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Summer Wrap-up in the PNW

In Our Life by GaryLeave a Comment

We spent the last part of the summer trying to pack in as much fun as we could before our crazy school schedules began. We had about 6 weeks to explore the area (take a few work trips back south), unpack from our move, and get acquainted with our new life… you know…  learn the area, get lost a lot, find grocery stores, find good beer/breweries, DMV stuff, schedule tuition payments, unpack our little apartment (we still had way too much stuff – even after getting rid of most of it back in SoCal), find a church, make friends, etc. But more importantly, before the loooong, dark, rainy winter arrived we (Gary, aka Capt’n Adventure) felt very pressured to get out and explore the area before hibernation set in… so, we were off!

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So much time playing in the lake. The girls LOVED jumping off the docks and playing around on the SUP.

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Above: visiting beaches on the Puget Sound and discovering local waterfalls. We love the diversity of this area! Below: Making new friends.


Above: A very quick work trip down to San Diego (wedding in La Jolla), we had one free evening that we spent at the beach with good friends (and fun surf and warm water) that we will truly miss. Below: Another work trip (wedding) in Yosemite for a quick weekend. Yosemite was very hot and smoky from all the summer fires. But we still were able to find some water and ditch the heat.

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Daddy daughter weekend on the Oregon coast with Team Strubhar.

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On a rainy weekend our family visited Mt Rainier National Park, and per usual, the girls were all about filling out their Jr Park Ranger packets.

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For some reason, we got sick a lot after the move (probably b/c this climate is so different… and new people… new germs, etc), but the first couple weeks of Sept were VERY INTENSE with sickness and class assignments and juggling all the different school schedules.

All three Christenson ladies started classes in September… Charlotte started preschool, Joelle started 1st grade, and Courtney started her grad program…. and Gary started fishing for salmon ;) and working like crazy of course (editing photos & designing).

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This is Lake Washington, we live very close to it and loved spending time in/near it this summer. Already making plans for the area for next summer! The options are endless for fun and adventure. If you wanna join us, hit us up and lets plan something fun together!

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Olympic Peninsula Camping Trip

In Our Life by GaryLeave a Comment


Hopefully this will be one of many trips to the Olympic Peninsula while we’re living here in Washington, it’s a crazy amazing place! Ocean, lakes, beaches, mountains (with glaciers) and rainforests… so much beauty packed into one relatively small place! Above: Lake Crescent on our way to the coast. The lake has unbelievably beautiful clear and bright blue water. When we were driving around it and looking down into little coves it seriously looked like the Mediterranean – minus the pine trees around the waters edge of course :) Below: Our camp site for the long weekend near Rialto Beach. The forests here are magical looking. Oh, it’s also where they filmed Twilight, so there’s that, for all you fans out there… eh hem, Carly ;)

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Above: Visiting the Hoh Rain Forest. So much greenery and life everywhere! This area receives over 150 inches of rain a year! That’s a crazy amount of water! So everything is lush, dense and beautiful. Below: Fishing the Hoh River. It has a really cool milky color to it – from the glacier silt that feeds into it upstream.

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Our happy place. The beach!!!!

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Moving from SoCal to Washington

In Our Life by CourtneyLeave a Comment


The move is behind us… phew, what a stressful time in life. Crazy, but good! We got rid of the majority of our stuff to make the move as easy and cheap as possible, and make our new life in our small apartment much more manageable. The best moving solution we found was to rent a trailer that you paid by the foot for (and then they’d drive it up and drop if off at your new place so that you could unpack). We ended up fitting all of our belongings into the first 7 feet of the trailer, which ended up being half the cost we budgeted for! WIN! Once the moving trailer was on it’s way up north, we sold our other vehicle, did our walkthrough with our new tenants for our house, packed up our other car and hit the road! We took our time driving up and stopped in the Bay Area for a few days, and then up to Central Oregon, and ultimately the greater Seattle area. Here’s some images from our long road trip north.


We wanted to show the girls Point Reyes National Seashore outside of San Francisco (we’ve been before, but they haven’t), so we took a bunch of small hikes/walks all over the area… there was epic amounts of whining from the girls (especially since Joelle’s leg was still a bit sore and recovering from breaking it earlier in the summer), but we made the most of it and it was incredibly beautiful. If you get the chance, you should check it out!

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Fueling up (above) for an epic nap (below).

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Above: On our way from the Bay Area to Central Oregon, we stopped at the Jelly Belly Factory. Sometimes you gotta take a break from all the nature AND get roughly 900lbs of jelly beans for the long drive ahead.

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We arrived in Bend, OR and stayed in Gary’s folks tiny-house / cottage they recently finished. We basically just played in the water and camped with friends while in the area.

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Above: Sparks Lake: We’ve made, dedicated and celebrated many major life decisions here. It only seemed right to do the same for this one…with a jar of champagne. Obviously.

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On our final leg of the journey, we stopped for a quick hike to a waterfall somewhere in Oregon. It’s blowing our minds how green it is up here and how much water there is compared to California.


With the help from friends and family, we successfully moved into our super duper tiny little apartment without any real problems. Below is one of the sunsets that welcomed us to the area (viewed from our back patio). We’re incredibly excited to be here and start our new life in the great PacNW. It’s going to be 3,000% nuts with school schedules and upcoming adventures and travels, but we’re game for it!


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So Long SoCal

In Our Life by GaryLeave a Comment

DCIM100GOPROWell, it’s super bittersweet, but it’s time for us to say goodbye to our sunny and beautiful little beach town and make our way up to the PacNW. We rented our house out, got our stuff packed and we’re ready to rock ‘n roll. We don’t know what the next couple years will hold for our little family, but we’re excited to be on this journey together. We’ll do our best to keep this blog updated with what’s going on. For now, here’s what the last several months of our remaining time in SoCal has looked like:

02_So_Long_SoCalDCIM100GOPRO04_So_Long_SoCal 05_So_Long_SoCal 06_So_Long_SoCal 07_So_Long_SoCal 08_So_Long_SoCal 09_So_Long_SoCal Mexico with friends!

