A Girls' Road Trip to Calgary & Banff, AB #4: Final Sights & Reflection

Despite feelings of sadness that arose upon having to leave Calgary, I was also feeling a sense of excitement and curiosity at what was to come—a mindset this trip instilled in me for not only our actual vacation, but about life in general. As I go into recapping these last few exciting days of our trip—where we were surprised and excited about many of the awesome experiences—I also want to share with you all the major takeaways I learned from this entire week. And when I say major, I do mean that. These aren’t just ‘little’ lessons you may pick up on, like being nice and welcoming to others, though that is crucial and something we were reminded of. These things I learned are truly about mindsets and have expanded and grown me as a person and in my faith.

I knew I wanted to go into this trip without any strings attached: no rigid expectations, no cynical attitudes about if things will work out, and certainly none of the unhealthy mindsets I was prone to indulging before I embarked on this journey. And I was blown away by what God taught me and showed me when I was simply willing to enjoy the ride.

With all that being said, I’m thrilled to write yet another blog post—the LAST one, so sad!—finishing recapping this trip. Again, to experience the full effect of this trip and all the insights I want to share with you that can help you no matter where you’re at in the world, too—I highly recommend reading all of my recap posts in order. The first one is here, about our road trip and journey up to Canada, the second one is here, about visiting Banff and seeing the mountains, and the third one is here, about exploring the city of Calgary. All have a taste of the lessons I’ve learned sprinkled throughout, but this post will be the one that ties them all together.


Day Six: Driving Through Montana

Leaving Calgary and Canada

I remember waking up early (again) because of course we had a certain time we had to get checked out of our hotel. I did leave out a Canada t-shirt I’d gotten at a lovely Dollarama at Kirsten’s request so we could take a picture in them later, but otherwise I dressed about the same as I previously had. I made sure to double check I had everything packed and ready to go, and it was not long until we were making our way downstairs for the last time. We stopped once by the elevator, though, to get a picture of the rooftop hot tubs we would miss so much.

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We stopped at McDonald’s some point for a snack and because Kir had to go to the bathroom, and then we had to get gas at some point, too. I waited in the car, but Mom brought me back these adorable heart shaped cookies. They were just as great as they looked and actually chewy, so that made up for the one cookie in Banff, haha.

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The drive mainly consisted of counting down the hours until we got to the border and GOT OUR RECEPTION BACK! All things went good getting back in there, thankfully, and then we were in Montana again.

Glacier National Park

This was the first thing we did in Montana, though food was getting scarce again and reception was sporadic, if not nonexistent, at this point. Beginning to see mountains was exciting again as we had left the ones in Canada. Glacier National Park had views as beautiful and breathtaking as Banff, and thankfully, we were able to see some views for free. We did not go all the way through the park, but we parked on the side of the road quite a few times where they had places for that, and we got lots of pictures that attempt to do it justice. As soon as we began driving through it, I was in awe. I also changed into my Canada shirt for a photo with Kirsten even though we are in the USA hahaha. It’s a good reflection photo of our trip, though, because Canada was where our main stay was. I simply could not believe how blue the water was and how lusciously colored it appeared.

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I mean, really. It’s not even necessary, hardly, to edit photos like these because of how stunning the color is. From the vibrant greens of all the trees and grass, to the deepest blues sparkling with the golden sunlight…I was in awe of how God created this but yet not surprised because that is how amazing He is, and this is only a glimpse, truly, of how majestic He is.

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Ashlee and Mom by Glacier National Park river.jpg

There were not many cars around as we started our drive through, and I remember this because once we got to the sign of the entrance I had changed my shirt and was worried about a lot of people being around to see haha. However, as we began our journey back out and were finishing up with pictures, it started getting lots more traffic. Like Banff, there was just a simple two lane road winding through all the nature. While Banff was priceless, I think this park was just as stunning, and we only saw the tip of the iceberg. I’m glad we could take in the sights at both. We pulled over quick by the sign because you know us tourists and our photos by signs!

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Ashlee and Kirsten by Glacier National Park sign.jpg

We found this big gem of a lake alongside the road and pulled over to get some photos. I was unable to wrap my head around the boldness of that color: it’s a perfect turquoise, and the water just looked so smooth. As you can kind of see near the bottom of this photo, though, there was actually a huge ledge right there, so we had to be cautious about taking photos because to fall off of that would have been horrifying.

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Pictures were great and all, but I tried to always take a few moments to take in the views on my own, without constantly holding a phone up to it. The views were humbling, but I am thankful for all the photos we got, to document this special time.

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Moving on, we then found another lake that was even more translucent than the first one, if you can believe it. This one was literally a sheet of glass and mirrored all of the nature around it, from the towering mountains to the cascading trees. There was a somewhat steep gravel hill leading down to this that we came down to see. At first I wasn’t sure about going all the way down because the bugs were annoying the crap out of me, but I’m so glad we did because one of my favorite photos from this trip came to be because of it.

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There are no words to describe this. All I can do is thank God and praise Him for who He is and even allowing me to experience the joy of seeing sights such as these. It’s humbling to be in the presence of the world like this. It is a testimony in and of itself of God’s existence and His worthiness.

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The water was literally a mirror, the kind you see and don’t think it truly exists…

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Kir said she’d love to live in the mountains, and I would certainly love to visit her there!

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There was even a little bouquet of purple flowers amidst the rocks down there. The photos with all of us in it down here are my favorites. A nice lady took this photo for all of us and did one normal and then another in Portrait Mode—which was an epic effect to give an already outstanding photo an enhancement.

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We kind of neglected Buff for awhile but finally I got a picture with him and a backdrop of the beauty of the park, which was appropriate for him and suited him well, I think! It brings out his color well haha.

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No More Food

So…then we ran into the dilemma of being in Montana and trying to find food again hahaha. It started getting misty after we left the park and a haze dropped over everything, but it was cool to see that effect on the mountains. We thought about stopping for sandwiches at a cafe near the park, and we also stopped in a souvenir shop where the girls got some things and I couldn’t find any of my candy haha, but we decided to keep looking because we weren’t particularly in the mood for sandwiches. It did give us an excellent view of the nearby mountains, though!

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As we were making our way out of the area, there was this ledge we pulled over at that offered a sweeping view of a valley and the mountains. It was starting to sprinkle here and there, but it made for more awesome sights.

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Road Trip to Great Falls

Our hotel for the night was in Great Falls, and once we started leaving behind the mountains for good, the roads got pretty windy! There were big drop offs, and one time there was construction and we had to drive through this mud-like substance while it was drizzling… Thankfully we didn’t get stuck haha.

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Taco John’s

We found love—I mean food, that is—at another super small Montana town, but hey, when you recognize the fast food chains, you can’t go wrong with that! We decided on Taco John’s, and I was super eager for the potato oles of course. I also just got a plain soft shell taco with cheese, and it was perfect.

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Driving Through Montana Some More

Montana had not changed much in that there were long stretches of plains throughout, but I tried to appreciate every view because I knew they wouldn’t be lasting much longer. Also, the reception started coming back gradually, so I loved that, haha.

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Hotel in Great Falls

Before long, we had arrived in Great Falls. I was pleasantly surprised by this town—it was practically a city, by Montana standards, anyway. Well, they had a mall, which my mom told me and then informed me I couldn’t go, which broke my heart. We got there too late anyways, though. We got checked into our hotel, and this hotel was actually one of my favorites under the one we stayed at in Calgary and also under the one we stayed at in North Dakota on our first night. This had that desert-like look to it on the outside—picture those types of buildings you see more commonly in Arizona. Not that I’d know, but Mom told me that when she went down there on a girls’ trip one time. This hotel had a very nice look to it—I love when there’s an open view in the center like that of all the rooms, and they had a waterfall trickling down beside mounted animals, giving it a nice outdoorsy look. They also had a room dedicated to their pool and hot tub with a slide because Kirsten and I walked down there later at night, but it was all dark when we got there because it had closed. I’m pretty sure we saw some people still there, though, so evidently there’s some rule breakers, but you know how it goes. This is also where the ice machine was, and there were stairs from our balcony on the second floor to get down to the pool area, but we just stayed up on the balcony.

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Great Falls Target

After getting settled in, I ended up pulling out my laptop and sat at their lovely oak desk to do some shopping to fill the void in my heart of not getting to go to their mall! It wasn’t long, though, before we decided a visit to Target was in order to refill on some things. Luckily, Target was open later… Kir and I got laughed at by some boys because we walked right up to the exit door and then wondered why it didn’t work. They’re like, “That’s the exit!” Mmkay, I think we got that, we’re not total dumb blondes. We FaceTimed the boys in Target, and I found the matching bikini bottoms to that top I got at the Target before we even left for this trip haha. Just in time for the Fourth of July the next day, though I never got to wear it because the hot tub had closed haha. The sky was gorgeous!

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Sip ‘n Dip Lounge

Okay, so I’m not going to lie, this is a bar Kirsten wanted to see. You might think Ashlee, what in the world are you doing recapping a bar…I know, I DID NOT ACTUALLY GO IN THE BAR, but Kirsten wanted to see this because a lady at our hotel check-in was telling us all these things to see in Great Falls, and she said this bar has actually been in a movie with its display of underwater mermaids. Literally. I did not go in the bar because duh, my age, but when we approached the entrance I was able to see this big aquarium. There are actually real girls dressed up as mermaids that swim around. Kirsten and Mom went in the bar because Corrine had to babysit poor me, which I’m thankful she did though, haha, and they said the girls go up for air and then swim around for a solid few minutes. They got their own pictures, but let me tell you, when we pulled up, there were a coupe guys sitting outside by the window of this strip because the lounge was just a part of it. We were just hopeless Illinois people according to our license plates, and we had to go around the block once haha, which is when we spotted them, but then they helped us find directions to this bar and this one guy…oh my gosh. I found my love on this trip hahaha just kidding.

So then, when Mom and Kir were up in this bar and Corrine was babysitting me, fortunately it worked out that they had a whole stand of brochures and what not, and Corrine loves this stuff, so she was busying herself looking at that right by this window where said cute guy was sitting…so I got a nice view of him, he got a nice view of me, it was wonderful. I mean, who needs bars when there’s cute guys like that for me to enjoy looking at!! Well, you know the saying, when God closes one door, a better one opens!!! Hahaha. That made my night. Kirsten snagged a picture of him for me, too, because I thought about it but then thought it’d be too obvious, and plus it was one of those moments you just want to be in as long as you can without trying to force a picture, you know? So thank God she got one of him for me because I was heartbroken that I’d forget what he looks like, and then I’d never remember my two minute fling in Montana. Well now I can!!! I got a picture of her guy in the truck, and she got a picture of mine. Priceless.

