NIKO Salem 2017


Sometimes God calls us far away to serve in missions serving other cultures and nations… And sometimes God sends us a bit closer to home.


Last week, the kids and I packed our bags and headed two hours south to the YWAM Salem, OR base to help serve as staff on a NIKO. (pronounced knee-coe)

niko old days
My First Time Staffing a NIKO – Summer of 1999 (Yellow bandana)

Niko is very difficult to describe, because there are few programs similar to it.  Niko is not a ‘camping trip’ but neither is it a ‘survival camp.’   It has the elements of both, but its purpose is not sheer enjoyment or to teach survival tactics.  By challenging participants physically, emotionally, mentally, and spiritually, they are pushed beyond their personal, self-imposed limits- but not for the purpose of survival or pride.  The purpose is to see them discover God in new ways through their experiences.

                In a Niko, there are three main components developed as a result of pushing the physical, emotional, mental and spiritual limits.  These are: Servanthood, Team Building, and Leadership Development. (borrowed from the NIKO website)

In short, NIKO is a program that I have been passionate about since experiencing it for the first time many years ago (19 to be exact). So, when I found out the NIKO team was short-staffed and looking for help, I prayed about it, and volunteered to come.

Now, that might sound simple enough, but in reality, it was a big decision. Cory was unable to take time off of work, and that meant it would be just me and the kids. For five days. Sleeping in the wilderness. Late nights, early mornings, and far from the comforts of home. A recipe for bad attitudes and disaster… So we packed our bags and got ready to go!


One of the easiest parts of the trip, was that NIKO provides a very simple packing list that you follow. I am a classic over-packer, but sticking to a very simple list made it possible to pack everything the three of us needed for the week in just a few bags. The sleeping bags took most of the room!

The YWAM base in Salem has an AMAZING ropes course, and during a lull in our work duties on the first day, the kids got a chance to explore a little bit.

I was worried about how well the kids would do on NIKO. I was worried I wouldn’t have the patience needed to take care of them, AND get all of my duties done while running on very little sleep throughout the week.

As the week progressed, I knew for certain we were being covered in prayer. All of my worries were for nothing.


The kids thrived at NIKO. They spent all day working hard and playing hard. They never complained about the food they had to eat, not having any technology, and not once did they say they were bored and needed something to do.

Imaginations ran wild as they spent their days building habitats for caterpillars and worms, playing on bucket drums, and making “recipes” while playing in the creek.

We served in the position of “camp mom” and “camp kids” while we were at NIKO. That meant that we didn’t join the participants on any hikes, but worked on all of the “behind the scenes” duties. Filling water jugs, making dinner, keeping camp clean, transporting people and supplies, running errands, and so much more.


One of the kids’ favorite adventures was getting to ride around in the back of the truck on our many trips to and fro. (only on the private roads)

The participants that came to NIKO was a group of Korean Americans from the Los Angeles area. I couldn’t have asked for a better group of people to spend the week with. Jenna and Connor made many new friends, and it was hard to say goodbye. In the words of Jenna, it was a very “sour-sweet” ending.


At the end of NIKO, the participants share about what they learned and what lessons they are taking home with them. Listening to their stories about how God worked in their life through the past few days, and how He has changed them, is why I keep coming back (This was my 12th NIKO).

Like many mission trips, I leave feeling physically exhausted, but my soul is refreshed.

**If NIKO is something you’re interested in for yourself or a group, check out their website! (or search for a NIKO program closer to you, they have them in many locations)

NIKO Salem:





Ladder Canyon – Palm Springs

During our vacation to Palm Springs, my mom offered to watch the kids for us so we could go out to dinner together. Instead of dinner out, we opted to go hiking together!


Ladder Canyon is just a short drive from where we were staying in Indio, Ca. The road to the canyon is quite rough and sandy, so make sure you take a decent car. There is quite a bit of theft in the parking area (as indicated by the piles of broken glass on the ground) so be sure to leave your valuables at home.


The canyons are absolutely amazing to look at and so huge, I couldn’t even fit the entire wall in the picture!

They call it “Ladder Canyon” for a very good reason. There were several sets of ladders that you had to climb up and down during the hike. I was not excited about climbing the tallest ladder (I’m guessing it was about 20 feet high?) but I made it!

The ladders were all in great condition and some looked like they had just recently been replaced. The amazing thing is, I believe this area is maintained solely by volunteers! There actually aren’t a lot of websites with information on this hike, but the Hiking in Palm Springs site seems to give some pretty good updates on the road into the hike and the trail conditions.


In between climbing up ladders, you find yourself weaving through tight crevices of rock. It’s easy to stay on the trail here!

After climbing up out of the canyon, helpful hikers placed rock arrows along the trail to help make sure you don’t get lost. And a smiley face just to brighten your day.