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23_So_Long_SoCal 24_So_Long_SoCal 25_So_Long_SoCal 26_So_Long_SoCal 27_So_Long_SoCal 28_So_Long_SoCal 29_So_Long_SoCal Joelle broke her leg during our last month in town :(

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42_So_Long_SoCal 43_So_Long_SoCalSo long California. We love you and will miss you dearly!

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You Can’t Always Get What You Want

In Our Life by CourtneyLeave a Comment

Gary is constantly singing that Rolling Stones song “You can’t always get what you want…You get what you neeeed!” to our children when they whine about [every little] thing. We have made a commitment to share our experiences and journey over the next several years in a very honest way so, in light of that, here is a post about the fact that finances are limited and that the Rolling Stones were totally right.
Some of you may know that we bought an RV a couple months ago. We have wanted an RV for a very long time for obvious reasons:
  1. RVs facilitate adventure
  2. RVs let you go places affordably
  3. RVs are fun (duh)

When we started discussing the possibility of moving to the Pacific North West it made us REALLY want an RV because that area is so beautiful and a motor home seemed like the perfect way to explore it. I had been stalking RVs online for about a year just so I would know when a good deal came along and in February, it did. We got an insanely great deal on a little 22 foot 2002 Minnie Winnie. It was the perfect little adventure mobile for us. The kids were stoked out of their minds and so were we!

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However, even though it was an insanely great deal it was a lot sooner than we were actually planning on buying an RV. We hadn’t had time to save up the amount that we wanted to and it was still a big stretch for us financially… doable, but a stretch. About the same time we found out that I got into grad school, there were some sudden repairs that needed to happen to the RV, and before we knew it we were further in debt and stressed out about the upcoming costs of moving, school tuition and the other normal unexpected costs that seem to come along anytime your finances get a little hairy.

We had a decision to make. Was it worth it? Was the dream of exploring and adventuring in an RV with our family worth the stress and financial burden? Was having that vehicle more important than being able to confidently pursue the calling that we feel on our lives? Did God provide the money we have so that we could spend it on this awesome THING? Or did He provide it so we could spend it doing the things He has asked us to do?

It was a hard decision. But in the end, keeping it and spending our money (and emotional resources) in that way, at this time just wasn’t consistent with how we want to live.

So we sold it.

I thought I would shed a tear. I thought Gary might be bummed out for a week. I really thought the kids were going to be beside themselves. But when it drove away last weekend I felt relieved. We were back on track. As we walked back inside after it drove out of sight I heard Gary humming “You get what you neeeeed….“Amen, Rolling Stones. Amen.
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A Season of Change

In Our Life by Courtney16 Comments

OsideSunsetWe want to let you all know about some changes that are happening around here. There are some major shifts taking place in our family…Mentally, spiritually and physically.

The basic news (for those of you who don’t want to invest in reading the rest of this post) can be boiled down to this: We are moving to the greater Seattle area later this summer so that I (Courtney) can pursue a masters degree in International Community Development at Northwest University. Some things are also staying the same – We will still be operating our photography and design businesses out of Seattle, so if you know anyone in the area who needs some photo or design work have them hit us up. We’ll also be making many trips back to CA for the weddings we already have booked for the summer and fall of 2015.

Ok…so how and why is this all happening? Let me start by saying that it’s been a very strange year that, in hindsight, feels a whole lot like a year of preparation.

God has been bringing Gary and I side by side through a journey of seeing what we HAVE been living for versus what we SHOULD be living for.

WhatWereReadingOver the last year, while being prompted by various books, Bible studies and relationships, we both started asking the same questions at the same time: What are we doing here? What is the point of our life? As Christians, we hear (and say) a lot of things about how we are supposed to live for “something greater than us”…and we heard and said those same things. But it didn’t actually effect how we lived very much.

Which is exactly what we are now trying to fix. We’ve felt called to a global mission of some kind for a very long time. It got put on hold for several years due to the children being so little and being in “survival” mode, but now that they are older we both feel newly awakened to our calling and prepared to take the first steps in that direction.

During the last six years of being a full-time mom and this current year of being a homeschooling mom, I have felt like a fish out of water. I love my children so very much and truly love being a mother. But I feel called and created to do my mothering in a different way than what I’ve been doing it. Not better. Not worse. Different. Parenting in a different way where I can also pursue the passions that I believe God is asking me to pursue.

I feel like I was created to work on behalf of marginalized and vulnerable people. I’m particularly passionate about gender equality and gender-based issues. The problem is that I’m not qualified for any of the positions that I would love to have. So step one is to become qualified to go and do the work I feel created to do. And thus…Grad school.

Gary has always had a wanderlust and also the need to do something significant. Adventures are great…but the idea of combining adventure with something eternally significant gets him so excited.

Here’s the loose plan so far:

Rent our house in Oceanside, move to Kirkland, WA sometime in July or August. The elementary schools are fabulous up there so Joelle will attend a school down the street. We are hoping to live in student housing for families which seems like a really great situation. My degree is a two year program so I will be finished in the spring of 2017. After that, we have no idea what we’ll do. We will go wherever the Lord calls us. If it’s back to San Diego, we’ll come back here. If it’s stateside, we’ll be stateside. If it’s overseas, we’ll go overseas. He hasn’t given us that information yet, so we are just taking one step at a time.

I feel like I’m making this sound like it was an easy process or like it was simple for us to come  to these conclusions.

Let me clarify: It has not been easy. We came to these conclusions after facing a major financial crisis due to an accounting error (which has since been corrected), several major personal crisis (one day in January I felt so frustrated and powerless that I cried for 12 hours), an educational/parenting crisis (I now feel comfortable saying that I am not cut out to homeschool…and neither is Joelle), hours of confused conversation between Gary and I, lots of prayer, therapy (for me), many more tears of both sadness and excitement and endless amounts of wishing God would just drop a roadmap of the next 5 years into our lap.