Getting Ready for Bed

I am so proud of myself, can I just say, for getting my mom to buy pajamas on her own from one of my fave stores. Look at this, we’re twins. I have like four pairs, and she got herself a pair when she bought me some stuff there for Christmas the year before. We should have gotten an actual picture of us in them, but I think enough people saw me from the bar off the side of the counter at our hotel when Kir and I went down there to ask about why we weren’t getting breakfast at this hotel either (haha, gotta love travel sites, though they made it right), and yeah I went looking like a pink candy cane. I prefer that description much better…my brother told me I look like I’m in a woman’s prison…but he doesn’t know fashion, and he’s so wrong it’s not even funny.

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This is a wonderful picture to showcase all of our party food. I got my special baked chips!!! I would tell you where we ate for supper, but I honestly don’t remember. Everything had a way of blending together when you’re in the car for that long, and besides, with all our party food, who needs anything else!

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I took a shower in this hotel, and though it was older, I admired the design of their shower and loved those little shelves they had—ideas for my future home, haha. Also, now you can see my pajamas and nobody better tell me I look like a prisoner…

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Day Seven: The Last Day and Back to North Dakota

Leaving Montana

Last full day of the trip!!! So sad. We still got to see a lot of neat sights, though, before leaving for good. I took some pictures of the downstairs in the hotel before we got all checked out.

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Ashlee and Corrine at Great Falls Montana hotel.jpg
Ashlee and Mom at Great Falls Montana hotel.jpg

On the Road

Then, like that, we were on the road again, but it was a bittersweet feeling to know our journey was coming to an end. It was the Fourth of July, though! I kept photographing the views and taking advantage of all my data. It was a pretty easygoing drive, except we were running out of food…again… #montanaproblems We ended up eating in some super small “cowboy” town, at a ranch-like restaurant. We were all pleasantly surprised by it, though, and it definitely had a true cowboy feel to it. The small town had a parade earlier, we were told, for the Fourth. It’s hard for me to imagine life like that, in a town so small, and I don’t mean that in a bad way, but I just find it fascinating to think of how people can live differently yet that is “normal” to them. I love exploring like this and seeing the world—it keeps my imagination fresh for writing. In the meantime, I about ate this whole bag, but I promise that’s not saying too much because they don’t fill them worth a dang anymore.

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It’s not like you can see this, but there were actually cows way up at the top of this ledge!

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I absolutely loved seeing these rock formations when we made our way out and felt I didn’t take enough pictures, so I took some more. To think this view stretches for miles…

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I can’t imagine just driving casually down these roads, like an everyday thing, just part of life… It’s so interesting to think of everyone’s different lives like that.

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Driving Through North Dakota Again

It wasn’t long before the sandy looking rocks were replaced by bright green hills as we crossed into North Dakota and made the way to our hotel there. I remembered enjoying the hills here, and I also took some more pictures to document the sights.

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North Dakota has a bunch of stunning views of its own to offer. We actually ended up approaching one on the main road. There was literally a sign saying “SCENIC VIEW” with an arrow pointing to it and an exit and entrance ramp off the side. So of course we pulled over! Things like that were just made for us.

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I got my dream standing in the middle of the road pic haha so good thing they had a ramp.

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We stopped at another area trying to find the overlook of Theodore Roosevelt National Park we went to earlier but got lost and went to the wrong one haha where there actually are museums and such… Haha, that was cool to browse around, but I was starving again, and I found a bag of Reese’s minis somewhere. I also found this pink glittery cowboy hat. I didn’t buy it, but all I would need is my sparkly booties to be a rhinestone cowgirl!

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Yeah I think I ate like this whole bag.

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Eventually we found our overlook again, and it was much quieter this time. There was such a tranquility about it, and Mom spotted another buffalo.

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We were arriving back to our hotel pretty late, but the views of the sunset across the hills and plains were wonderful.

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A million windmills…that’s starting to look more like Iowa, haha. That brings back good memories of all my car rides up to Estherville, though, with family. I just think appreciating every view, no matter where you’re at, is absolutely essential to a joyful life and gives God the glory He deserves because there is beauty everywhere—you don’t have to break the bank going on some elaborate trip just to see that, although that’s a blessing to be able to do.

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It was the coolest sight, though: as we entered the city of our hotel or nearby Bismarck, it was fireworks galore. I took a video because I found no picture served it justice, but long story short, the horizon was littered with sparks of light from people lighting off fireworks everywhere! We were somewhat bummed we never got to see fireworks, so this more than made up for it. The sky was still a cloudy, fading blue after the sun set, which made the fireworks that much cooler to see. It almost looked like the hills were on fire from our view on the highway! Kir and I were definitely rolling down our windows trying to get the best photos. I loved it. The photo below was crossing the bridge in Bismarck. Those lights are from the city, I believe, but you know how I feel about those!!!

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At the Final Hotel

It was pitch dark when we did arrive at our hotel. This hotel was probably my least favorite of all of them, which was appropriate for the mood of our last night, haha, though it was still not bad. We watched fireworks being set off near the Capitol building—not too far from us—from the hotel parking lot. Then, seeing as we were hungry again, we headed to McDonald’s for supper and brought it back to our hotel room, which conveniently enough was right by the door.

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The hallways were so long, haha, and went in a square around the hotel, and we did walk down to see the hot tub, but that was closed. Kirsten ran down the hallway and back and I recorded it. We had some nice last memories like that to end with, and there’s nothing like eating McDonald’s on a hotel bed!


Going Home

I’m going to quote Kirsten on what she said upon pulling into her driveway: “I would say this is bittersweet, but it’s not sweet, it’s just bitter.” Hahaha, I was somewhat eager to get home because sometimes you get in that mood where once you’re on your way, you just want to be there, and that’s how the drive back to Minnesota went. I think our late nights and early mornings and lack of normal food schedules and indulgence in party food had caught up with us as well, haha. It was a pretty quiet drive back, but before we left, we FINALLY ended with a hotel that granted us free breakfast! Their breakfast area was nice, I will say, and so was the food, but I was not in a mood to eat a lot.

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Oh, so then we ate at Culver’s at my request at some place in North Dakota, and my flip flops I’d been wearing this WHOLE trip snapped. The strap part literally came out as I was getting out of the car, so I could barely walk. Thank God it happened at the end of the trip, though. Haha, that’s when you know the fun’s over. I was happy once we made it back to Kir’s house, though. We got to see her family one last time, and I had to change my shoes of course… Good thing I only packed like four! I was going to miss Kir and Corrine so much, but I was also eager to be back in my state, back in “my” area, and back to talking with Mom so we could process and reflect on the week. Kir and Corrine left to go take the rental car back when we did, and I’m so grateful for all they did on this trip for us. From their planning and deal hunting, to Corrine driving all the time and Kirsten coming up with lots of great ideas of things to see and places to get pictures…they made it so special, and I’m so thankful. It was such a special week of my life I will remember forever, and above all I thank God for blessing me with and allowing me to just relax and enjoy it. I really didn’t have that high of expectations or know what to expect, but this was definitely beyond what I could have come up with.

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Back in Iowa

Mom was a little stressed about driving home through some storms, but we made it through good for the most part, and we ended our trip the way we started it: by getting Wendy’s in Clear Lake, haha.

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Arriving at Our House

We got home late, it was all dark, and we were worried about running into some sort of accident as we got close to home since a cop had flown by with their lights on. Thankfully we made it home okay. The boys, who had been so sweet and eager to have us back from our trip, ended up being too preoccupied watching a race to come greet us properly haha. I mean, what can you expect from men…kidding! Kind of. Mom and I wore our Canada shirts to bed.

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Reflection…

So with all this being said…WOW. If you’ve followed along thus far and read ALL these posts, THANK YOU. I appreciate it so, so much, and I love being able to share these fun times with you all, but this is the part I really want to hit home, the reason I share anything about my trips at all, is because of the insights God gives me through them. I have lots of lessons I’m going to do my best and summarize here because the truth is, about all of these lessons could be expanded into full blog posts… I kept pretty solid notes on my phone of any thoughts I had because I’m a pretty avid journaler but knew I was not going to have time to write or reflect at all. We had a couple moments here and there maybe just sitting in the car (when Corrine was in Dollarama! Haha) but not really, and that was fine because the whole point was us being together and doing all these things. BUT…if you think you can ever just escape life by doing that, you can’t, and that’s what I really want to write about with these lessons and thoughts and personal notes I wrote to myself on my phone.

You have to know a little background information about my life first prior to this trip. Nothing was wrong with me or anything, but we went on this trip the last week of June, extending into that first week of July. School had gone later into June due to all our snow days we had last year, and we got out of school a mere couple days before my family went on their trip to Canada and I stayed in Estherville with my grandparents. And if you read my recap blog post about staying with them here, I actually talk about how I was kind of struggling because of trying to unwind with school being stressful and just not being able to let go of some of my bad mindsets. So, only a couple days later, we were going on this trip, and I knew I did not want to be having a bad attitude on that trip. I know enough about myself to know I get obsessive about things, and that’s never a good recipe when you have bad mindsets you’re harboring. So I did end up praying and writing a lot. I’m thankful God used that for me and helped me to keep an open mind about it because that helped immensely, and I was also able to learn that much more about everything and have that much greater joy, and now I want to share those lessons with you, too.

You have to let God be in control of what you want. You would think since I’m being blessed with this amazing trip, nothing else would matter, right? I wish that were the case, but oftentimes we have to be careful about having blessings because it can be all too easy to wish for more. It’s certainly not bad to pray your desires to God and still have desires even after you’ve been given some because that’s life, there will always be more of what we want to do, see, etc. But what becomes a problem is if you, like me, are prone to thinking about that next thing. You know how it goes. I’m in the car with Kirsten on our way back from the Twin Cities, following our moms in the rental car, when my mind starts drifting. About thoughts of my writing. Is it going anywhere? Will it ever go the places I’ve dreamed? Or then it’s about guys again. Do they like me? Are they thinking of me? And I imagine all this stuff I think I should have then, and it starts eating at me, and I feel my lack of patience being triggered yet again. You know what all this really is? Distractions. They’re distractions because they’re going to suck you out of the moment you’re in, ruin any peace you would have, and leave you not enjoying the life you’ve been given.

But I do have desires, I do have dreams, and it’s all too easy for me to think my life revolves around those instead of the present moment. So I remind myself of what I’m about to be experiencing, I tell those thoughts to God, and I begin typing out a note on my phone—of which I probably have tons just like it—and it goes something like this, “You’re doing too much. If you’re reading this, quit trying to find any other truth: you’re doing too much. Worrying too much. Let it go. God CAN and WILL handle it.” I also wrote about learning to control your thoughts because you DO have a choice with how you think about things. I used the example of a country song I heard and liked, “Love Someone,” and for me, I said I could be down about being single, or I can accept the truth that I will love someone, too, in God’s timing—and pour my heart into the people I have right in front of me.

If you can’t learn to surrender like that even when you don’t feel like it, then your peace is only as good as your emotions and what you’ve been given. That’s not a recipe for joy—I can tell you that from all my fits throughout sophomore year, haha. My poor mom.

