. It’s a true Western town. The town was super cute and fun, filled with neat shops and restaurants. I also liked staying just outside of Phoenix surrounded by the desert. Arizona in December was lovely.

We’d walk out of our rental and encounter coyotes and javelinas.

Day 2: Day trip to Sedona, AZ. This was a slightly last minute decision after talking to a friend who lives in Arizona. She convinced me that we would regret leaving AZ without spending time in Sedona. She was absolutely right! It was worth the 2 hour drive north.

We started after breakfast and went straight for a hike. We did the West Fork Oak Creek Trail, recommended by my friend. My boys love hikes with some sort of challenge, adventure, or risk. Otherwise, they call it a walk in the woods. This hike had beautiful views, but what they really enjoyed were the multiple water crossings which took quite a bit of concentration.


After the hike, we explored the charming town of Sedona.

Lunch was at the Hideaway House with the most amazing view from our table.

Day 3: We had a hot air balloon ride booked. However, due to windy conditions, our trip was cancelled. They had no availability to rebook us, which was disappointing. We spent the morning exploring Old Town Scottsdale  followed by a late afternoon round of golf at Starfire Golf Club.

This picture is one of my favorites. It was completely unposed, but each person’s expression captures their golf personalities.

It was hard not to take pictures at every hole because the views were simply stunning no matter where you turned.

We chose Starfire because it is a Youth On Course club. With a Youth On Course membership, kids play for $5 a round at golf clubs around the country. It’s truly incredible. At the time, all 3 of our boys were under 19 years old and had memberships, which only cost $20 a year. So playing golf was a very inexpensive vacation activity. To this day our boys say playing golf in Arizona is one of their top travel experiences. Having this membership has allowed us to play golf on several of our vacations.

Day 4: Hiking in Cave Creek. Hiking in the desert is a completely different hiking experience. When we arrived at the trailhead, we met the nicest couple working the gate area. They equipped us with trail maps and suggestions, even pointing out things for us to look out for along the hike that we wouldn’t know otherwise.

We learned about the Teddy Bear Cactus. I wrote an entire post about it here.

After our morning hike and lunch, we headed to Rancho Mañana Golf Club. This course was spectacular. After golf we ate at Tonto’s Bar and Grille  at the course. It was the coolest atmosphere, incredible service, and delicious food. The perfect end to a fabulous 4 day hike/golf Arizona trip.

Typically our vacations are 7 to 10 days. It was a nice change of pace to plan for a shorter trip. We can’t wait to go back to Arizona again!

Midwest 7 Day Road Trip Itinerary – Chicago, Wisconsin, Minnesota

In 2019 we embarked on a Midwest road trip from Omaha, Nebraska to Chicago, IL, to Sheboygan, WI to the North Shore of Minnesota. Today I’m sharing all the details with links to where we stayed, ate, and played.

Day 1-3: Chicago

Day 1: We hit the ground running and walked all over the city. We stayed at a Marriott and never moved our car. Walking or taking Uber everywhere was much easier.

We made our way to The Bean. We are suckers for the tourist pictures everyone takes.

For dinner we ate at Revival Food Hall where we met up with old friends. If you have followed my blog for a long, long time then you will recognize this face. Revival was so fun and perfect with food court type selections for everyone plus games and entertainment. A low cost meal option was nice too.

Day 2: Architecture Boat Tour River Cruise on Chicago’s First Lady. This was an absolute highlight of our trip. I have never taken so many pictures of buildings. The tour guide was fabulous and we learned things about these buildings and the history we wouldn’t have learned otherwise. I’m not one for group tours or anything guided. However, this was excellent, and I’m so glad we didn’t miss it!

Lunch was at Portillo’s. It was worth all the hype. Our boys loved eating hot dogs with all the unique toppings you don’t see often. Or ever.

The Field Museum was the next stop after lunch. If you love museums, you’d enjoy the Field Museum. We flew through it because none of us are big museum lovers. However, you could spend hours here, especially if you have younger children. I’m still glad we stopped in.

Navy Pier was next where we enjoyed a fun drink and snack at Bubba Gumps. It’s very touristy, but still a fun experience if you’ve never been. Both Navy Pier and Bubba Gumps! If you are a Forest Gump fan, you have to eat at Bubba Gumps at least once in your life. When you need service, you place a Stop Forest Stop sign on your table. If you are all good, keep the sign on Run Forest Run. The peel and eat shrimp soaked in garlic butter is our favorite.