We (although, I should mostly just say “I”), still have many fears about this impending change. What will all this change do to the kids? How on earth am I going to have time for freakin’ GRAD SCHOOL? What if it’s too much? What if Jo hates her new school? How are we going to afford all of this? Our girls are very close to their grandparents and the thought of moving them away from those relationships makes me super sad. But in the midst of all these worries, I am convinced beyond a shadow of a doubt that this is what God has for us, so I know that He is in control of all of it.

Our life is about to change radically. We are expecting to learn many things, but mostly we are hoping to learn more and more how to live a life fully abandoned to the will of God. Each step made in full obedience to Him.

IMG_9901_SeattleWe are planning on blogging regularly about all of our experiences in an extremely transparent way so that others can see how beautifully messy life is in the midst of trying to live in a way that pleases God. Hopefully it will be an encouragement to other people whose lives are filled with messy real-life sort of things. If that’s you, we hope you’ll join us and maybe shoot some encouragement back every once and while. Lord knows we all need it.

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Wrapping up 2014

In Our Life by GaryLeave a Comment

2014 GandC Family01What a whirlwind of a year 2014 has been! Here’s one last blog post to catch everyone up on Team Christenson. Lately around here its been fun and busy. Here’s a bunch of random images of us doing what we do best… beach, travels, sunsets and hanging with friends and family.

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2014 GandC Family08(above) Tooth down (again)!!! And Happy 6th Birthday Jo! (below)

2014 GandC Family09 2014 GandC Family10Somewhat semi-annual backyard family campout! So crazy, so fun.

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To the north!

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(above) A brief work-trip up to British Columbia – insanely beautiful… gotta be back there asap!

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(above) Shoppin’ for RV’s, and celebrating Joelle’s first day of Kindergarten! (below)

2014 GandC Family24 2014 GandC Family25 2014 GandC Family26 2014 GandC Family27 Mexico surf trip with the boys. Somehow we scored some really good surf down there, and scored copious amounts of tacos.

2014 GandC Family28 2014 GandC Family29 2014 GandC Family30 2014 GandC Family31 2014 GandC Family322014 Gand Family-45Glamping at El Capitan near California’s central coast.

2014 Gand Family-40 2014 GandC Family33Joelle took her training wheels off during our trip, big kid bike conquered!

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(above) Wetsuits for Christmas for the whole fam!!! :) And some tattoos of course (below)

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Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year everyone!!! See you in 2015.

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Orcas Island

In Our Life, We Heart Travel by CourtneyLeave a Comment

Orcas-Island-2014-Gary-and-Courtney-01Recently we visited Orcas Island (in the Puget Sound….Washington State… basically Canada) for Gary’s family reunion. It was a super quick trip with nonstop action, but so fun and insanely beautiful! We seriously can’t wait to get back up there and spend some serious time exploring the islands in the beautiful PacNW!

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Let’s get outside: Colorado

In Our Life, We Heart Travel by GaryLeave a Comment

Colorado-2014-Gary-and-Courtney-01 Last month we took a trip to Colorado to shoot a truly awesome wedding, and we decided to extend the trip and bring the kiddos along to have a family styled vacation up in the Rocky Mountains :) From free booze on the flight (because we flew on the 4th of July – and because Southwest is awesome) to throwing high fives at 12,000ft and jumping in ice cold lakes and rivers, we had an awesome time… more below…

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Above: Work / Light Testing photos from the wedding we photographed… can we just say that we are extremely grateful for our awesome clients who fly us to rad places to document their wedding day?! Living the good life and doing what we love together. Below: The next day we cruised up to Estes Park and met up with our family friends “Team Knudsen” from San Diego to go rage in our cabin for the following week…. 4 kids versus 4 adult.

Colorado-2014-Gary-and-Courtney-04 Colorado-2014-Gary-and-Courtney-05 Colorado-2014-Gary-and-Courtney-06 Above: Joelle is the best photo bomber of all times. Below: getting caught in the rainstorms every afternoon and a random kid pep rally that they came up with all on their own.

Colorado-2014-Gary-and-Courtney-07 Colorado-2014-Gary-and-Courtney-08 Colorado-2014-Gary-and-Courtney-09 Colorado-2014-Gary-and-Courtney-10 Colorado-2014-Gary-and-Courtney-11 Above: We did several days of hiking around the Rocky Mountain National Park and all the kids were complete champs! Below: here’s the champion of them all, Cheeks, gettin’ her Tennis face on :)

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Above: This is what a timeout looks like at 12,000ft. It’s not always fun and games folks. Below: It’s always Beer:30 in the Rockies! We had ourselves a grip-load of very tasty brews while venturing around.

Colorado-2014-Gary-and-Courtney-17 Colorado-2014-Gary-and-Courtney-18 Did a little hike (sans kids) up to around 10,000ft and jumped in an ice cold lake. Nick’s form is top notch.

Colorado-2014-Gary-and-Courtney-19 Colorado-2014-Gary-and-Courtney-20 Colorado-2014-Gary-and-Courtney-21 Colorado-2014-Gary-and-Courtney-22 Colorado-2014-Gary-and-Courtney-23 Colorado-2014-Gary-and-Courtney-24Thanks for stopping by. We had a complete blast in Colorado, as we always do :) We just love it there! Until next time, party on good people. Party on.

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Paris Birthday Surprise

In Our Life, We Heart Travel by Courtney4 Comments

Remember that time Gary gave me the surprise of a lifetime and whisked me away to Paris for my 30th birthday??? It’s so outrageous and the sort of thing that happens in chick flicks that three weeks later I’m still a little afraid that maybe it was all a dream.

I knew he’d been planning something. He had blocked off my birthday weekend on the calendar 6 months earlier and made me promise not to plan anything Friday-Sunday. Little things had me suspicious a couple of times…like how all the google ads on his computer were for Paris hotels and attractions. But it’s absurd to go to Paris for a birthday in general…let alone for a day and half, so I dismissed it.