Pictures are great and all, but don’t make your life revolve around them. So, I learned pretty early on, like the first day of this trip, that not all of the photos being taken of me were the most flattering. Not every photo was turning out the way I’d dreamed it should in my head. And in a world where your life is only as good as what you post, and in someone’s mind who’s got a thing for photography and is already a perfectionist…that’s really not a good combo. I have journal entries dating back to me being in seventh grade and literally being mad over my pictures and them not turning out the way I wanted… It may seem dumb, but it’s a struggle I face regularly if I’m not careful. It is a struggle that is extremely amplified in a society that prides itself on being so visual and blah blah blah… Look, I get it, okay? I love photos as much as the next person and maybe even then some. Photos have been an immense source of joy in my life—God has used them on more than one occasion to remind me of my blessings and His faithfulness. But like anything good that He uses, you better believe the enemy is going to try and attack you by twisting that on you.

What is sad to me, though, is how social media revolves around this. The best of the best in terms of photos and things you’re doing—otherwise, what even is your life, is the message we’re all being sent. Well, social media is a lie. And you know what else? Even pictures can be a lie. The reason I tried to include our bad moments on this trip is to show you just that. Life is a mix of good and bad. This was an amazing vacation, there’s no doubt about that, but people still got stressed. People still got tired. I got stressed and tired. Your mind can still wander to places you don’t want it to go, and not everyone is going to be nice to you. Not everything is going to go as you planned. But you know what? That’s everyone. That’s life. And likewise, not every picture is going to turn out perfect. But you can really hurt yourself and make yourself upset if you live through what you post. Pictures are staged. Do I love the pictures we got on this trip? Yeah, I do, and there was a lot of special memories behind them. But they were still staged. Big time. Social media is even showier. I prefer writing this blog to posting on social media any day because at least here, I know I can be authentic. I can tell you about what really happened behind that “perfect” photo, but with social media, everyone’s too busy playing a game of keeping up with each other’s highlights. It’s pathetic, and I won’t play it. The world thinks photos are everything precisely for this reason: they cover up pain and give the illusion of a perfectly happy lie. Please don’t fall for that. If you’re staging photos, and you’re upset by how some turn out, then don’t think for a second other people aren’t doing the exact same thing. Let your worth not come from your photos. I’d rather be known for being real and vulnerable than being showy and unattached any day. I don’t want to make people jealous. I want to make them feel secure in the love and joy God has for them. You don’t do that by sharing your highlight reel.

Plus, one bad photo is not a reflection of who you are. I had some photos I loved of myself and others I despised. These things are fickle, and what people decide is cool and trendy changes before you can even keep up with it. And it’s EXHAUSTING trying to keep up with it. So just don’t. Let God’s plan for you be enough because it IS. It’s made just for you, and the enemy wants to do everything to take your joy from you. Place that hope and trust in God alone, not things or trips or photos. These things all fade with time, and they rarely go exactly as you dreamed, anyway. They’re wonderful blessings God can give, but they can never fill the ultimate blessing of knowing Him deeply.

This brings me to my next point…

The key to being content is literally enjoying right now. Oh my gosh, if there was one thing I learned on this trip, it was this. Of course, I’ve always known this, but after going on a trip of my dreams, it was even more obvious to me. Everyone thinks, oh, if I go do this, I’ll feel better…or once this happens, life will get good… Um, I don’t know how else to say this except no, it won’t? Every time I go on a trip, I think maybe I’ll act different, like be so in awe of things I just lose my mind, I guess? I don’t know, I think it’s part of that fantasy that again, when you go and do things like this, you’ll be the happiest you that you’ve ever been in your life. But I was shocked at how normal I felt. I don’t mean that in a bad way, but I was just…me. Same personality. Same wishes and dreams and thoughts about my writing and guys. Same worries about fitting in and getting good photos and making it to the hot tub in time and will we see any hot guys? Same love for pink and shopping. Same capacity for joy and same potential to worry and think negative. Did you hear that? Same capacity for joy and same potential to worry and think negative.

That means, plain and simple, changing your location is not going to change your joy. It is not going to change your mind. This can be good or bad. If you have God as the center of your life and know your joy comes from Him, you’re going to have that much more of an enjoyable trip. And if He’s not at the center or you’re not intentional about putting Him first, then your struggles and temptations are going to be the same as they were back home. Doing fun or fancy things doesn’t numb any long-term pain or free you from battles in your mind or other temptations you face. Jesus alone does those things. Please know that. I know I am so prone to comparing myself to others, and it’s so easy for me to think, wow, if I just took photos like her my life would be made, or if I would go to all these places, I’d be so happy. False. If you’re not happy right in the moment you’re in, you won’t be. As a disclaimer to that, though, I’m not saying every moment should be happy because some things in life genuinely do suck and aren’t what God rejoices in—like our incident on the road, for example. That was a scary thing, and there would be something wrong with me if I wasn’t down after that. However, I am talking about your overall mindset, which is greater than your circumstances. I’m talking about how you think of your joy being—does it come from what you have or what you post, or does it come from God’s faithfulness alone and reflecting on His goodness, even when you don’t feel it?

It’s worth thinking about because a vacation alone is not going to fix that, but it may reveal to you where you stand when it comes to being content. Are you able to enjoy each moment of your life or place your trust in God when something doesn’t go as planned, or are you constantly looking for the next thing to do, the next high, and plunging forward with no reflection or gratitude?

The key to being content is that you are not working for something else or waiting for something else to get your joy but just being present in each moment with God. If you do that, even the little things feel like the big things, and if you don’t live for God and are content in Him, then the big things will never feel good enough or be enough to replace that emptiness in your heart. So the next time you see someone you are jealous of or are thinking of something and can’t have peace about letting it go…remember this. You truly can have joy right this second. But you have to know that true joy only comes from loving God. Nobody’s highlight reel can even hint at the goodness and peace of loving Him. I could never record that if I tried. I can only write about it and attempt to do Him justice, and I don’t come close. Until you experience this yourself, it’s hard to just explain it. But my prayer is that through reading this blog, you all can become more inspired to live a life for God. My goal is not that you feel more inspired to live a life like mine—you have your own life and story God wants to bless, and all I want sharing my life to be is inspiration for you to pursue Him, who never stops pursuing you.

Lastly…after having some good, deep talks with family in the hot tub, I wrote a note to remind myself of some areas of things I struggle with and what I know to be true. If you want to have this joy and fellowship with God, I pray this inspires you.

Don’t be the obsessed girl. Don’t be the desperate girl. Don’t be the restless girl. Be the passionate girl, who loves God with all that she is and is beyond grateful for every moment. Be the confident girl who knows her worth is not in what she has but in who God is shaping her to be. Be the content girl who appreciates where God has her and is not trusting in things or people to make her happy but takes everything as it comes from God and lives for Him always. That’s when you’ll be a mature, beautiful girl that truly leaves sparkle behind for God’s glory and lives life as He intended it.

Bonus…I have never been more thankful for my COUNTRY. Yes, Canada is beautiful and I enjoyed my time there, and no, the United States is not perfect, but DANG. The way we do things here, for the most part, I am truly blown away at how people take our freedom for granted. No country can parallel our blessings here, and I’m so proud to be a citizen of the United States. I kept telling Mom we’re the “United Great” haha. I pray God will help us to be a light, though, in the decisions we make, but just because some people make bad decisions is definitely not going to stop me from loving this country and praying for it to shine for the glory of God. It was pretty fitting we were back in our country on the Fourth because God bless the USA!

Okay, I think that about covers most things! Like I said earlier, if you’ve followed along with all of this, I can’t thank you enough. I pray you’ve enjoyed seeing all the pictures and reading about all the funny moments, but more than anything, I pray you’ve been touched by the insights and the lessons God is trying to teach all of us, including you, regardless of where you’re at. I love times like these, but I love Him more, and it’s because of my love for Him that times like these are as special as they are despite the trials that may and do come. Thank you all so much for following along.

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A Girls' Road Trip to Calgary & Banff, AB #2: Visiting the Mountains

Seeing mountains for the first time is hard to take in at first. That’s what the next two days of our trip mainly consisted of, but we were also blessed to be staying at this nice hotel with an awesome rooftop hot tub. And, on these couple days, we ran into a couple problems along the way, but they got resolved thanks to God. This post is going to continue recapping the amazing girls’ week I still find hard to believe has already come and went. This is the second part of four posts recapping the trip, and while you can read them in any order, for the full effect you have to start from the beginning. Read my first post here, which is all about the road trip portion from Minnesota to Canada! I won’t spend too much time distilling information because all you need to know is in the first post. I’ll get right in to sharing the amazing memories of continuing our trip up to Calgary, then heading to Banff where I saw mountains for the first time, heading back and checking into our hotel, and then also the next day we spent at Banff.


Day Three: Driving to Calgary and Exploring Banff

Breakfast in Medicine Hat

Picking up right from where we left off, we did have free breakfast at our hotel in Medicine Hat, so after getting ready we headed down there right away. I learned from prior experience that eating healthy on this trip just wasn’t going to work for me and accepted the fact that for breakfast I would only be eating chocolate muffins, so, that’s what I did. Afterwards, we got back to loading up our car and getting back on the road.

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Driving to Calgary and Banff

The drive to Calgary followed the routine of the other one in that it was not too exciting. Except I believed we stopped somewhere on the way because Corrine found another Dollarama. There was a legitimate reason why we stopped, but I don’t remember now. I was exhausted, and Kir and I both slept for a portion of the drive. I wasn’t really all there until something wonderful happened on the road to Calgary… Just wait for it.

Kirsten took this picture for me when I didn’t even know it. Gotta love having a photographer for a cousin!

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I was ecstatic once I could see those skyscrapers!! It was also surreal once the horizon was not full of hills but literal mountains. I have never seen the mountains before, and I know Kirsten really wanted to see them on this trip, and she’d heard of a nearby town, Banff, which we saw lots of road signs for. We didn’t drive through the main downtown of Calgary on this day, and when we arrived we decided to keep driving to Banff because we couldn’t check into our hotel until three in the afternoon anyways. It was not that hard to drive to Banff, and thankfully Mom was still able to see our location on her GPS, but we had no reception! I sure missed that aspect of Canada, not…

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But back to that wonderful moment. On the road, it was like three lanes and we were in the middle, well, Kirsten found this cute guy in a black pickup next to us. Well, Kirsten and I were trying to look at him, and I guess we weren’t being all that discreet or quiet because he ended up looking back at us, and then my mom said he waved, but neither of us witnessed that unfortunately because that, I’m sure, would have been hilarious to see. We wanted to get a picture of him without being creepy, so I just was casually holding my phone and talking to Kirsten since he was by her side, and I was just casually pushing the camera button while he drove by without actually glancing at him. I actually got the most perfect photo ever, just at the right time when he’s right next to us, and he’s looking right at us. It’s gold. Kirsten put it on Facebook even. You’re welcome. I’m getting too good at this. Unfortunately he ended up turning off on an exit, but there’s nothing like flirting with a guy you’ll never see again in your life for a solid few minutes. I’m not as brave as Kir so I’m not going to post that pic, but I bet you can never guess who’s right in the lane behind us here…

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We drove right by their tower for when the Olympics were hosted here. I’m not posing it though because it ended up being a traumatizing landmark for us on the way home. Let’s just say we had a dumb, rather unfortunate incident on the road…not a car accident, but definitely the potential for one. That was really a downer after coming off the high from Banff, when we were all exhausted and just wanted to get to our hotel. But I’m getting ahead of myself.