You can’t visit Chicago without having pizza. Dinner was at Giordano’s South Loop.  It was everything you think a Chicago style pizza should be.

Day 3: Our final day in Chicago started with a walk to breakfast at Yolk. Breakfast might be our favorite meal so on each trip we try to find at least one or two great spots for a memorable meal. This picture would be the breakfast my middle son, Zachary, chose. Full of sugar.

We took in an afternoon Chicago Cubs game. I’ve never been more impressed by a stadium. Wrigley Field was so clean and had an old, classic look, yet felt so updated. I don’t even remember who they played, but I loved every second of being at that field.

We packed in everything we wanted with 3 days in Chicago. Next stop Sheboygan, WI.

Days 4-6: Sheboygan, WI

The drive from Chicago to Sheboygan is only a 3 hour drive. So we timed our drive in order to visit the Jelly Belly Factory on the way north. This was such a fun, quirky stop. I’ve recently learned this factory closed. So sad as it was so much fun!

Had we known how much we’d love the Airbnb and Sheboygan, we would’ve stayed more than 2 days. This was a nice change of pace from the city.

The house was spacious and spotless. The views of Lake Michigan were incredible. You walked right out the back door through the yard onto your own private beach. Lake Michigan is impressive. I describe it as a lake that behaves like the ocean.

The house was perfect for our family. My husband loved the record player and selection of vinyls. The boys loved the loft with binoculars and lots of board games, particularly Monopoly. I really dislike that game. They started a game that continued for the full 2 days we stayed here. My favorite part of the house was the backyard and beach. It was so nice to grill, sit around the fire, and watch the moon over the lake. This rental goes down as one of my favorites of all time.

Day 4 we simply enjoyed the home, grilled, and played at the beach.

Day 5 we explored Sheboygan. We walked the paths and enjoyed the views at Blue Harbor Resort. The South Pier District was so quaint! We played mini golf at Harbor Pointe, ate ice cream at South Pier Parlor, kayaked, and simply enjoyed the stroll along the pier.

Next we headed to Kohler State Park and raced up and down the dunes. It was an absolute blast.

Days 6-7: Lake Superior, Minnesota, and the North Shore

Day 6: We woke and began the 6 hour drive before dawn. We started our Minnesota portion exploring in Duluth, MN at the southern tip of Lake Superior. Our first stop was the Lake Superior Maritime Museum. This was informative and interactive. We all enjoyed it.

We stopped at pullouts along the drive enjoying the wildness of Lake Superior. We spent the night in Two Harbors. We wished we had not stopped here for the night. To do it over we would have driven straight up and stayed 2 nights at our final destination, Grand Marais.

Day 7: Gooseberry Falls State Park and Black Beach were both complete treats. We hiked through Gooseberry. It was beautiful. Black Beach was our favorite. We played in the sand and climbed rocks. We slowed down and took it all in.

We made it to Grand Marais, the most adorable harbor village. After checking into our hotel at The Best Western Plus Superior Inn (which we loved because the rooms came with incredible views of the lake), we hit the pavement once again to explore all the town had to offer. I quickly found an adorable bookstore, Drury Lane Books. I almost never travel without visiting a bookstore. Or several.

We ate dinner on the rooftop of one of the many restaurants and went back to the hotel for a good night’s sleep before driving home the next day.

This was a perfect 7 day road trip and I wouldn’t add or take away a single day. My only change to what we did is that I would skip staying in Two Harbor.

The fun is in the discovery and the exploration. The memories you make traveling with the people you love last a lifetime.






Eternally Wanderlusting – Planning the trip of your life.

For nine months I planned the trip of a lifetime. A road trip west through Utah, Idaho, and Montana. The pinnacle destination being Glacier National Park. I ordered a travel book and read it cover to cover. I didn’t just read the book, I studied it.

I wanted to understand the regions of the park, I wanted to understand the lingo used in Facebook groups, which by the way are an amazing source of information.  I wanted to be sure we saw everything we could possibly see. My biggest fear in planning this trip- arriving home to hear, “Oh you didn’t visit the double dip star trail? What a shame! It was by far the most beautiful scenery of the park.” Can you imagine!