Then a week before my birthday our little family went out to breakfast and he gave me an early birthday present. It was a gorgeously wrapped little box with a perfect set of antique keys tied to it. I opened it and inside was a beautiful lock to match the keys and a flight itinerary to Paris with my name on it….Leaving the next morning and staying for a full week. The lock was to put on the Pont de Arts as a symbol of our undying love.

Geez. I’m crying again just writing this. (Disclaimer, I’m a cryer…so there’s lots of crying involved in this story.)

First I couldn’t believe it. Like…I couldn’t actually get my brain to accept the idea that I was going to Paris the next day. Then I started bawling. Crying like a baby into my french toast.

Gary had arranged everything. My parents were going to watch the girls, we had a ride to the airport, a beautiful little flat booked, dinner reservations on the Eiffel Tower on my birthday and even a spreadsheet of restaurants, bakeries and attractions that he had researched. It was crazy. And insanely awesome.

The fact that I was going to Paris didn’t actually sink in until our second flight from Salt Lake City to Paris. At which point I started laughing and then crying again.

At that point I decided to accept randomly bursting into tears as a part of my life for the next week. I did it a lot….like three or four times a day at least. Whenever I looked around and got crazy overwhelmed by how loved I was. And how beautiful life was at that moment.

We don’t get very many perfect moments in life. But this was mine.We decided to be terrible photographers and great people and leave our big camera at home. We didn’t want to feel the pressure of taking great pictures…We wanted to give ourselves the freedom of just experience things in person, rather than through a view finder. So the photos you see here and nearly all of the photos we took (from our phones and trusty point-n-shoot). But we have some amazing memories.

We ate a lot of incredible and insanely buttery food and then burned it off by walking at least five miles a day. We drank a lot of champagne (we brought a couple of bottles of my favorite that I had insisted on buying for my birthday before I knew about the trip.) And we had a crazy good time.

When in doubt, make out under the Eiffel Tower. If possible, involve a delicious rose wine from Provence.Gary had made us reservations for dinner on the Eiffel Tower for my actual birthday. It was GORGEOUS. There was a misunderstanding and they sang him happy birthday instead of me which was one of my favorite moments of the whole trip. I sang along and then we laughed til we cried. But it might have been the champagne that made it so funny.
Oh and the lock? We decided to be subversive and put it somewhere the Parisian authorities would never try to cut it off. So it’s in a perfect little spot with an amazing view.

You’re supposed to throw the keys into the Seine, but we kept ours…and promised to move it every time we got the chance to visit Paris. It’s like our little promise to not let this be the end. Of grand gestures. Of crazy, irresponsible adventures. Of surprising each other. Of traveling. Of being hopelessly, madly in love. Of drinking champagne and making out in public. I don’t want this to be the last time. I want it to be the first.

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Mammoth Winter Getaway

In Our Life, We Heart Travel by GaryLeave a Comment

We got a few of our favorite families together and rented a pad up in Mammoth for a week to go play in the snow. The snow level in the Sierra mountains was on the depressing side, but we made the most of this “winter wonderland” by finding any snow we could, exploring the surrounding area (hiking, hot springs, fish hatchery, etc) and making it to the summit of Mammoth mountain to take in the views (even managed to do a bit of snowboarding). The kids raged, the adults raged, we successfully brought in the New Year, and we all had a fun family styled winter getaway :) Thanks Verdugos and Knudsens for bringin’ THE PARTY!!!

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A Heart That Cares

In Make An Impact, Our Life by CourtneyLeave a Comment

For those of you that don’t know, Courtney wrote and published a children’s book recently. Yes, it’s pretty random, but extremely exciting :) You can find more info on the “back story” here. The book is finally complete, in stock, and ready for purchase! Please visit to learn all about “A Heart That Cares” and how you can order a copy today.

We hope this book (“A Heart that Cares”) can be a great tool for parents to teach their young children gratitude and compassion while empowering them to make a global difference.We’re also hoping to publish a series of books on various global issues, all for families with young children… assuming this one gets some traction first :)

Thanks so much for all the love and support during this crazy journey of publishing this book. If you would like to help, simply share this book with people you know :) Or if you have connections of any kind, please don’t hesitate to let us know. Anything will help. But most of all, after reading the book, help us get A LOT of needy children sponsored, that’s our ultimate goal with this book!!! Thanks everyone. Here we go!!!

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Our Summer

In Our Life by Gary3 Comments

What a summer! Phew. Lots happened, lots is still happenin’, and our fall is lookin’ to be just as bonkers with some fun trips and amazing photoshoots all over the place… lets try and catch ya up. First up, we had our mugs shot by the the amazing Thrive Photography when Julie was visiting from Tennessee (image above and a few images scattered below are proof of her awesomeness – she just nails families and we’re so grateful to her for capturing our growing family). Speaking of, Joelle is about to turn FIVE (what the what?!) and Charlie is quickly approaching three. So nuts. This summer we constructed a Family Summer Bucket List (thanks to our friends over at the Happy Family Movement). The list had everything from swimming with Leopard sharks, to backyard campouts, beach bonfires, riding on a boat, jumping off a diving board, collecting seashells, fishing, beach bonfires, etc … all items on the list helped us make having fun together a priority this summer. Below you’ll find some images of our summer … 90% of it was spent in or around the water – which is what you’ll see lots of images of below :) … we just can’t help it, we’re a water family… and what’s a summer without a lot of pool parties and beach bbqs & bonfires with friends?