Entering Banff

The views going into Banff were breathtaking. The mountains kept coming at us, and then you could fully appreciate their size. Like Mom said, we were like little ants driving into them. There is actually a main, very busy road that goes into them. SO MANY TOURISTS!! Oh my gosh, Banff was about as populated as the Disney parks we went to as a family in May, which you can read about here. And I don’t mean anything by saying this, but it was surprising how we hardly ever saw any Americans. There was people from all over. This is fine until it becomes near impossible to take photos without people getting in the way or in the background. Kirsten was about ready to blow a gasket. It is a stunning place, though, with LOTS AND LOTS to do. They have many various towns in this area—Banff is just one of them—and there’s so much you can do without even entering the Banff park. What we explored on both of the days was really only the tip of the iceberg. You could easily spend a whole week just at this place, and they had many resorts, but Kirsten said they were super expensive. We got to see so much for free, though, which was priceless.

Back to seeing the mountains. Those trees from Ontario literally were littered all over the mountains. I tried putting the size into perspective by thinking how I’m not even as big as one of those trees, and one of those trees on the mountains is like a dot. It’s amazing to see them and how God made them.

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Stopping for Lunch

They had towns and exits periodically, which was interesting in and of itself. Normal looking towns with normal fast food chains and such right between ginormous mountains. One even had a high school. We ate at an A&W, which was busy. Everything was, really, but I was starving and also somewhat irritated because our cooler had leaked onto the seats and got the bottom of my jeans wet… I do love the jeans I’m wearing on this trip, though; the material is very durable, and I love the color of the wash. I literally brought every piece of denim pants I own with me haha, which was still not an insane amount but definitely overpacking haha.

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Canmore

We then kept driving into Banff. Like I said, there is tons to do here, and this could be something you do for a week on its own. There are also many towns along the way (everything was Banff to me, though, haha). Kirsten had some spots in mind, though, for taking pictures, so we kept driving around for a spot we could pull over at. The roads in the mountains and by the lakes were so crowded, with so many people pulled over for hiking and things like that.

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We made another quick stop at an information site for tourists. Scored free WiFi, too!!! I was starting to get tired by this point, but I’m glad we stuck it out for the views to come.

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We made our first turn onto a backroad by this mountain, which had a very small waterfall trickling down it. There were signs for a bunch of lakes around here, as well as exits for the actual town of Banff and some others. It could be very overwhelming, honestly, with all there is to explore and especially because we were just looking around without any concrete plans.

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Lake Minnewanka

We actually stumbled across this spot by accident… We were on just a basic two-lane road with no place to turn around, and we all freaked out a bit when we start turning onto this big bridge, and then this crystal blue lake pops out. It was gorgeous!

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Cascade Ponds

Then, not too far from here once we got turned around, we stopped and parked by the Cascade Ponds. Parking was definitely an issue here with all of the crowding. We had this problem the next day also, but thankfully we were able to find a spot here, and we went out to explore this hidden gem of views. All. The. People. So much camping. This is where Kirsten started getting irritated about all the inevitable photobombing haha. The air also had a bite to it—I didn’t want to hang around too long for photos in just my t-shirt.

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Also, it’s worth mentioning to enjoy this obnoxious pink shirt while you can because you’ll never see it again. I was stoked when I found this bright pink shirt while shopping for my birthday because the pinker my life is the better it is, but I’m also realizing I have to have boundaries when it comes to pink, which is something this shirt does not have. It stained all of my clothes once when I wore it up at my grandparents’ house INCLUDING my white denim shorts, but thankfully that came out. I thought maybe I’d try washing it since I didn’t think I had since buying it, but no. It ruined my bras, too. I was not happy about that. But I guess that’s just an excuse to buy more, right!! RIP my pink shirt, though. It was nice while it lasted.

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Cascade of Time Garden

This is actually in Banff, and we got to do some driving around the town before arriving here. SO MANY PEOPLE! I mean, the little town streets were overflowing with multitudes of people. The town was so quaint and cute, though, and so nice looking, wedged right in between luminous mountains. It was such a sight and fun to recognize some of the stores—like they had one for The North Face and stuff like that. Corrine had wanted to check out this garden, and I’m so glad we did. While this was also pretty crowded, it wasn’t as bad as some of the lakes, and the pictures and views were to die for. The sunshine also felt great on my skin. This photo is a view looking down one of the roads in Banff.

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Thanks to the nice people who took this photo for us!

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There were sweeping views around every corner, full of such vibrant color and natural wonders. Photo opportunities were definitely in abundance! At first I wasn’t so sure about all there was to do in Banff, but I was quickly humbled by the vast array of views. Just taking them in is amazing to behold. God’s creation is beyond beautiful. I can still remember seeing the sights like it was yesterday, and it’s hard to believe I was actually in these places, sensing all of it. I’m thankful to have the photos and memories now. I definitely wouldn’t mind going back!

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I love waterfalls! I have another fantasy that I am going to have something like this in my backyard one day. #whenimrich haha

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It actually reminds me of the Rock Garden in Estherville I love to visit when I see my grandparents, except times a thousand with water flowing through it and in the valley of mountains.

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My mom was pretty proud of herself for directing this photo, and Kir and I couldn’t be more thankful!

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Fairmont Banff Springs Hotel

This is a luxury hotel in Banff that is literally a castle. Kirsten told me it is super expensive for a night—I think she said like a thousand dollars or maybe a little bit under that. We drove into a nearby parking lot to get some photos with it. I can’t remember if we were technically allowed to do that or not, but it worked out that we could jump out quick to get them. I only wonder what it looks like inside.

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Bow Falls

This is another secret treasure of the area. And we discovered it by accident when trying to find our way out! As soon as we saw it, I’m pretty sure Kirsten made some obnoxious, raw noise that made me die. Talk about all the heart eye views. We were able to actually snag a couple photos where it looks like no one is around, but don’t be fooled. This was probably one of the most crowded spots. There was a big ledge up to this river that everyone was getting pictures by, and the parking lot was completely full. A lot of people were just driving through and then would stop and jump out of their car, which is what we did quick.

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Hotel Clique Calgary Airport

Alas, time to introduce the grand hotel we stayed at while in Calgary. Kir found a great deal on this fancy hotel, which was not far at all from their airport. While it wasn’t in the heart of the city (read: SKYSCRAPERS), it still held plenty of mesmerizing views, especially at night. Our fave thing, hands down, was the rooftop hot tubs. I’ll recap these plenty of course. When we first got there, we were still nerved out by the ride home. Okay, we actually had quite the traumatic experience on the way home that made us homesick for our country because on our first day there, we encounter a frightening situation and rude people. We were already anxious to get back and find our hotel and get checked in after a long day of being in the car and exploring Banff, and running into this scary situation on the road, when we were so close to arriving, was very unsettling. It killed the mood for awhile, and then to make matters worse, once we parked at the hotel and Kir and Corrine went to check in, Mom had called Dad and then laid her phone down and couldn’t find it. It honestly was like it disappeared, so that was a fiasco trying to find it. We knew it had to be in the car somewhere.

Long story short, I couldn’t really stop to appreciate the hotel until I caught my breath because they came and got us, we headed up to our room, and then I had to get connected to their WiFi and get on Facebook Messenger to text my dad if he could call Mom’s phone, since she was the only one of the four of us to have phone reception—another hiccup on the trip in and of itself, since Corrine and Kir had to call their provider to get theirs figured out. There was actually a moment that was funny in a sad sort of way because Kirsten was wondering about what would happen if she gets charged, and she goes, “Like what if someone blows up your phone?” Then the poor girl gets to find out after being put in a group chat on Messenger with her co-workers, had about 60 incoming messages including both photos and videos. She about had a heart attack, but I don’t think they got charged too much. And Mom did find her phone. Corrine found it for us thankfully. She was down in the car listening for it while Mom kept searching all our stuff in the hotel room. It was somewhere wedged in the seats. I know I was frazzled after all of that stress, but then it’s like no, take a deep breath and relax. There might be bad things that come, but God will get you through it, even if it feels super uncomfortable for awhile. It WILL pass.

After getting settled and attempting to catch our breath, Kir wanted to scope out the hot tubs with me and the views, so we went for a little walk around. Our room was not too far from the elevator and stairs on the corner, which was nice. We were also on the fourth and highest floor. We walked the opposite direction of the elevators down this hallway where there was a big window giving a panoramic view of the city and nearby highway—which reminds me that another blessing was how easily we were able to find our hotel. This is also where their ice and vending machines were. The hot tubs were actually on the third floor on a section of the roof, and right by the elevator there was a window overlooking them, which was nice when we wanted to spy on whoever was out there!

When we got back, we needed to decide on what we were having for supper. They had a restaurant and bar in the hotel, and Kirsten and I also walked down there to get a menu. The hotel had a sleek and modern appeal to it. There was also a shelf by the check in with movies you could rent, which was cool, but we ended up not having the time for it. Even though we felt frazzled, we decided just to go down there and eat. Unfortunately that probably wasn’t the best decision, as we were less than impressed with their food selections and the quality, and plus the service, once again, just wasn’t there. Welcome to Canada…not. That didn’t help with lifting the mood unfortunately, but as time went on and we got more relaxed, it all turned out okay.

The rooms were awesome, though. I absolutely loved ours. Once again, they had very comfortable bedding, and the beds GLOWED. The overall decor was modern, almost futuristic, but classy and neat. The bathroom was also super nice, and the shower was another story! It was a great shower, but it took my mom and I like ten minutes to figure out the controls because it was definitely different. All of it was nice, though. I enjoying getting ready in the bathroom because the walls were almost this cool orange sort of color, and it was cozy and fancy at the same time. They even had a mini TV on one of the shelves in the bathroom that you could watch while in the shower!

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Rooftop Hot Tubs

Let’s be real, this is the selling point for us on the hotel. It was always nice having to look forward to these at the end of each day. It was breathtaking at night! City lights—I was in heaven. Kirsten and I were eager to check out the hot tubs after the long day, and with all of the stress, our moms wanted to come along, too. Just Kir and I went at first, and then they came out closer to dark. Kirsten wanted a picture of the sunset, but unfortunately we were a little late. I just couldn’t believe the views, though. I love the city and seeing it at night. We could also see planes coming and going. On all sides of the hot tub, there was just beauty to take in. We got dressed then, and the hotel provided these cute little robes, which was nice as the nights got chillier. Before we ran off to the hot tub, though, we had to get pictures of the views.