This is the view you are rewarded with at the very top. If only pictures could do it justice.


The trail is a 4.64 mile loop, and on the way back you hike through the Painted Canyon. Also very appropriately named as there are giant granite rocks in beautiful colors all throughout the canyon.


It took us 2.5 hours to complete the hike, The weather was perfect (mid-November) for a desert hike and I would highly recommend you visit in the winter months if possible. Even when hiking in the winter, make sure you bring plenty of water!

Joshua Tree National Park

While in California, Joshua Tree National Park was offering free admission for everyone on Veteran’s Day. We were already planning on hiking here, so saving $20 on the admission fee was an added bonus!


The park is huge and beautiful, and since we had never been there, we took some advice from No Back Home and decided to hike the Barker Dam trail. If you plan on visiting Joshua Tree, you should check out his blog. It was extremely helpful for us when planning our trip.


Before starting out on our hike, we stopped by the ranger station to pick up Junior Ranger booklets for the kids. The Junior Ranger program was something else we learned about from No Back Home. Jenna absolutely loved her book and was so excited to find the different plants and animals to check off of her list. As a homeschooling mom, I loved that my kids were learning while having fun on vacation.

At the very end of the day when they had completed the age appropriate challenges, we took their books to the ranger station and they were awarded little park ranger pins and a storybook called A Tree Named Lilly. Now I really wish we had more national parks nearby!


The Barker Dam hike was fairly easy. We hiked 1.63 miles total and it took us an hour and fifty minutes to complete. Our actual moving time was only an hour, but there were so many fun rock formations to climb and explore, we took a lot of detours during the hike.


The kids had so much fun bouldering at the beginning of the hike. The rocks are easy to climb as they have a very grippy surface so your feet can almost stick to them while climbing.


We had to stop for a lunch break along the way too. Hopefully our kids end up having a lot of fond memories of peanut butter and jelly sandwiches since that’s what they always eat on hikes!


We weren’t sure if there would actually be any water in the dam when we reached it because of the drought, but we were in luck! You could tell the water level was much lower than it usually is, but it was better than finding a dried out desert.


The trail is a loop, so you get to see new sights on the hike back. The petroglyphs on the rocks were really interesting to look at and and try to decipher their meanings. Jenna was also studying Native Americans in school, so this was a perfect hands-on lesson!


Give this kid a stick, and he’ll be happy forever. Tell him he can’t take his stick home because we’re in a national park and it will make him cry.

After we finished our hike at Barker Dam, we drove over to Hidden Valley to climb the rocks and explore the ‘caves’ and tunnels. It was a little bit chilly from the wind, but I’m glad we came in November when the temperatures are more comfortable!


The rock formations were beautiful and so much fun to climb around on. You can see how tiny Cory, Connor, and Jenna are in the rock arch!


As we were leaving Joshua Tree, we drove through the Cholla Cactus garden and it was amazing. So completely different than anything we have at home!


We could have easily spent several days exploring Joshua Tree National Park. It’s such a great place to visit!


Point No Point

During our mini-vacation to Bainbridge Island, the kids and I drove down to Point No Point to do a little exploration.


The lighthouse was pretty, but it wasn’t open, so we just peeked in the windows.


The kids had to stop and smell the roses! The beginning of the trail went through a wall of wild rose bushes on either side of us and the fragrance was amazing.


The trail then led up a long steep staircase that was bordered on both sides by stinging nettles! Amazingly enough, the kids managed to not get stung from them once the entire hike.


The trail was easy to hike on and ended at a parking area/trailhead. I tried to get a nice picture of the kids by the sign… The first one Jenna was pushing Connor away because she didn’t want him standing on her side. This picture is him being horrified because there were spiders on that side of the sign and he didn’t want to be by them. This is life with kids.

So, after our failed attempt at a picture, we retraced our steps and went back on the trail towards the beach.


Along the beach were several little forts that people had built. Some were in great condition like this one, and others were falling down, so you want to be careful when exploring them.


It was a bit windy out on the point, but that didn’t stop us from exploring! It was a fun but short hike. We only hiked 1.45 miles and that included our time roaming around the beach. Even though the hike took less time than I had anticipated, we had a great time exploring a new place.



Hummocks Trail

This morning I gave the kids the choice of staying home for a relaxing day and swimming in their kiddie pool or going for a hike. As soon as I said hike, they were running around in circles from excitement!


We drove up to Hummocks Trail on Mt St Helens. It’s a really easy trailhead to locate, especially when the Johnston Ridge Observatory is still closed for the season because the gate prevents you from accidentally driving past it. Don’t let this picture confuse you though, I took it at one of the many viewpoints on our way there, not at the trailhead.