I had to be sure we were prepared to experience everything Glacier had to wow us with. In my mind, this would be our one shot. We may never have this opportunity again. Therefore, I would be sure to plan it to perfection.

Research was my first stage. By research I mean reading my travel book and scouring the internet for hours a day. I read travel blogs, joined Facebook groups and stalked the posts, and planned and dreamed away. There was a span of a few weeks my children became concerned with my obsession. I rarely sit during the day. But here I was sitting hours a day for weeks researching this trip to death.

I dove so deep into my imaginings of this vacation that it dominated 90% of my waking thoughts. In the evenings, I’d attempt to share my newly discovered insights of the day with my family and would find them glassy eyed within minutes. We weren’t speaking the same language because they weren’t studying and eating and breathing all things Montana.

Once I’d completed my reading, the planning began. We stayed in four different locations, I planned multiple excursions. I memorized trail maps and plotted out which trails we’d hike on which days. I planned where we would eat for each meal. It was the most planned out adventure I’d ever undertaken.

It consumed me. Day and night I dreamed all things Glacier. And then a day came where a thought slipped right into my mind. That kind of thought that comes with such speed, it stops you in your tracks.

The whisper I heard said, “What if you planned for eternity the way you are planning for this trip.”

I was in the middle of making my bed when this thought whisper interrupted my morning routine. I stood up and simply froze for a moment. What if.

The thought whispered on repeat all day. What if you planned for eternity the way you planned for this trip.

This life is temporary. We forget so easily as we try to build our best life now. But the best is not now. We are living in the middle of the story. We are living in brokenness, hurt, anger, fear, and sin upon sin even while experiencing tastes of goodness and glimpses of heaven on earth. It’s fleeting. We must remember this is not the final destination.

I wrote this post 7 years ago titled Sometimes We Don’t Outgrow Homesickness. I think sometimes we live with a low grade homesickness that we attempt to assuage by focusing on creating our dream life now. However, we were created not for this world, but for the one to come. We are only passing through, and our job is to glorify God in how we sojourn.

“Even when I’m home with my husband and my boys, there is this subtle aching. This little voice that whispers to me about home. My true home.

It’s so easy for me to get caught up in life. Daily life. This family right here in front of me. We build our home, we build up our kids, we build our marriage, we build our 401K, we build our future.

More exciting than all that we build is what is being built for us. The home we will spend eternity in.

Investing in this earthly home is important. It’s necessary. Much of what we invest in here, is an investment towards our eternal home. Not a gaining of an eternal home, but a placing of our treasures into that home where we will spend forever.

Investing in my marriage, I’m placing my treasures into the home I’ll spend forever after death. Investing in the spiritual growth of my children, I’m placing treasures in the home I’ll spend forever after death. Investing in my 401K, it’s important, but it’ll burn. It’ll be eaten away and devoured. It won’t make it into the treasury of my eternal home.” Excerpt from Sometimes We Don’t Outgrow Homesickness.

It’s one year later and God continues to remind me of the day He whispered to me the question that will direct me everyday going forward. What if I live my life as an eternal wanderluster rather than merely an earthly wanderluster? What if my love for travel was always to reveal to me there is a grander destination to plan for that my mind can’t even conceive. What if I studied and obsessed over eternity the way I do over my travel plans that come and go so quickly? What if.

Joy would overflow. Gratitude would pour forth. Hope would never wane. Grace would grow. Love would ignite. Anxiety would decrease.

“In my Father’s house are many rooms. If it were not so, would I have told you that I go to prepare a place for you?” John 14:2


Trusting God with a perfectly failed plan

Of all this year challenged me with, the one that stands out most is the thought of how much I actually trust God. When circumstances make zero sense or simply don’t follow the plan I hoped for, how quick am I to reach toward frustration? This year exposed the impatience which dwells in me.

The last day of the year can hold a tinge of pressure as we look back and assess the last 365 days.

  • Did we learn anything?
  • Did we grow?
  • Did we reach our goals?
  • Did we grieve our losses well?
  • Did we heal?
  • Did we forgive?
  • Did we achieve?
  • Did we strengthen our faith?

As I typically do when the year draws to a close, I’m reflecting on what I’ve learned.