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Another random little note about this trip is all the kissy faces we made hahaha. It’s only natural, I guess, that when you want a picture, gotta blow that kiss! No, but we actually tried to get our moms to do it and thought it’d be funny if we had them doing it while we smiled normally because usually it was the opposite way around and they made fun of us for it, but let’s just say they don’t really understand the art of the kissy face… Hahaha. I don’t think I’m allowed to post our selfies in the car of said attempts because…yeah. A for effort though!!

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The views of the hot tub, though. They have this whole little hangout area by the hot tubs, and there’s two, which is nice so they don’t get too crowded. There were chairs and furniture off to the side, and they also had convenient benches and hangers for robes and towels, as well as a rack of towels. The fitness room was also right across the hall from the hot tubs, where we helped ourselves to some of their water, which they had branded, haha. The views were just a dream for me. They also played music, and our boy Shawn was on!!! It was also nice how late they stayed open, about until midnight I believe. Corrine and my mom took pics for us at first, but then when we all came back Kir and I wanted our phones, and thankfully I didn’t drop mine in the hot tub, but the risk was worth it haha.

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We always liked the one on the right. It was closer to the bench and the side views of the city—THE LIGHTS!

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This hotel was right by another one also, so we think people from there would come over also. It never got that busy, though, for us. It was so nice because when Kirsten and I were in there, we were planning out the next few days in Calgary and what we wanted to do. We decided to spend half a day in Banff the next day and then start doing things in Calgary. We went over the spots we wanted to check out in the city, also, and reflected on life together.

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After that full day and I finally showered and got caught up on my beauty routine, I think we all slept good. We planned on getting up pretty early again to head back to Banff. On Canada Day. We didn’t realize it was going to be Canada Day on our trip, so that may account for some of the craziness. We were excited, though, to do a bit more exploring and take more photos and then get ready to see Calgary.


Day Four: Another Day in Banff and Exploring Calgary

The Absence of Breakfast and Driving to Banff Again

I was excited and optimistic for a new day in Canada despite the previous day’s struggles. To wrap up this post, I’ll just share the part of the day in Banff, and then the next post will pick up where this one left off. Instead of bringing my purse, I had brought a cute backpack I’d gotten for Christmas with me to haul around, the perfect size for all the essentials and for adventures like these. I had fun transferring everything into that, and then we were on the road once again. Revisiting driving again after the traumatic experience was somewhat bitter, and pretty early on I was ready to die because we hadn’t had breakfast. Another unfortunate thing that happened was we thought we had free breakfast at this hotel because the site they had used to book it said so, but then they told us it wasn’t included… That was probably okay because we were not fans of their restaurant anyways. But I was still dying, and the drive to Banff was still over an hour. Views of the mountains were a welcome distraction.

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I just can’t imagine climbing a mountain. I kept thinking it would have been fun to actually see someone on one, though.

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Finding Lunch

We tried to find Lake Louise, and we went up along the roads to it, but it was so busy that all of the parking was gone, and the wait for a shuttle was hours long. That was a little disappointing because Corrine had wanted to see it, but we had no idea the wait could be that long, and when we found these cute shops near a cafe we ate at, the local workers told us the best time to go is at night or super early in the morning, but we didn’t have time to do that. The views we did see were more than sufficient, though. And I was just happy to find a cafe. We ate at Laggan’s Cafe. Everyone loved it, and I loved the views and such, but I was slightly disappointed by what I ordered. I’m so picky though with food, so take that as you want. I got a hot dog that was good but pretty tough for my taste, but what upset me most was this giant chocolate cookie I got. I thought it would be super soft, but it was hard and crunchy. I only like my Oreo’s that way, otherwise I like my cookies soft and gooey haha.

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Bow Falls Again

Kirsten wanted to come back to this spot again for more pictures. Since we’d found it the first time by getting lost haha, we had to consult our map and pay close attention to the signs to find it again. We did, though, and it was just as beautiful. There were tons of people again, and we had to just park off to the side somewhere again and get out quick to take the photos.

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Kirsten bought me this hat just for this photo she had planned. I was supposed to wear it the day before, but seeing as it was buried in my suitcase which was the first suitcase to go in the trunk before all our others…that was out of the question. It would have clashed with my shirt anyhow, so it was much better I wore it this day, and I made sure to take it with.

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Kirsten was mad at the people on that island for getting in our photo haha.

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Downtown Banff and Cascade Shops

One of the things we wanted to do today that we hadn’t the previous day was explore the downtown of Banff and their shops because they were a town full of various places, from a full fledged mall to cute little bakeries. In fact, one of the interesting things about Banff was this mall. We entered on a regular corner, and there wasn’t anything flashy about it; it just looked like a regular store of theirs except it was right by a Gap. You step inside, and the first thing you see are these escalators and glass overlooks, just like at Jordan Creek. It still blows my mind how it ended up expanding into that. They had clothing stores, places to eat, and more. We went into an Ardene, which reminds me of Forever 21 to a T (and a lot of things are named differently in Canada…like Reese’s candy bars are just called “Reese”), and then we saw an Old Spaghetti Factory, which stirred up our appetites all over again, so we decided to find one in Calgary for when we explored later. At Ardene, Kirsten got a few things, and while I really wanted to, I knew we would be going shopping later in Calgary, so I decided to hold off.

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I enjoyed walking around their downtown, though it was stressful trying to find a place to park. So many of the parking places were full, but eventually we found a street nearby one of the main ones to park on, and then we just walked the rest of the way. We ended up exploring a few souvenir shops and tried to find an ice cream place for Kirsten because she had been craving it for many days, but all of the places were so busy we decided to wait.

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I still can’t get over the amounts of people. Even at pedestrian crossings, it wouldn’t even be our turn, yet there was such a big group of people just walking across a four-way main intersection, forcing traffic to stop. We followed the crowd I guess because what do you do? Go with the flow of traffic, haha. That didn’t really work out too well for us on the road during our traumatic experience, though…

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It was Canada Day, which I think is like our Fourth of July, so Corrine and I snagged one of these cuties they were giving out at one of the shops! Gotta love all the food we ran into on this trip!

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Kirsten Gets Her Ice Cream

We decided to stop at a McDonald’s in one of the towns on the way out of Banff. That was crazy busy also to wait in line, but then we sat down at one of the booths. Kir and I both got Oreo McFlurries because I guess they don’t have the Reese’s peanut butter cup ones we normally like. I can’t complain about Oreo’s, though. While we were eating, the one thing I was responsible for on this trip was finding the mall we were going to shop at. I did some research and scanned the directories and screenshotted the one I liked best along with the address using their free WiFi. We did not have time for this today, though, as our day in Banff got pretty long, and Canada Day shortened the regular hours anyway. I was excited, though, and a little nervous about making everything fit, but things did have a way of working out, and after awhile I realized it was not worth it to get all uptight about making things happen. Rather, I was just going to be along for the ride and take in whatever we were blessed with. And God blessed us abundantly.

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The Drive Home

This drive was much more low key, thank God. It got cloudy as we left and looked like it could storm, but the views of the clouds crowding the mountains were amazing.

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Kirsten got this cute hat at one of the shops. I also thought the weather was really nice on this day, but it seemed to get colder as we got to Calgary, where I wore my jacket more. It was also a sad feeling to leave the mountains, as this was the last we’d see of them up close anyways. Like my mom had said, seeing the mountains is truly a special experience and not one we can just have anytime, whereas doing things in the city we pretty much can do anytime. At first I was nervous about being in Banff so long, but once I realized that I remembered to soak in every moment. It’s definitely not worth it to waste away beautiful moments like those just because you’re anticipating something else. Enjoy every single moment as it comes because that’s what makes up a life. That’s when God will grow you and show you things you never dreamed you’d see. About yourself, about others, about the world, about life, and about Him. And that’s what life is about.

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I am so thankful to God we got to see Banff. I guess I had never heard of it until Kirsten told me about it, and when she showed me a picture I thought it was beautiful, but I thought it was just a lake and mountains, but WOW! It blew my expectations out of the water. I didn’t realize how big it truly is and all it includes, and we literally explored probably just a bit of it because we didn’t even go into the park. I didn’t realize it was such a big tourist attraction either, which makes me feel all the more blessed to have been able to go there. It was truly unforgettable and a very humbling experience. It makes me in awe of how big God is and what a small place I have in the world but also knowing that it’s that spark that can change and influence the world. I’m so thankful for all He’s created and for Him letting me get to see it. Stay tuned for the next recap of the trip—all about the city!! Thank you for reading and being a part of this!

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A Girls' Road Trip to Calgary & Banff, AB #1: All the Views & Bonding

Simply amazing, is how I would describe what was already a week ago. Already over a week ago, I got home from a fun, mostly easygoing road trip with my mom, cousin Kirsten, and my aunt Corrine. They are lots of fun to be with, and Kirsten and Corrine are basically travel agents, and they scored us some amazing deals on hotels as well as found some great places for us to explore both on our road trip and in our main destination, Calgary, Alberta. Yes, I went back to Canada. But this experience was radically different from my experiences in Ontario, which you can read about here.

Before I get in to recapping this, some background information. First off, I’ve blogged numerous times about my cousin Kir on this blog, with the most recent post being here. I’m grateful I have her and that we have so many common interests, including driving our moms insane by taking ten thousand photos of us. Thanks so much, Corrine and Candi!!! Really, most of the photos you see here will be because of them, and Kir took some for me, also. I appreciate it so much. On that note, I literally probably have a good 500 some photos I want to share here on this blog, so instead of breaking my website and writing you all one big book to read, I’ve decided I think it will work best if I break this trip recap into four parts. The first part, which you’re reading now, will recap the road trip portion of our trip on the way up to Calgary, where we spent three nights. We spent two full days and a half driving up to Calgary. That is what this post is going to recap—our first two days. Then the second part will be about arriving at our hotel and going to see Banff, which was an amazing tourist town only a little over an hour away from Calgary. We spent two days checking out that place. The third part will be all about Calgary, from getting back from Banff to the full day we spent exploring the city. The last part will cover our trip back and hit hard on everything this amazing trip taught me.

I have always tried to learn something from my vacations because I think anytime you experience a different part of the world or take in new experiences, there is such a potential for you to grow as a person and become wiser if you let God speak to you through the experience. I also learned rather quickly that you can’t expect a vacation to go perfect, and you can’t expect it to be an escape. If you have crap thoughts at home, you’re going to have crap thoughts on vacation. I’ll write more on this throughout this post, but there were definitely some overall major takeaways I learned from this trip that I’ll share once I’ve recapped all of it. So stay tuned! We were so blessed by God to witness so many parts of His beautiful creation, and so many things worked out great. While of course there were still some hiccups because a vacation can never be perfect, as is true of life, God worked them all out, and I can look back on this trip with wonderful memories and thankfulness to Him for it.