The wildflowers are in bloom right now, but the rules are very strict when hiking around Mt. St Helens. You are not allowed to pick any flowers, or even go off of the trails. Because we have been hiking quite a bit, the kids are very good about following the rules of the trail and we didn’t have any issues.


The trail is a loop, which is my favorite kind to hike. We hiked the trail clockwise, and were rewarded with this stunning view of the mountain about 1 mile in.


We found signs of wildlife in the area… Jenna found a mountain of elk poop. I have never seen so much in one place before! There is a beaver dam along one section of the trail and there was evidence of trees being cut down by the beavers somewhat recently. The only wildlife we actually saw while hiking though were tadpoles, butterflies, caterpillars, and ants.


The trail is 2.5 miles long and there are a few hills, but overall it’s just a gentle up and down slope. There are sections that are a bit slippery for little feet going downhill due to loose ash and rocks, but forcing Connor to hold my hand in those spots stopped him from slipping and falling.


The trail is so varied as you walk through sunny open areas, then into wooded areas next to ponds and streams, then back out into the open again. There was a perfect mixture of sun and shade for our hike.


We hiked 2.5 miles today, and while it was just a bit shorter than our last hike, Connor had a rough time the last half mile. The heat really drained the energy out of him and there was a bit of a hill to climb towards the end, but he stuck with it. This seems to be the perfect distance for Jenna though and she hasn’t been struggling at all.

There was minimal bickering over who got to be the leader today, and we had so many new things to explore and discover on this trail. The kids declared it to be the “best hike ever” and while I’m convinced they say that about every hike, I think they were right this time.

**Also, as a side note: I did not notice any bathroom facilities at the trailhead, so you may want to stop at the Forest Learning Center on your way up the mountain. They have public restrooms and you can see the exhibits there for free (which we did on our way home). There is also an outdoor playground for the kids.

Mima Mounds

We ventured out today on our first hike of the season and it was a perfect day for it!


We drove an hour north to Mima Mounds. It’s not too far off the freeway and quite easy to get to. If you happen to do this hike, make a note that you will need a Discover Pass or you can get hit with a $99 ticket! I didn’t realize this before going, but thankfully they have an option to purchase it through your smartphone and then you can write your pass number on a paper and leave it in your windshield. I splurged and bought the annual pass for $30 in case we want to hike anywhere else one is needed. The one-time pass is $10 so I’ll have it paid for in two more trips.


At the beginning of the hike there is a fun little concrete lookout that you can climb to the top of. It’s not very high up but it gives a good view of the mounds. There are also big informational wall paintings/posters that give the different explanations of how they believe the mounds were formed.

The trail starts out on a little paved path and then transitions to a more rustic trail of dirt. The trails were very well-kept and easy to hike. There were some signs notifying us that they had just sprayed in the area recently, but since we weren’t venturing off trail, I wasn’t too concerned.


The flowers were in full bloom and it was absolutely beautiful!


Before we started hiking, the kids and I had a conversation about how this is protected land and we aren’t allowed to explore off of the trail or pick ANY flowers. We arrived at this little spot and the kids found “wishes” (dandelion puffs) and they wanted to pick them soooo bad but I reminded them of the rules. So, in a great kid-compromise, they leaned over as far as possible and attempted to blow the seeds off without picking them!


There is an option to take the “short cut loop” and it shaves about 1 mile off of the hike, but we took the long trail this time.


There wasn’t much to explore as far as wildlife goes… Jenna found a few beetles and the kids had fun holding them. We saw one bird and heard some bird calls but that was about it.


We hiked 2.89 miles in 2 hours and 20 minutes (time includes two small snacking breaks). This was probably as long of a hike as the kids can manage right now. Connor’s little legs were having a hard time towards the end, but I found that distraction can work wonders. So, we pretended that we were Bear Grylls (or “the Dangerous Man” as Connor calls him) jumping from a helicopter and trying to survive in the wilderness like he does in Man vs. Wild. It worked like a charm!


This was the first time we have hiked here, but I can imagine that spring is the best time to do this hike. If you are a fan of wildflowers and pretty things, it’s a must-see hike!


Backpacking With Kids – Mirror Lake

This weekend we took our annual family backpacking trip. Because the kids are still young (5 and 2), we make it a one night excursion. That gives us plenty of time for adventures, while getting home before complete exhaustion sets in.


The first step is, of course, packing everything. We packed the night before we left, which was also the day I went to my cousin’s memorial service. Needless to say, I was not in the best state of mind at the time and made a few packing errors that were discovered partway into the trip. My goal was to not overpack, but in the process, I decided to leave my raincoat at home. I figured it’s summer and we’re practically in a drought. On our drive up the mountain it started raining! I also neglected to pack a sufficient amount of baby wipes and pull-ups. We made it through the trip without any disasters, but we were operating in conservation mode the entire time.