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Eli to Mt Everest

In Make An Impact, We Heart Travel by Gary16 Comments

Everest-Base-Camp-ExpeditionA CRAZY IDEA:

This story began almost two years ago when I (Gary) was approached by Justin Reimer (founder of The Elisha Foundation), and Kevin Padgett (our Team Leader) with the idea of trekking to Mt. Everest Base Camp. However, the idea was bigger than just a group of friends going on an adventure. This adventure had a purpose. The purpose was to raise a significant amount of money for The Elisha Foundation (TEF) and raise awareness of those impacted by disability around the world. Eli Reimer (Justin’s 15 year old son who has Down Syndrome) and several other teammates signed up for the trip and we all began mentally and physically preparing for the long road ahead.

I had the great responsibility (and privilege) of being in charge of all-things-media related of our trek: logo, website, fundraising materials, soft goods (t-shirts, patches, flag), as well as documenting the trip through my photography and being the DP (Director of Photography) for all the videos we were creating for the trek. It was the perfect combination of my gifts and passions, I loved every minute of it!

TEF_EBC_Logo TEF_Tshirts_800 TEF_Website


(FYI, the split/square images throughout this blog post are all iPhone images that got Instagrammed)

Our team spent the year leading up to the trip training, gathering gear and planning out all the logistics of our nearly 80 mile trek through the Himalayas. I was extremely grateful for my li’l families support, involvement and encouragement during this season of training (lots of running and hiking through suburbia here in SoCal). I was also blown away by the generosity of those around us who lent me their outdoor gear for the trek. Most of what you see below was borrowed or gifted from a few VERY generous buddies (Jeff, Taylor, Kyle, Amos, Jim, Kevin… THANK YOU!!!).

Part of the prep included fundraising for The Elisha Foundation. Each trekker committed to raising $10,000 for the organization. With our local and global community’s help (mainly from a crap-ton of awesome photographers who we love and respect), we we’re able to raise over $11,000 for TEF in less than 30 days via our blog (view the fundraising blog post here). By the time we left for Nepal in March, the entire team had collectively raised nearly $100,000 for TEF!!! Throughout the whole process of fundraising we were continually blown away by everyones generosity. Thank you, Thank You, THANK YOU!!!

With my bags packed, prayers prayed, and passports in hand, I left for Los Angeles International Airport to meet up with our team for the journey to Nepal… and ultimately Mt. Everest Base Camp (dunt dunt dunnn). The image below is when Nate Strubhar (the video dude), and I (the photo dude) first met Eli at LAX. Eli was the main focus (media wise) of our trip so Nate and I’s primary objective was to capture and retell his story. I was really excited to get to know Eli and eager to start documenting his journey to Everest.  We boarded the huge jumbo jet and took a 10,000 mile plane ride together to the other side of the globe :)


After roughly 38 hours of transit, we arrived late on the night of March 4th in Kathmandu, the [very busy] capital city of Nepal.

Early the next morning we met with our guides to go over all the details for the trek. Our next stop with them was their trekking supply store in the city where we picked up the final necessary gear and supplies for the 16 days we would spend on the trail.

From there we were taken on a quick tour of the city of Kathmandu. The global perspective on disability tends to be fairly critical and stigmatizing so as we headed out into the city we were concerned about how Eli would be received. There was a notable absence of those with cognitive disability as we visited the various religious monuments and spectacles of Kathmandu. There were a few curious stares at Eli but no perceivable comments.

The city of Kathmandu seemed to be very religious (there really isn’t much to do other than go and visit various religious sites throughout the city) but the spiritual vibe of Kathmandu is kinda heavy and dark. There are idols everywhere and people offering gifts to the gods in hopes of appeasing them or gaining good luck. The people in the city were generally polite but a little forward and constantly trying to sell you something…very different from the people we would meet in the mountains who were generally more calm, helpful and welcoming. After a couple days in the bustling city we were ready to ditch the smog and noise and hit the trail.

Throughout the day in Kathmandu our team began to connect on a more personal level. Many of us had just met for the first time as we went through security in LA so it was great so get to know each other as we experienced our first bit of Nepali cuisine together in the city. It became clear early on that this team was a blessed collection of personalities. We honestly enjoyed each other every day of the trip. The camaraderie and humor on this trip felt like it was at an all time high the entire trip. :) I really loved our team! Let me introduce you to them…


(Above, starting left to right) Team leader: Kevin, residing in Montana. Eli and his father Justin from Bend, OR.Nate, hailing from Maui. Meghan and Carly (cousins) from the San Luis Obispo area (CA)

Tim, Dr. Lisa, and Gary, all from SoCal.


We woke up early for our flight on a small prop plane to the mountain village of Lukla, where we would begin our trek. We ate a quick simple breakfast (mainly eggs, which would make up a large portion of our daily diet while living on the mountain), double checked that our trail duffle bags (to be carried by porters on the trail) were at or below the 15kg limit and then took off for the airport. After a slight delay we finally boarded our flight and took off from Kathmandu for the 30 minute flight straight up to the mountains. Lukla is rated as one of the most dangerous airports in the world. The runway is only 1,500 feet long, has a 12% gradient, and it sits on the edge of a mountain/cliff at an elevation of 9,383 ft. It’s a do-or-die kind of landing. If you come up short “BAM!” right into a cliff, if you don’t stop in time you’ll run into a huge brick wall that “protects” the village… needless to say, there is little room for error… which means that conditions need to be nearly perfect in order for these small planes to make the landing – thus the reason why there are so many delays in and out of this airport (sometimes lasting up to a week). For me personally, this flight was the one thing I was most worried about for this trip.

The flight  from Kathmandu was CRAZY beautiful. As we rose above the city smog, you could see the Himalayas reaching up towards the heavens. It was jawdropping! Words or pictures cannot do it justice – these mountains are just freakishly large – the Himalayan mountain range has over 100 mountain peaks exceeding 23,000ft. We descended over a handful of ridgelines before the runway of the Lukla Airport came into view, cut into the mountainside in front of us. We approached quickly and …BANG, rattle, rattle we were there! (and in one piece…thank you Jesus!)

After landing you walk across the backside of the runway to officially start the trek to Mt. Everest. From this point forward there are only trails (footpaths) in and out.