Kirsten had been wanting to go on a trip for awhile, and when she invited my mom and me, I was ecstatic. We bounced ideas off each other for awhile and, at first, I didn’t think this trip was going to work out. I think it was something we all definitely needed, though, to bond with each other after our extended family had been hit hard with trials, and I think God blessed this time for us as a result. Sometimes it’s hard planning for four people who all have slightly different interests, and there were a couple times I didn’t think things would work out, but of course God is faithful, and everything had a way of falling into place. One thing I really appreciated about this trip was how it combined both nature and the city. My mom is definitely more of a nature person and loves things having to do with the outdoors or with history, and this trip had that. This trip also had the city, which was a dream come true for me, so it truly was the best of both worlds. I only feel a bit overwhelmed on recapping this as there is so much to share, so hopefully I haven’t missed any information.

Now, without further ado, let’s get straight into recapping this because there’s a lot, and I’m so excited to share it all with you!


The Day Before


Driving Up to Corrine’s House

We live about four hours away from their house up in Minnesota, which is also not too far from the Twin Cities. This is where our road trip was going to start. I didn’t mind the extra drive with my mom at all because we talk so much, and it seems there’s never enough time for that. We left later in the evening, after my dad had gotten off work. I was going to miss my boys, so we made sure we talked to them and said goodbye and made plans to be in touch throughout the trip. One of our cars doesn’t have air conditioning, either, which makes things brutal in the summertime, so that’s another reason why we left later. I know I’ve said this before, but I truly do love my state, so I enjoyed our mini road trip through Iowa as it was the last I would be seeing of it for a week.

Mom and I decided to have our supper at Wendy’s. We ate inside, at a Wendy’s off the interstate in Clear Lake, also home of the Surf Ballroom, which I’ve had the privilege of seeing when I attended a Hairball concert there with my family. Yeah, that was an experience in and of itself I need to write about eventually…

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What can I say, I love Wendy’s. We wanted to eat somewhere where we couldn’t easily at other times, and we don’t have too many Wendy’s around us, so I’m glad we ate there. One of the wonderful but dangerous things about this trip was all the eating out we did. I absolutely loved it. I’ll make sure I recap everything we ate, don’t worry!

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Target

The weather was mostly nice on the way up, but it started raining as we got closer to their house. I was so thrilled to see Kirsten again, even though it had only been a month since I’d seen her last. We had lots of fun talking to each other the night before on the phone as we packed. What we packed is a whole other story, haha. As we arrived, Mom realized that of everything she packed, she forgot a coat. There were a couple other things, so we wanted to make a run to Target, especially since we don’t have too many Targets nearby except for in our “cities” like Des Moines, Ames, or Iowa City. Kirsten adores Target, so I knew she’d come with us. Theirs closes earlier, like around ten, so by the time we arrived we basically had to pick her up and then head over.

And of course we got distracted right away. Right away, they had the cutest swimwear. I’d been wanting a Fourth of July bikini for awhile. I don’t know why. Maybe because I’ve always had a thing for the Fourth of July and it’s one of my favorite holidays, or maybe it’s because I still have my fantasies of being on a boat in Okoboji for the Fourth if that ever happens… Either way, they had the cutest bikini top but no bottoms left. But I bought it anyway. Kirsten got a new one piece there, too, that she ended up liking.

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It was also pouring rain while we were in Target. Mom ended up getting a denim jacket as her coat, but another thing about this trip we were so blessed with was nice weather. It was never too hot or too cold. I mean, there were a couple times I felt it was chilly, but I’m always cold so what’s new. We didn’t really have much rain, which would have basically ruined all our plans if we had since most of what we did on this trip involved being outside. I am so thankful to God for that.

While heading back, we stopped at a gas station to fill up our truck so it was ready for when my mom and I drove back home, and there was a guy in the gas station who dresses up like Johnny Depp in those pirate movies, so we just went on in there to get a picture with him. Kirsten had known who he was, and Mom is evidently not afraid of just walking up to people and asking for a photo, so that’s what we did. He was great, haha.

At the House

Once we were back, we talked with her family for awhile and carried our luggage inside. Thankfully the rain had let up by then. It was fun because we had gotten them some little gifts for our trip—my mom got Kir and me these adorable custom made notebooks—and Kir got us some things, too, like a hat for me we wore for one of our pictures you’ll see in the next post.

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It was also fun because we were down in their basement where Kir’s room is that my mom and I slept in, and her computer was down there, so she and her mom booked our first two hotels on the way up. We’d had our hotel booked in Calgary for awhile. They go through some awesome sites that find hotels for really cheap. I don’t think we ever spent more than a hundred bucks on any hotel, except for the one in Calgary, and even that one had a good deal. There was also not a bad hotel we stayed in, either. Some were better than others, but I couldn’t say I didn’t like any of them. But I love hotels!! It was heaven for me getting to be in that many different hotels in the span of a week. I’ll write on all of those, too. We had decided to break up our road trip into a couple different parts. For the first night, we were staying at a hotel in Dickinson, North Dakota. On the second night, we were staying in Medicine Hat, Alberta, and then we would drive the remaining distance after that to Calgary.

We went to bed somewhat early because we had to. To get our rental car, we had to be up at such an ungodly time in the morning. I don’t even remember what, I know it was before seven, and that’s too early for me.


Day One: Road Tripping to North Dakota

Getting the Rental Car

Yeah, so I don’t remember much about what I did in the morning because it was too early. All I remember doing is getting myself dressed and washing my face and making sure I didn’t forget any of my closet I brought with me, haha. All of us drove up to the place near the Cities in Kirsten’s car. Once we got that car, which we were thankful was a size small enough to be cheap yet a mid size car so there was room for all our luggage—which we each had a full suitcase just of our own clothes and then some, so it was a miracle everything fit in the trunk haha—Corrine and my mom drove it home with Kirsten and me following them. Kirsten and I enjoyed jamming to the radio. It also is worth mentioning that it cracked me up because I took a video of one of the songs on the radio, and Kirsten made the comment about making sure she recorded on this trip because she always regrets not doing that. Meanwhile, by the end of the trip, Corrine had driven Kirsten up a tree about everything she wanted her to record. It was hilarious.

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Breakfast and Leaving

It was also funny because we stopped at Target another two times before leaving as Corrine had to pick something up, so Kirsten joked that a couple hours later we would be on the road. Everything worked out really well, though, and we weren’t really in a hurry, which is nice. We picked up breakfast at some gas station. I had the breakfast of champions of course, a lovely donut, while the rest of them tried to be healthy, but I’m not about that life even though one of these days I really need to be.

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As we left the Cities, I admired all of their glass buildings and how one of them is a college. And I let everyone know about my dreams of having a career where they send me off to different cities around the country, haha. If anyone knows where to find these careers specifically with communication or writing or design, it’s not too early for you to give me much appreciated advice!!

See, like look at this. They’re rose gold buildings.

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Mom was really good about helping Corrine with directions, and Corrine was very gracious about doing most of the driving, especially in the city, which Mom can’t do. Once we got on the road, we started plotting our route and the things we could check out along the way.

Stopping for Lunch

I don’t know what town we stopped in to eat lunch, but we had KFC inside. And we were so rowdy, oh my gosh. That’s what being in a car for that long will do to you. Like we couldn’t stop laughing about things. Mom said there was this one cute guy sitting by himself Kir and I noticed that seemed quite amused by us… We kept poking fun at Kirsten because Mom said there was some pyramid attraction thing, and then we drove by one of those big piles of dirt that forms a pyramid shape, and Mom joked to Kirsten, “There’s the pyramid!” And Kirsten was like, “Is it really?” But then I had a moment at KFC when we got this biscuit with frosting or something like that, and I go, “It tastes different. It’s like…a biscuit.” Well, what summer does to your brain, anyways.

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Well, KFC didn’t really work out for one half of us as we found out a couple hours later, and that’s all I’ll say about that, so we didn’t have that on the trip again.

“WHERE DA OTTER AT?” or Fergus Falls, Minnesota

My parents used to live here, so Mom asked if we could stop there for a trip down Memory Lane since we went right by it on our route. They had this giant otter structure by a scenic pond, so we had to get pictures. Kirsten is the author of that wonderful quote, by the way.

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I’m not huge on this photo of me below because I look wide for whatever reason, which reminds me of one of the most hilarious moments on this trip—to me, at least, because I don’t think Kirsten is going to appreciate this—but we were having issues with how we looked in the photos, and Kirsten made some comment about looking 500 pounds, and Corrine was flustered and said, “Well, you are what you are!” I about fell off the picnic table I was laughing so hard.

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I thought Fergus Falls was a nice little town, and I know my parents appreciated the memories because my mom was texting my dad about it.

Driving Through North Dakota

We stopped at some gas station in Fargo, North Dakota. Mom was looking at shirts, and at first North Dakota didn’t look much different than Minnesota, but that eventually changed.

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We had bags of snacks for the road, and Corrine and Kir introduced me to these little chocolates you can eat about ten of.

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Kirsten was our pro at taking selfies with all of us in them, and it was hilarious as we tried to get one in the car. I remember all the laughing the most, which is what is so special. Life isn’t meant to be stress, pain, stress, etc. Pain is part of life, but it doesn’t have to kill you. God wants us to have an abundant life, and you can know for sure that joy and laughter is part of that. Don’t take everything so seriously, that’s one thing I learned on this trip. Just relax and enjoy the moments of being with each other.

Jamestown, North Dakota and a Buffalo

Our first stop we made and decided to check out and that was free was this cute little town called Jamestown, and this hit on the history that my mom enjoys. They had this old town set up where you could walk around and read about past buildings and such, and this is where the “World’s Largest Buffalo” is. We enjoyed stopping to walk around and check out all of those things.

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This was our view of the interstate we had been on:

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More Driving Through North Dakota

For supper I had way too many Mike and Ike’s. I had way too many of these on the trip, but they were wonderful for the car rides…

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North Dakota could be extremely flat at times…

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I always enjoyed the radio playing, too, and we heard so much Kenny Chesney and Shawn Mendes from listening to Kir’s and my stations, and then Mom played some of her and Corrine’s music, too. We had a good variety, and I found quite a few new songs I liked. We got lost a bit in Bismarck, but it was okay because I enjoyed seeing one of their “cities.”

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Eventually, as our drive continued and we got closer to our hotel, it got a lot more hilly, and that was cool to see. I actually really enjoyed the scenery of North Dakota.

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I found it cool how they would put a bunch of power lines or towers on top of the hills. It reminded us all of communicating with aliens haha.

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Dickinson, North Dakota

I was very excited to finally arrive at the hotel. The hotel we stayed at in Dickinson was a Ramada and my favorite we stayed in on our road trip. It had a lodge theme and was very nice. I loved the style of the rooms, and all of the beds in the hotels we stayed at were heavenly. Dickinson was also a fairly good sized town, so it was nice to be around civilization haha.