When all was said and done, we weighed our packs. We had a total of 81.6 lbs in gear. Split between us, the weight carried was Cory – 44.4 lbs, Jayme – 33 lbs, Jenna – 3 lbs, Connor – 1.2 lbs.


We chose to go to Mirror Lake on Mt. Hood for the second year in a row. This is a great destination because it’s not too far of a drive from home, the hike is a manageable distance for the kids, and it’s a great destination. It’s full of day-hikers on the weekends though, so we always try to stay Sunday night/Monday morning to avoid the crowds.


Connor was old enough this year that he didn’t get a free ride from mom and dad, although a third of the way through the hike he tried talking us into it. His little legs worked hard, and he hiked the whole way all by himself. Jenna was a trooper and is doing an awesome job working on her bravery. There were several times while hiking along steep sections of the trail, that she could be overheard giving herself pep-talks. “I know it’s really steep on the side of the hill, but you won’t fall and you’ll be okay…”

The key to a successful hike is to let the kids go (mostly) at their own pace; stop to explore your surroundings once in a while; pack plenty of snacks; and sing crazy songs to keep them distracted when they start to complain.


Every year we print out small hiking maps for the kids and work on teaching them how to use a compass and read their map. Connor isn’t too interested in it yet, but Jenna loves to help figure out where we’re going (even though the trail is extremely obvious the entire hike).

Like Father Like Son

There are several areas to choose from to make camp, and as soon as we chose where we wanted to stay, we set everything up and then relaxed for a bit. (Like father, like son.) We got these camp chairs last year for Christmas and they are worth the splurge! After a long day of hiking, it’s nice to be able to relax and not have to prop yourself against a tree or rock to get comfortable.


Cory does most of the work when we go camping… He filtered all of our water, cooked all of the meals, and washed all of the dishes!


There’s nothing better than macaroni and cheese in the wilderness!


We brought two tents because our backpacking tents are so small. The kids went to bed about 30 minutes to an hour after their normal bedtime, and even though it was still light out, they did a great job of falling asleep fairly quickly. We were beyond thrilled when they both slept until 6:30 am. Last year Connor was wide awake with the birds at 4:30 and that made for a very long day!


After a delicious breakfast of pancakes, we hiked down to the lake to do a little fishing. We used Jenna’s fishing pole with a fly and a bobber… And she actually caught a fish! The pictures are a little small, but the first is of her reeling in her fish, then she was trying to show it to me (it’s the flapping white blob in front of Cory), and then Cory is holding it out in front of her since it was too slippery for her to grab.


This was the view at the lake. It’s so beautiful and peaceful in the early morning!


Once the sun came out and it started to warm up a bit, we let the kids splash around in the lake. The bottom has a lot of boulders and we saw quite a few crawdads swimming around.

Sad Babies

Backpacking isn’t always smiles and fun. Connor was in knee-deep water when he fell down and got scared. Or, as he later informed me “Mama, ‘member in the lake when I drowned?”.

Jenna was giving me a sad face and showing me the hole in her backpack. Chipmunks attacked it during the night and chewed a hole through it. Apparently they were scared off (most likely from a toy she brought that would randomly shout phrases from toy story) before they could get through the three layers into the inside though.

Cory and I had our own struggles with having good attitudes and not getting grouchy when an unnamed 5 year-old kept claiming to have to poop. We would dig a hole, get her potty seat set up, and then she would sit down and inform us that “it went away”. (On a side note, the reason I like to bring the potty seat is because it’s easier to use that than have her pee on her pants and run out of clothes on the trip. I’m saving the potty-in-the-woods lesson for a later time.)


Backpacking with kids is dirty and hard work.


It’s also jam-packed full of adventures and quality family time. We all love being in the outdoors, exploring, and learning new things.


Every year as we hike along the trail, we get the same comments. “You must be really brave” or “I could never do that” and of course the unspoken “These people are crazy. Who in their right mind goes backpacking with kids?”

We have always felt it’s never too early to introduce kids to the outdoors. Jenna went on her first day hike with us before she was even 2 months old. Connor did his first overnight backpacking trip last year when he was only a 1 year-old. There is no secret trick… Just remember that it will be a lot of work. Hopefully as they get older, they will continue loving to do this and we can start having them carry their own weight and take longer trips!


We made it out alive and exhausted. The hike was 1.51 miles to the lake, and we hiked in the first day in 2 hours (with a moving time of 1 hour 19 minutes). The hike back to the car only took us 1 hour and 26 minutes (with a moving time of 51 minutes). Going downhill is obviously faster, and the kids were encouraged to hike fast because lunch was waiting for us at the car!