For Christmas this year, we gifted our boys with a trip instead of material gifts. We’ve done this several times over the years. This time we flew out the day after Christmas to enjoy five days in Arizona. While soaking in the Arizona sun, the Lord began showing me  some similarities in how I plan trips with how I attempt to plan my life.

Intentionality is important to me. Without intention, so much is at risk for loss and waste. Missed opportunities and time escaping before our eyes. The tagline of my blog is “Inspiring & encouraging you to live with intentional purpose.” I parent this way. Attempting to make the most of the brief time the Lord allows to raise these boys, to create as many memories and experiences as time permits.

Trip planning is one of my favorites. In fact, one of my dream jobs is a travel agent. I love to travel, but I love to plan almost as much. I love the hours and hours I spend searching for the perfect house to rent or hotel to book. I love planning the itinerary, deciding what to do and plotting out the logistics to fitting it all in perfectly. If given as a gift, I become giddy with excitement imagining the creative ways to present the gift and the looks of excitement to come.

I spend more time than necessary planning trips because I’m reaching towards perfection the entire time. I want the experience to be the absolute best it could possibly be. Perfection has been a battle my entire life. I’ve learned it’s not something I will overcome once and for all. It loves to rear its head in various forms.

I’ve shared about this in Illuminate – Seeing God by the Light of His Word. 

“I strove to prove myself worthy, to validate my roles and positions, to find identity in all the wrong places, even as a believer. In my personal quest for perfection, I created idols – idols of family, ministry, home, and work. I worshiped at the altar of Instagram, Facebook, Pinterest, or words of encouragement from the ones I served. In my strive for perfection, I could at times leave no room for the perfect God because I worked too hard to be my own god.”

God often speaks to me through story. I want to share a story with you from our recent trip and how God brought me right back to  the question, “Do you trust me?”

Follow with me along this story. I’ll point out roadblocks, provision points, expectation + gratitude moments, disappointment, and ultimately the decision to trust God no matter what, even if I never know why. Yes, it’s through the story of a trip plan gone wrong, but God often speaks to me the deeper questions and answers through the experiences in my life He walks me through. I hope He speaks to you here as well.

For our Arizona trip, I planned two golf outings, three hikes, much shopping/eating/exploring, and the once in a lifetime, bucket list excursion in a hot air balloon.

Finding and deciding on which hot air balloon ride took a couple of hours on the internet. I read all I could find on the most reputable companies. In the process, I found a Groupon special for the company I chose to book with. I tried no less than ten times to complete the purchase through Groupon, but each time the site timed out on me and refused to process the transaction. (Roadblock #1) (Frustration #1)

The Groupon special offered savings worth a couple hundred dollars. I emailed the hot air balloon company explaining the situation. She immediately responded what a great price it was and offered to match the Groupon price for us when we booked direct through their site. That’s when I discovered the hidden blessing in the frustrations of a site not working. Groupon required full payment and no refund for cancelled excursion. It’s the risk you take to save hundreds of dollars. Booking direct through the company offered zero risk. You paid after the balloon flight and nothing in the event of cancellation due to weather circumstances. (Provision #1)(Gratitude #1)

Road block #1  +  provision #1 = Foreshadow #1

I could not WAIT to see the boys’ expressions when they discovered this gift. I ordered a handpainted ornament through the company. It was painted with a desert scene and a picture of the hot air ballon. This is how we would tell them what we planned to do with them, plus we would have the reminder on the tree each year going forward of an incredible experience of a lifetime. (Expectations)

I ordered the ornament weeks before Christmas, yet it never arrived. Tracking information showed it began the journey toward us the day I ordered and spent weeks in a postal facility in Denver, CO. (Frustration #2)

Christmas morning, rather than the expected moment of opening a handpainted ornament, we simply showed them the website and explained the gift. (Expectations, Disappointment, Gratitude all intertwined) (Foreshadow #2)

Our excursion was booked for Day 3 of the trip. It was a sunset ride lifting off at 6:30 am. This required I wake around 4:30 am. We all managed to wake on time, bundle up for a chilly ride, and drive the 30 minutes to the location. We arrived about 15 minutes early. I had a nervous feeling. It felt we were in the right spot, we saw other cars waiting, but we didn’t see the van for the balloon company. (Foreshadow #3)