LIFE ON THE TRAIL: The “Lowlands”

So the first part of the trail is what I’m calling the “low”-lands… even though it ranges from 8,500 to 14,000 feet (hardly “low”). The trail winds through trees, through a long and steep valley and back and forth over a glacier fed river. This first part of the journey is fairly comfortable. Temperatures are in the 40’s, 50’s and 60’s and there’s a lot of local villagers going about their normal mountain routines (herding livestock, farming, gathering wood, etc.)

We stayed and ate in small Tea Houses along the trail and shared rooms with a team mate – for me that was my good buddy and media partner,  Nate :) Our team gathered for each meal and for afternoon “cookie & tea time” in the common area of the tea house that is often heated by a toasty, warm yak dung fire (pictures of our accommodations are further down in this blog post). The tea houses are situated in little villages along the trail.

The Sherpa people make up most of the population here in the mountains. Originally migrants from Tibet, these people are made for mountain living. Their lungs and hearts are enlarged and they are generally shorter and stockier. Carrying large loads is a daily norm for the Sherpa people. Most of what you see on the trails (buildings, bridges, food, drinks, supplies, etc) was all carried on the back of an animal or a person. Again, there are no roads up here. Every morning our porters went on ahead of us, each carrying two 15kg duffel bags of our extra gear. I’m still in awe of the young boys who helped carry our load. They were grateful for the work and we were grateful to the pay them :) The trekking industry is one of the most lucrative in Nepal so although it’s hard work to carry gear and guide teams, the pay is pretty great compared to other jobs. We made sure our porters and guides felt our appreciation each day with high fives, cheers and hugs (and tips when the journey was complete).(above) If supplies aren’t flown in on a plane to Lukla, then it’s created in the villages or carried up the trail by human or animal. You would not believe some of the loads the Porters would carry. (below) In the lowlands, every now and then, you’d get a little peak at Everest. She is super elusive – always being hid by the mountains surrounding her.
The first couple days on the trail we crossed a lot of suspension bridges. Most of them seemed fairly safe, even with the heavy loads of trekkers, porters and animals that passed over them each day.

In the “lowlands” you see a lot of cows and donkeys (yaks are at the “higher” elevations). I called the donkeys below “Donkey Bombs”. It’s not uncommon to see these very tired animals stumble down the trail or slip and fall on ice or mud… so I was just waiting for one of these tanks to fall or get hit and take off or explode or something ;) It sorta felt like a video game at times trying to dodge the “donkey bombs” coming down the trail.

You see a lot of prayer flags, prayer wheels, rocks with carvings on them and temples throughout the journey. We spent a day at a monastery in one village where most trekkers who summit Mt Everst come to get blessed by the Monks. We were able to briefly sit in on one of their daily prayer ceremonies. The artistry and attention to detail inside the monasteries was unreal.


Eli is a fit and strong young man but none-the-less we were concerned about some of the physical challenges that can come with Down Syndrome – low muscle tone, heart issues, etc. Due to the unknowns of Eli’s unique physiology we didn’t know how his body would respond to the rigors of the trail and effects of high altitude (even though his doctors all approved and released him to go on this trip). Because of this uncertainty, our Team knew that every overnight stop in the villages along the way was a “summit” for Eli. As we would approach our stop for the night one of us would call out, “Summit #3…” or whatever number it was. We all hoped that Eli would make it to that magically significant “Summit Day” at Mt. Everest Base Camp but knew that each and every step was a missive accomplishment.

Tea breaks and music stops with Eli were a normal part of life on the trail. Music really helped Eli stay motivated, as did stories and a hand or arm to hold while hiking. On various days of the trek we all had the chance to take Eli under our wing and make sure he was in good spirits. But he also helped us and pushed us every day as he led the team on the trail for the majority of the trip. He was a champion! Each day I was impressed with his physical stamina. He honestly outdid most of us on this whole journey. While the rest of the team was getting sick, loosing our appetite and loosing sleep each night due to the high altitude, Eli charged on, ate enough food for two people at every meal and slept like a rock every single night – he was made for this sort of adventure. :)

On our way up we stopped at a village where a statue of Sir Edmund Hillary sits. This Kiwi is a legend around here. He was the first person to summit Mt. Everest (1953) and during his time in the Himalayas he fell in love with the people and the land. He visited often and built schools, clinics, airstrips, etc. He loved the Sherpa people and they loved him. Below: a “yak attack”…K, not really, but they were running all over the place at the higher elevations. They reminded me of North American Bison: beastly, large and hairy. The Sherpa’s use them as pack animals and a source of meat at these extreme elevations.

I called this day on the trail “The Lord of the Rings” day. There was a cliff that dropped off thousands of feet to the right and steep steps climbing up into the clouds. It got colder and colder as we trekked further up into the mountains. Waking up to frozen water bottles INSIDE our Tea House was proof of that. ;)
(Above) Looking down from our trail that was carved into the side of the moutain. (Below) Looking up through the clouds you would randomly see a HUGE mountain peaking every now and then – reminding us that we still had much more to climb.

LIFE ON THE TRAIL: The “Highlands”

As we marched on, the trail was a mix of steep ascending steps, uneven rocky terrain and wandering descents. The temperatures changed from cool mornings to cold mornings to just being cold all day long. Our bodies started to feel the strain and show the effects of altitude gain as we adjusted to having 40% less oxygen then is available to us at sea level. As we climbed some steeper terrain breathing was more labored and our pace slowed greatly, but we pressed on into deeper valleys where the glaciers become part of the terrain. We lived in these “highlands” above 14,000 ft for a full week.

The landscape seemed semi-lunar with broad valleys dotted with massive boulders then shifting to fields of rocks. It was barren but it had a stunning beauty.

Prayer flags are hung by trekkers and locals with the belief that the wind carries their prayers as the flags flap in the wind.It snowed a ton one night, so… snowball fight at 15,000ft… “when in Rome” ;)Lets talk about accommodations, shall we? As expected, the trip was not all about being “comfortable”. There are three basic options for trekkers: Tents, Tea Houses or Lodges… all are cold, all are fairly primitive, but all offer at least some form of protection from the elements. We stayed in Tea Houses each night along the trail.