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We really didn’t have trouble finding things too much thanks to Mom’s GPS on her phone, so it wasn’t too far of a drive to our hotel.

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We had to bring all of our luggage into the hotel because we needed mostly everything but then later figured out to condense some stuff, but in the meantime Kirsten and I had quite the time trying to figure out these carrier things and find our room. We only got lost like three times… I’m sure the people at the reception desk were like there they go again!

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We made a run to Walmart that night to get more snacks, and then while Kirsten and I wanted to eat at a restaurant, it got to be super late by that time, so we decided to just have fast food for supper. We ate at Burger King! It was wonderful to me of course.

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When we got back, Kirsten and I wanted to check out the hot tub. We didn’t stay too long, especially because it was packed with kids even though it was so late, but it was relaxing while it lasted.

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We got to see a lot of the lights while driving around from Walmart back to the hotel. The town reminded me of the size of Ames, so there was a considerable amount of city lights, my favorite thing.

The main thing I learned from this first day was to just let go of negative thinking. If I’m not careful, thoughts of how I should look or how things should be and other things I think I need right now can steal my joy out of moments like these. I typed lots of notes to myself on my phone for this reason. I knew I didn’t want to be thinking negatively on my trip, but you can’t just rely on the trip itself to fix that. You have to be intentional and seek God, which can also be hard to do when you’re so busy like we were on this trip. But remember it’s as simple as just telling Him your thoughts. Or taking some time while everyone is laying there in the hotel room falling asleep to stay up a couple more minutes and share what’s on your heart. And you’ll be amazed at how much that makes a difference.


Day Two: Road Tripping Through Montana and Alberta

Once we had our first day of driving down, it made things easier as we knew what to expect. We had to find a route, however, that had a station where we could cross the border into Canada. In the meantime, we were going to continue our road trip by going through Montana and then up to Canada.

Breakfast

Things were slightly more laidback in the hotel. We had free breakfast at this one, so we got dressed and ready and headed down. I tried eating eggs and sausage for protein, but once again the only thing that really impressed me were the chocolate chip muffins… #ineedhelp

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And as far as packing for this trip goes…I think all of us agreed we overpacked a little bit. But you never know, and Kirsten and I think it’s better to be safe than sorry, so we take our closets with us basically!

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On the Road

Before we got on the road, we stopped for gas. We didn’t have too far to go before we would cross into Montana. I was excited to see Montana because I’d heard it has beautiful views, but another thing I found interesting to see in North Dakota that you’ll all probably think is ridiculous were the oil rigs. The reason why is because of my favorite movie Twister, and if you’ve seen the opening scene where it shows all the clips of storms brewing, there’s an oil rig in one of them… Well, I’ve never seen one of those in real life, and I got to see tons, so I was quite happy about that.

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Theodore Roosevelt National Park

We made one last stop before leaving North Dakota. This park looks like just a rest stop off the main road, but it gives an absolutely surreal view of the Badlands. We definitely stopped for a million photos here and took some for other people as well, since it was fairly popular. Mom cracked us up because Kirsten and I were first to discover the views—our moms were busy in the gift shop, and my mom bought a buffalo stuffed animal! His name is Buff. We did see a buffalo, by the way! It was laying down way out there, but it probably can’t be seen good in photos, and I don’t have the photos of it, but I’m sure my mom took some. These views are what we’d been hoping to see, and talk about humbling. It’s just amazing to know God created this and to take it all in and just wonder how He formed all of it.

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They had an awesome overlook perfect for photos! Kirsten is a photographer and was hoping to get photos of views like these, so she took a lot, and then we got some altogether, too!

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On the Way to Montana

After those views, we were all super pumped for the rest of the trip, as it was truly only the beginning. I ate more crap food and brought my favorite pop with of course.

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The Montana Sign

Yes, I’m not kidding when I said we were all pumped. So pumped we had to pull over to get a bunch of photos with the Montana sign. There’s even a little path along the side of the road for it. And we had quite a few people honk at us as they went by on both sides of the divided highway. I have such fond memories of this! It sure is fun being tourists, haha.

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Driving Through Montana

The pretty views extended into Montana for quite aways, too.

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Glendive Dinosaur & Fossil Museum

This was the first stop we made early on in Montana. I LOVED THIS PLACE. We didn’t have the time to actually pay the fee to see all of this museum, but we perused the gift shop, where they had lots of neat items, from jewelry to other artifacts. They also had so many books I wanted. Why? Because this place has a distinctly Christian and biblical view on the creation of the world, aka the truth you never hear about in public schools… I’ve always despised learning about evolution in school. If they were going to teach it as a theory and also share these other views, that would be one thing, but instead this manmade idea of creation is considered and taught as a fact. It’s very reassuring to see places like this that accept the truth and share it. I wanted honestly like five books, but I just got one to start with, and I’m definitely excited to begin educating myself on the truth.

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Driving in Montana Some More…

Okay, here’s the thing about Montana: it is absolutely gorgeous in some areas and so very dull in others, haha. As our drive stretched on, there was basically a whole lot of nothing, and at some points we were the only car on the main road. But those speed limits though!!! You wonder why, haha. I remember we were all about to die because we were getting so hungry for lunch, but all of the towns we would pass through were so small and run down we couldn’t fathom them being a town, so we kept waiting and eating whatever crap food we had left. Finally we stumbled on a town that was more populated, and they had a Subway! We also found people who were very nice at a gas station and helped us with directions because we were trying to figure out if we were on the right track to cross the border. I don’t know what you would do if you ran out of gas there. It was also the beginning of the end of our phone reception. In more populated towns, you would have data, but way out in the middle of nowhere you didn’t get much of anything.

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However, we had so many funny moments and just times to talk with each other. My mom had said she’d always wanted to go on a road trip, so I’m very thankful we were able to do all of this together. There were points where it felt drug out, but really, everything went quickly in the scheme of things because of that. We were still able to contact our boys back home for awhile, too, which was nice. I couldn’t believe the amount of ranches out in Montana. Yeehaw, haha. It started looking more and more like the mountains…

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I mean, look how flat this is. But hey, it’s still beautiful. All of God’s creation is beautiful, and Mom kept telling us to imagine life as a cowboy and that’s what you saw. Kir and I were more like please find us a cutie cowboy but anyways, I probably shouldn’t because I don’t think I could do that life personally, haha. I did enjoy seeing and imagining what it would be like, though.

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Driving in Alberta

Oh, my gosh. So we thought Montana was bad. Alberta was absolutely nothing for MILES. And the speed limit made a rather steep drop. We couldn’t figure it out at first thanks to the lovely metric system and our rental car didn’t have conversions to kilometers, but Mom finally found a photo of our speedometer she had for some reason, and then we got to go a little faster. But we were going at a turtle’s pace for awhile and thought we were going to die. That final stretch did get long. We had aways to get up to Medicine Hat, where our second hotel would be. It did get hillier at some points, though, and at another point, I saw those trees that are littered abundantly throughout Ontario.

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Arriving in Medicine Hat

Medicine Hat was another fairly good sized town. It was my first time seeing a “normal” Canadian town because you don’t see too many of them in Ontario, that’s for sure. Corrine spotted a Dollarama there, which is their version of a Dollar Store or something, and she is in love with those the way I’m in love with a lot of my stores. We saw like three of them throughout our trip, and we stopped at most of them except one was closed. Kirsten was thankful. But the first time we went, Kirsten got a Canada t-shirt, and I got one, too, which we wore in photos I’ll recap in a later post. The hotel we stayed at here was still nice but probably one of my lesser favorites of the trip. It was a lot older, but for the price, it still was nice, had a comfy bed, had a hot tub, and we got free breakfast, so no complaints from us. This is one of the structures Medicine Hat had, and actually we had a funny moment later that night at the hotel because Kirsten said, “I don’t really know what people would stay in this town for,” since we quickly figured out it wasn’t a destination for tourists primarily. And Corrine goes, “They can go see that teepee!” We all cracked up, including her, and she ended up spitting out her water, which just added to the humor. It was neat looking, though.

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Corrine and Kirsten took a pass on the hot tub, but my mom wanted to go to relax our muscles, so her and I went while they went to pick up some things, and we ordered pizza, so they were going to stay for its delivery. Those hot tubs were the perfect thing to look forward to after a long, full day of being cramped up in a car. This hot tub was much more tame compared to the other pool. There weren’t as many people with their kids.

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We ordered pizza from Papa John’s, and it was delicious, especially after being in the hot tub. It was such a great feeling to come back from that, get dressed in comfy pajamas, and then eat pizza on the bed with Kir.

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This time at night to just relax and talk with each other was also fun because we started generating ideas for what we wanted to do in Calgary. Kirsten had seen pictures of the mountains and lakes in Banff, which wasn’t far from Calgary, so she wanted to go there and get pictures. We also wanted to go shopping, I was dying to go up in a skyscraper so we saw the Calgary Tower was something we could do, there was this awesome bridge that went over a river by the skyscrapers we wanted to get pictures at, Mom wanted to see the Saddledome and get a picture for Hunter (home of the Calgary Flames!), and so on. We started browsing through ideas of things to do both in Calgary and Banff, and it was a lot of fun looking at photos of all the attractions and getting excited to soon be doing those things.

This is Buff. His full name is Buff Shawn Trip because we heard Shawn Mendes constantly, so now we named him after Shawn, but it only seemed fitting because Shawn is from Canada.

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And here’s all of us with Buff!

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All my energy and excitement must have finally gotten to me, proven by like five different things I wrote down on my phone that I thought were funny. I was driving my mom nuts because we shared one bed while Corrine and Kir had the other, and Mom goes to bed too early just like my grandma and I kept laughing, and it’s hilarious because I took a selfie of us where she’s, like, about knocked out, and you can tell she’s just about ready to strangle me, and then there’s me, wide awake and loving life. I’d post the selfie, but it’s really not that flattering of either of us.

And that’s about how I feel now about being able to share this first recap post! These days were truly just a glimpse of what was in store for us. I was so thankful for all God blessed us with and also for helping us through other times in the trip when some things didn’t go as smoothly. I’m so thrilled to share all of it! Stay tuned for the next post that should be out soon! I don’t know if I’ve ever had this much fun writing blog posts, even though I was irate with my photo app because evidently uploading 500 photos at one time is too much to ask. But it’s all coming together! The next post will recap driving to Calgary, our wonderful hotel there, and both our days in Banff! Thanks so much for reading about our adventures and the thoughts I have along the way as well as how God is continuing to grow me. There’s much more to come!!