The van arrived, he began setting up his check in table. The exterior building light wouldn’t turn on. He tried several times to no avail. He made the comment how weird that was. “It was working fine yesterday. Guess we will do this a different way.” He pulled out his iPhone flashlight. (Foreshadow #4)

He handed me the waivers to sign, told me we were riding in the van to the liftoff location. We’d leave within minutes. No less than one short minute later, the check in guy called everyone over with these words, “Guys, I’m sorry I have to ruin your day, but your balloon flight has just been cancelled. We received word from the pilot that the winds are too strong for a safe flight this morning. But you can try to rebook for a later flight.”

I felt every ounce of shock and deflation in that moment. The weather looked beautiful to me. I felt no wind at all, but also I don’t understand weather patterns in the slightest.

The moment held that realization of the fact that we had no control of the situation. We held in our hands our hopes and expectations for that morning fully deflated, frustration welling up, and a whisper to trust God. All the foreshadow moments began filling my mind. God’s provision ahead of time, protecting our money He knew would be lost if that Groupon had processed.

Steve quickly found a breakfast spot and as we drove to eat what did we see over the mountains? Yes, hot air balloons floating gently, peacefully into the sunrise. (Frustration, Disappointment) Why did others get to experience a safe ride and we couldn’t? Have you ever asked God these questions?

I attempted to rebook, but no flights were available. The next few moments we had a choice to make. Which path is right? Is God directing? Do we simply trust the cancel and stop trying to make it work? Do we accept it simply wasn’t meant to be? Or was God directing us to another company? Or was that us trying to control the situation and make a way no matter what God suggested?

In those minutes I’d found another company with spots open the next day. It would cost more by a couple of hundred dollars. Because we saw a way to make it happen, did that mean it was wise? Or should we accept the fact that our expectations didn’t come to pass, allow ourselves to feel the disappointment, but ultimately trust that God is good and knows things we simply don’t know.

The hard thing for me is the fact I always want to know. I always want to put all the puzzle pieces together and see the picture, even if it looks different than I envisioned, I find comfort in seeing it make sense. I also want to follow God’s path rather than my own, but in this situation, I simply was unsure.

We began praying and asking God to guide. I had a thought after praying. I would not book with another company, even if spots allowed, but instead if our current company had cancellations the next morning, we would be prepared to take the spots. We let the company know we’d be open to taking any cancellations they had, but it never happened.

When the day passed by, we had fully accepted the disappointment of the excursion that simply wasn’t meant to be. We didn’t understand why, but decided the only choice was to trust God. God is good. Always.

For me I realize it’s so easy to trust God when I see the path and the reasons for the roadblocks, but so very hard when I never know why.

What do I believe about God truly? Do I believe He is a very good God who desires to give good gifts? Do I believe He’s not a God who delights in watching His children disappointed but is also a God who knows our character and faith can only be shaped and strengthened at times when circumstances don’t go our way?

And this is how my year is ending with God allowing me to walk through a scenario that really is a picture of my entire year. Do I REALLY trust God like I say I do? Do I trust Him in the good and bad equally? Do I believe He is good when life is floating in the air as much as sitting in deflated hopes and expectations? Will I follow Him where He leads even if I see I can make my own way on a path I create because I think I know better? Or will I hold His hand on a different path knowing that anywhere with Him is better than alone along my own rocky way?

Before I wrap up this post, I have to mention our trip was beyond amazing. Truly losing one excursion didn’t take away any joy from five days of amazing family time and memories we created. If I thought I could hold your attention here a bit longer, I’d share how many times God showed up with surprise gifts along this trip. It was all a gift.

This year has been quite the year. It’s taught me to continue living with intention. We simply don’t know what tomorrow holds. If you can take the trip, take the trip. If you have breath in your lungs, live today fully. If you have your loved ones in your life, tell them what they mean to you.

“I saw heaven standing open and there before me was a white horse, whose rider is called Faithful and True. With justice he judges and wages war.” Revelation 19:11

Trust God. He is trustworthy. He is faithful. He is true. Even in the roadblocks and frustrating disappointments, He is good and we can trust Him.

“Many are the plans in a man’s heart, but it is the LORD’s purpose that prevails.” Proverbs 19:21