A Tea House has a large common area for resting and eating meals together and a small kitchen that is always bustling. The tiny bedrooms are generally down a narrow hallway built off of the main common area. Electricity was mainly solar at this point in our trip. If you needed to charge something, you paid for it by the hour. I slept with my batteries and cameras so they wouldn’t freeze to death. ;) The rooms we stayed in had little to no insulation from the cold, but hey, they blocked the wind and we had a place to spread out and unpack/repack our gear, a place to lay our heads and even a pad to sleep on so it was “mountain style luxury” ;)

In the Tea House common area there was a single stove fed primarily by Yak dung…yes, you read that right. We were above tree line so instead of burning wood the people burn dried out patties of yak dung. The owner of the Tea House would only run the stove from about 5pm until bedtime and unfortunately this heat never made it down to our rooms. We would rest together in the common area after a long day of hiking. We would have a lot of tea, journal and play various games together…in most cases “Bananagrams” which I brought in my pack. It’s a good thing our team was filled with awesome and funny people, because we spent A LOT of time in close quarters. I can happily report that we sincerely enjoyed each other’s company each day on the trail and in the Tea Houses.

We were mostly vegetarian on the trail because the meat up there – mostly Yak meat or chicken – was not sanitary. We ate a lot of noodles, rice, toast and eggs… don’t even get me started on eggs. We had SO MANY stinkin’ eggs each day  because they were the only real source of protein besides energy bars. Towards the end of the trip we were all eating very mechanically – purely for the fuel/energy. (Below) At most tea houses they had a big solar disc out front that would quickly boil water from the reflecting rays of the sun – that’s how intense the sun was at this high of altitude. We all had hats, sunglasses and loads of sunscreen to protect us.At some of the tea houses there were children running around. Life up here is simple and slow. If you want something abnormal or specific to eat or drink, you have to wait 5-7 days for it to come up the mountain so it’s “what you see is what you get” when trying to buy things up there. For some reason you could always find Snickers, Everest Beer and Pringles in every village all the way up to Base Camp.

Food-born illness quickly became a theme on our trek. 6 out of the 9 team members got wretchedly sick but somehow the sickness became a rallying point for everyone and team bonding was elevated as we encouraged and pushed each other to keep going. Eli and I were two of the fortunate three to be spared from the sickness.


(below) At various points along the trail Mt. Everest gave us little glimpses of her massive and very elusive glory. At this point, we had been on the trail for 10 days and were ready to reach our final destination. We honestly never imagined that the entire team would make it but somehow the goal of Everest Base Camp was finally within our oxygen starved reach.

A long day of trekking through the wreckage of glacial rock debris brought us up to a ridge line alongside the Khumbu glacier and from there we could see the top of Everest barely peaking out from behind the massive mountain range. Everest is the tiny, windblown peak second from the right in the image below. *Click the link below this next image to get a closer view of the area – what you see in the bottom left is a village with big buildings. Follow the glacier on the right and it leads you to Base Camp.

CLICK HERE to view the above panoramic image LARGER!!!
(once you see the image full screen, click again to zoom in/out)

The terrain approaching Base Camp is all small boulders and a landslide area of gravel, shale, and rock that is being continually carved out by the glacier. As we approached Base Camp we tried to really wrap our minds around what was happening and what we were accomplishing.

And then finally, at 17,598 feet above sea level, WE MADE IT to Mt. Everest Base Camp!!! There we were – at the foot of the highest mountain on Earth. It was all very surreal.

Celebrating with lots of high fives, hugs and Snickers.

(Above) Eli claiming the victory! This kids a true champion of life :) I love the moment captured in the image below of Eli and his father Justin embracing at Base Camp, and I love these words from Justin as he reflected on his son’s accomplishment:

“We were standing in the midst of a collection of the world’s highest mountains all around us and there stands Eli, my son. My son, who because of his disability would be pushed to the fringe of many societies and not even be thought able to walk down the street, spent 10 days hiking up into the foreboding yet beautiful mountains of the Himalayas…is now standing at the base of the highest mountain in the world. God created Eli so uniquely that he has now touched thousands of lives through simply walking a hard trail up some mountains much the same as he has had to navigate the mountain of his own disability. Tamara and I are humbled but we are grateful that God has given purpose in this Everest adventure and that He has a glorious purpose for the disabled.”

Everest Base Camp actually sits on a huge glacier,  known as Khumbu (in all the big pano images on this blog, you can see that the glacier comes down straight from Everest and wraps into the valley floor – this glacier is GIANT in size). So as you can see below, Base Camp is just sitting on a big pile of ice topped with dirt and rocks. Our journey to Base Camp was before the big expeditions (to summit Mt Everest) typically begin. So there were only a few tents set up here and there at the foot of Everest. There was, however, a lot of expedition gear coming up the trail as were heading back down because April is when people start attempting to summit Everest.

Kevin and I took a moment to explore the glacier ice falls a little bit. It felt like being on another planet. The ice was incredibly beautiful. The image below doesn’t do the size of this area justice – that was honestly the hardest part about this trip as a photographers… the scale of these surroundings are just CRAZY huge. Sometimes it helps throwing people in the frame to give it perspective, but most times it doesn’t help… like the photo below… those ice walls are actually very large, yet a very small part of this massive glacier that flows down from Mt Everest.

CLICK HERE to view the above panoramic image LARGER!!!
(once you see the image full screen, click again to zoom in/out)

In the midst of of the celebration at Base Camp, I took a moment to remember my family and memorialize this moment in time. For me personally, it was hard to step back and experience/absorb this trip. I felt like I was working for most of it since the reason I was there was to help document the trip. This moment spent by myself at Base Camp was when things started to feel real. I just sat there thinking of my family and everyone back home who supported me through all of this. I don’t think I’ve ever felt as grateful as I did in that moment. A once in a lifetime experience.