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What Life Is All About

A little over a week ago, I got to attend my cousin Kirsten’s graduation ceremony at the University of Iowa, and I have to say, the entire day we spent with her and family was amazing. So amazing that I felt the need to write all of it down that I could possibly remember in my journal, and now my nails hurt from clenching my pen so much! It was one of those days, though, that you just want to hold onto forever. But of course reality has to set back in, and as I texted her the next day, I felt depressed thinking of the fun times and then having to return to the monotonous grind of school/”the real world.” Of course, it doesn’t have to be that way because I can look back on that time and let the joy of it radiate in me now. I wanted to blog about it, though, because not only did I have a great time and want to remember it, but I also…well, I’m trying to think of some other way to say “learned a lot of lessons from it!” because I feel like I say that with literally everything on this blog. Lessons learned from hockey, lessons learned from shopping, lessons learned from staying up late on my phone stalking social media… Okay, fine, I get it. It’s always important to learn, though, am I right?! We may as well just change this blog tagline to “everything a teen girl does and every lesson she learns from it.” Well, there’s worse things to blog about, I think!

Anyway, I really enjoy spending time with my family, and Kirsten is the type of person you just always have fun with. I’ve blogged about our times together before, including just last summer when we tried jet skiing, an experience I highly recommend! You can read all about that and many other adventures right here.

Kirsten was graduating from Iowa, and seeing as we live only an hour away from Iowa City, my mom and I were going to go to her ceremony. Mom gets pretty anxious about the driving and making it there on time when we knew it was going to be crazy, but once we got that part out of the way, we were able to relax. I’ve only been to Iowa City one other time before this, when I had to go see my surgeons there to talk about jaw surgery, and I wrote about that experience here as well and—you’ll never guess it—more lessons I’d learned!

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I was very overwhelmed by how many people there were and how big the stadium was that the ceremony was held in! There were crowds of people so big that when trying to walk through, you’d actually rub against someone, haha. Trying to find her family to sit by was a little hectic, but thankfully we were able to find them just before things got started and settled in. I enjoyed where we sat because we sat at some table/desk-like structure in the middle, and these plastic rolling chairs were actually very comfortable. It was nice to see her family!

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Even though the ceremony was super long, it didn’t really feel that way. We were able to spot Kirsten just before we missed her haha, as it moved fast and in no organized order. We did get good pictures of her, though. Then afterwards we were able to meet up with her and, seeing as my mom and I were starving since we hadn’t really had breakfast that morning, we decided to go eat somewhere. Kirsten wanted to check out the mall they had and try Zombie Burger which was in their food court, so we ended up deciding to meet there. Before we left, though, we took some pictures with Kirsten.

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I was, of course, ecstatic to be going to the mall, but Mom was still frazzled about getting out. Getting out was actually very stressful because there was not nearly adequate enough organization to directing people out, so everyone was just going as they please with no real flow. Once we got out of that mess though and then out of the mess of driving all the way through Iowa City because Siri thought that was the best route to the mall evidently, and after Mom was able to make it inside the mall and get food and such, it ended up being more relaxing with the stressful part behind us. We got food right away and enjoyed catching up with Kirsten and her mom. They actually ended up coming back to our house with us for a bit because we were going to end up going back anyway to pick up my brother, who wanted to see them, and spend some time at their hotel in Altoona. So it did end up working out that we were able to do just a bit of shopping, too! I made Kir go to one of my fave stores with me, and I was thrilled that finally a day where I go to the mall and they were having deals at my store! Mom went with my aunt to pick up some new soaps and stuff like that, and we met up with them later. We didn’t go too crazy, but hey, I was able to leave with something on sale from my store—and actually convinced Kirsten to get something, too—so I was more than happy with how it all played out. And then Kirsten and I went into a dressing room literally just to take a picture, and I’m sure the sales lady was wondering what the heck we were doing, but anyway, we got the picture, so what else matters?

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The car ride home flew by as we were lost in conversation the whole way. Seeing as Kirsten and her family live up in Minnesota, we don’t get to actually see them much, but when we do, it always goes by so fast. It’s those times you never forget, though, and they’re that much more special. I’m always so thankful to God, and even though the day stays full of activity and as a result I don’t feel like I talk to Him as much, I know that’s a blessing from Him and something He wants me to enjoy, is that time with family. It all leads me back to Him as I thank Him for those times and days and reflect back on them later. It reminds me constantly of His goodness and provision and the good times in life that I can enjoy while I’m here. We enjoyed talking with them once we got home after making a stop at our Walmart because Kirsten wanted to see if there were cute Hawkeye shirts—and normally there are—but unfortunately our Walmart let her down just like the Spirit Lake Walmart did last summer when she wanted an Okoboji shirt. Maybe one day, Kirsten…! I was happy Kir got to see my room because I’ve changed it immensely since she was last at my house.

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I love having her to take photos with because we both can be conceited together hahaha. But really, you gotta have some way to document those memories! And thankfully she’s as picky about her photos as me, so we always make sure we get some good ones and some not so serious, also, to highlight the fun of the day!

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Once we got my brother, we headed to Altoona to take them back to their hotel, since they’d be headed back the next day. That time was really special because everyone got to visit with one another in the room, although Kirsten and I were rarely in the room because we literally made the rounds walking around the hotel and talking and getting pictures about five different times, haha. We talked about everything from upcoming events we were looking forward to to guys to life now to Kir’s fear of elevators! And we took lots of pictures. And one time Kirsten literally walked into a room where there was a big dance for a wedding, which I proudly got on video, and then another time we walked into this group of dancers or something and that was quite awkward given how they were dressed, and then another time I found this cute guy, and we wanted to go look at the casino even though obviously I wasn’t getting in, and there was a gift shop, and all sorts of reasons why we were wandering around endless times! Probably one of my favorite parts of the day, just walking around with her like that and talking. I love being able to go for walks like that with people. Even when I’m at the hockey games in Wells Fargo, I always love walking around the arena.

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Gotta love that view!

I was so thankful we got to see them and have that time with them. I know that good gift of family is all from God, and it makes me so thankful for how He provides like that. He knows when I need a break or when the seriousness and routine of life needs to be broken up or when I need to be reminded of what really matters. And I know I probably say this all the time, but it just makes me so appreciative of my family and what He’s put right in front of me. It’s that reminder I need to keep enjoying the good and keep working because school can be difficult for me, both with people and with the stress of keeping up with the workload. It’s always nice to have that break, that reminder and refresher of what makes life rich. Working hard is good and important, but I don’t ever want to be so obsessed with things that I can’t let go or release control and just enjoy the season of life I’m in. Because believe me, I can get very uptight that way, and I can doubt God and lose my focus on Him and what matters. But then there are days like this, where He’ll remind me of it again and again, to remember those moments, those feelings, that knowing that He always provides and He is the One who makes life joyful. And there will always be those times for those who trust in Him completely. I’ll write much more on this in the future because learning to let go and appreciate the moment and NOT GETTING IMPATIENT LIKE I ALWAYS DO HAHA is something He’s been working on immensely in me this year. But we are getting there, people! So thank you for always following along and going on this journey with me. I pray all of you are doing well and will stop to align your focus in life with God’s because that is when you know what life is about and will have His true joy.

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What Your Favorite Movies Say About Life

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I love rewatching those movies that are my favorites, that no matter how many times you see them, they’re always entertaining and relaxing to watch again. I also have enjoyed going to movies with my family or watching them together; it’s fun bonding that way. There are movies that, despite not being distinctly Christian and maybe not even all that appropriate at times, still have some themes that I can appreciate, though. For example, I blogged about when I watched The Fault in Our Stars and how that taught me some things about the world here.

There are other movies like that I’ve enjoyed watching way more than that one, actually, and come to think of it, there are certain scenes or whatever that will speak to me or that I can appreciate. I’ll tell you some of my favorite movies and what parts I’ve liked, and then I want to hear about yours, too!

The Hunger Games and Catching Fire: I liked the whole series, but the first two were especially enjoyable. I remember one time in particular, actually, I was watching Catching Fire when it was on TV with my mom, and I got the idea for a blog post based on one of the scenes and thought, I need to write about this. There’s a part in Catching Fire where Gale, whose a cutie in my opinion, gets lashed because their society is cruel, and honestly it’s been awhile since I’ve seen this movie, so now I can’t even remember the reason why he was being punished. Anyhow, I know that whatever the reason, it was unjustified, and they did it in front of their whole town square, and Katniss tries to come rescue him.

I remember thinking about Gale once I got over how hot he is and how brave it was for him to take that and to not want Katniss to get hurt when she tried to save him. And I know you might say, that’s just a Hollywood movie, and those types of people don’t exist. Well, they should! Now, normally I am against so many of the themes cheesy Hollywood romance movies promote (you won’t see many romance movies on this list at all for that reason haha), but this is one I agree with. Chivalry and such is something that men should have and not just be a fantasy of women. Why? Because Jesus Himself models this!

Think about it. I was sitting there swooning over Gale, thinking about how brave he is and strong, etc., and then it literally just hit me. That Jesus actually went through so much worse than that. For ME. For YOU. It took my breath away. That desire, that reason why men are willing to sacrifice like that and why women want that, is it not because He did that very thing for us? And calls men to do the same (Ephesians 5:25)?

I really didn’t put this on here to nag men about what they should be doing, I put it on here to give glory to God because it shows how any desire we have, for a guy like Gale, maybe, or a marriage or to be loved like that, and the list goes on… It shows He already offers us that love and more. More than what any desire could offer.

Parental Guidance: this is a real heartwarming movie. It’s a fun comedy about grandparents and family, and I’ve enjoyed watching this with my family multiple times. Though it’s a comedy, there are multiple reminders of the importance of marriage, parenting, family, etc.

Twister: this is seriously one of my favorite movies ever. It’s on TV like all the time, and my mom and I always love to watch it. This is another comedy sort of movie, and it’s cheesy, yes, but at least it’s honest about its cheesiness. Some of those dumb romances movies try to act like they’re meaningful, and they’re not, but this one at least is honest about it haha! The main couple definitely has issues in their marriage, but there is this one scene I actually think about quite often when I get upset due to feeling restless: it’s the part where Bill tells Jo she needs to look at what she’s got right in front of her, which was him, because she is so caught up in her career for reasons the movie goes into. It’s definitely one of my favorites.

Into the Storm: this is another movie like Twister and fairly new. I went and saw this in theaters with my dad and loved it as I enjoy weather and movies involving it. This also has a theme to it despite being comedic and action packed at times. It talks about appreciating each day and never taking anything for granted.

Forrest Gump: this is a movie I saw last summer with my family, and I adore it. It’s funny, sweet, and reminded me of what’s really important in life. Even though God is not the center of the movie, through different characters and their stories, I was able to see how it all points back to all of us needing Him, whether the movie acknowledges that or not.

Everything ties back to God because He’s made us and instilled in us the deep desires for love and every other good thing. These movies at best hint at how we were made for Him and at worst show the trial and error of doing life without Him. So no matter what you watch, I wonder, where are you at in life with God? Are you able to see Him in everything, or do other distractions that movies portray take you farther from Him? Entertainment is not a bad thing—the desire for fun is from Him, too, you know—just so long as it all leads you back to Him.

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