KALA PATTAR: Sunrise view of Mt Everest

Having successfully reached Base Camp we endured a restless night of sleep in the village of Gorak Shep at 16,962 feet. The night was frigidly cold as the temperature in our rooms dropped to around 5 to 10 degrees (colder outside). Early in the morning Tim and I woke up early to hike up to the top of Kala Patthar (18,192 feet) for the best view of Everest that you can experience on this trek. By the light of our headlamps we slowly began our ascent towards the summit. This was probably the most physically challenging thing I’ve ever done and it was mentally straining as well. The day before had been extremely long (getting up to Base Camp and back down to the village of Gorak Shep) and then we got little to no sleep because of the high elevation. The climb up Kala Pattar was a “quick” climb up 1,230 vertical feet, at dark, in freezing conditions (and with no water since my Nalgene lid was frozen solid) in hopes of reaching the top in time to view the sun rising over Mt Everest (Everest is the peak on the left – below).

Tim at the summit (above). The photo below gives you a good idea of the area. On the left side of the frame is the Khumbu glacier moving down from Mt Everest and sweeping down the massive valley that it created. Base Camp sits close to that “elbow” where the glacier turns. The big dark peak on the left is Mt Everest. Even at this vantage point (the best view on the entire trip) Mt Everest is still elusive and hidden behind other seemingly larger peaks.

CLICK HERE to view the above panoramic image LARGER!!!
(once you see the image full screen, click again to zoom in/out)

We summitted just in time to experience the warmth of the sun’s rays and the jawdropping beauty of the sun rising over earths highest geographical point. Standing on the tip-top of Kala Pattar marked the highest either of us have ever been: 18,192 feetTim and I quickly got down to the village with just enough time to eat a quick breakfast and then join the team for a long hard day of descending. We had accomplished what we set out to do, but the work was far from over. We had to climb all the way down to where we started. Celebratory popcorn was in order later that day after a successful journey to Everest Base Camp and a beautiful sunrise on the summit of Kala Pattar.


Our team made a rapid descent down the trail. It took just a few days to go down what took us over a week to go up. Each day down the trail our bodies are grateful to take in more and more oxygen rich air. We raced back to Lukla and hopped on what was literally the last flight out from the mountain before winds and clouds shut the airport down for days. Before we knew it we were airborne headed for home. According to this guy (Nate, below), the flight out of the worlds most dangerous airport on an old sketchy prop-plane through the Himalayas was a complete “snore-fest” ;)

(above) Once we arrived safely back in Kathmandu we signed flags and celebrated with our guides. They were so great to work with! (Hamnath and Tulsi, our faithful guides, below) They even bought Eli a few gifts: a t-shirt and a “chicken hat” (an inside joke from the trip). We honestly didn’t know how the people in Nepal might treat Eli because of the stigma that disability has in this country, but everyone we came in contact with was gracious and helpful towards Eli and our team.

Oh, there’s one more story to tell… Eli and his famous BBQ chips…
The very first time I met Eli (at LAX for this trip) he told me many tales about his beloved Lays BBQ chips :) They were his favorite thing to snack on, and the single thing he talked most about. We had intentionally left one can of chips back at our hotel in Kathmandu. It served as a source of inspiration for Eli’s trek to Base Camp. We literally made up songs about these chips on the trail, talked about them dozens of times a day, and would dream each night about these tasty little snacks. As soon as we returned from our successful trek at Everest Base Camp we opened the BBQ chips and celebrated Eli’s victory! Go ahead Eli, slam that can, you deserve it buddy. :)
As we started our journey home we told stories, relived moments, talk about BBQ chips some more and tried to process all the things that made up this epic, historic and purposeful adventure. Our hearts were full of joy, accomplishment and so many emotions as we finally came around the corner out of U.S. customs and were greeted by family, friends and film crews welcoming us home.

Before we knew it, Eli’s story had spread rapidly across the nation and around the world within the following week. His story was seen and heard by literally millions of people around the globe, reaching at least 40 other countries through radio, internet and television.

We knew that Eli’s story would be different and we hoped that it would get some attention and build awareness on many levels. But we never imagined the type of publicity Eli’s story received after we returned from Nepal. We never set out to break records or anything like that. We honestly didn’t know if Eli (or any of us for that matter) would even make it past day one!

The whole point of this trip wasn’t that Eli would do something no one had ever done before (although the media loved that and spread the news far and wide).

The point in all of this was to spread a message of hope and love. To be able to talk about disability in a different light, and maybe help the world understand that it’s nothing to hide or run away from. We wanted to show and talk about how each of us are created uniquely and for a purpose and how each of us have value. Most of all, that we have hope in something greater.


The journey to Everest Base Camp is a massive accomplishment but it pales in comparison to the journey of those impacted by disability. Struggle, pain, and difficulty mark their trail. Unfortunately, a majority of the world’s disabled do not have the support of a team or community pulling for their success. These priceless friends have so few resources, whether physical, emotional, or spiritual.

Jesus modeled a life spent mostly with the marginalized and/or physically broken. Those experiencing disability continue to be pushed aside. Through the funds raised and the awareness created by this trip the Elisha Foundation continues to expand its reach into the lives of the disabled. They cannot do it alone. Your skills, talents, abilities, prayer, and funds are critical to accomplishing the mission, inspired by the life of Jesus, to impact the lives of those experiencing disability by providing needed spiritual and physical resources. With your help we can change one sweet life at a time. You can be a part of this great adventure with a purpose.

Below is the documentary we put together that retells the story of this historic trek. 

And this video below is the fun lighthearted side of the project:

To find out more about the Elisha Foundation and how you can get involved, please visit their website: We would encourage you to support them however you can – the work that they do is life changing for those impacted by disability.

Eli is single handedly the most inspiring person I know. He’s a world changer.