BIG News

It has been a long time since our last post in early October . . . a BIG gap!

Over the past two months, with most of our time spent in Texas, BIG was a constant theme. During this time, our life horizons have been expanded by people, geography, service, and diverse activities, BIG time. It has been a balancing act of work, service and fun all along the way.

First, a few of the things that we learned are bigger in Texas . . .

Cowboy hats
Cattle horns
Chicken fried steak
The energy industry, including oil fields, oil refineries,
AND wind farms, surprisingly!

In the Texas panhandle, Amarillo was a short stay of a few days. Highlights were a wild and crazy Hummer excursion at the Palo Duro canyon, spray painting a memorial at Cadillac Ranch for the father of one of Jeff’s colleagues who passed away from Covid a few days prior, and being humbled spending time with a young missionary whose dad passed away while he has been sharing his faithful message of peace and joy.

Angel wings and a halo for Kristen’s dad

After Amarillo, our next couple of weeks were spent in the town of Bulverde, a bit north of San Antonio in what is know as the Texas Hill Country. We had no idea how beautiful the rolling hills and majestic oaks of the area are.

We visited every region of Texas, as well as Louisiana, Arkansas, Oklahoma, New Mexico and Arizona

We kept up with work, assisted at a local food pantry, and explored the area’s unique places such as the Alamo, cycled the river trail, attended the beautiful San Antonio temple, used the “cleanest bathrooms in America” at Buc-ee’s super stations, and Karen enjoyed the beautiful biking trails around San Antonio. We even went to the local rodeo . . . Yee Haw!

We tried to fit in, donning our cowboy boots for the rodeo . . .

Of most worth was time spent with Jeff’s brother David, his wife Becki and their family, all relocated from CA to the Austin area over the past year+.

It was also a great blessing to join with Just Serve and Catholic Charities in assisting newly arrived immigrants from Haiti, Congo, Venezuela, and Cuba.  This involved working 5-6 hour shifts starting at 6pm, welcoming the nervous and hopeful individuals and families at a downtown San Antonio Marriott, fresh from their border crossing experience. We gave them a bagged dinner, a new set of clothes and hygiene items, helped get their phones linked to the internet so that they could make arrangements for their next travel phase to the homes of their American sponsors, and then took them to a room where they would spend the night in a safe, clean and comfortable place. The stories of their immigration journeys were humbling. Most had nothing other than a small bag or pack of personal belongings and had spent years traveling by foot, bus, truck bed, boat, plane, etc. to come to the United States.

Without getting too political, the immigration situation is a mess and inhumane at times. We have gained a deeper appreciation for the blessings and opportunities of freedom and choice that we enjoy each day. The BIG question is what can we do to share those blessings with others each day.

Helping the supervisor with paperwork for some incoming clients
We ended one evening with a dumpster dive to find some belongings and important paperwork belonging to one of the refugees. Jeff dug right in!

From Bulverde, we headed south to the Gulf coastline. We spent 5 days riding on ferries/dolphin watching, beachcombing and driving (literally for miles and miles on the beautiful, clean beaches) and learning how to ride Segways on a tour of Galveston, in the middle of the BIG Lone Star Bikers Rally weekend.

Driving and beachcombing . . . beachcombing and driving
Fancy old homes in Galveston, TX

From the coast, we went northeast to the small town of Arp, Texas in the “Piney Woods” where we spent two weeks. More rolling hills, dense forests of trees and “ruralness” at its finest, we again loved the area. We got lucky and were there for the annual Henderson Heritage Syrup festival – the highlight of which was the rich syrup made from sugar cane. It was like the old pre-Covid days with a car show, antique farm equipment and craft demonstrations, live music, food trucks and booths, barbershop choirs, cloggers, and lots of people in the streets. It was the first time to be in that kind of environment in about two years = total fun!

Also while in the area, we were able to assist another local food pantry, spend an afternoon riding dirt bikes at Barnwell Mountain (no major injuries this time), do some fossil digging on the Sulphur River near Ladonia, and locate small unmapped cemeteries that are downloaded into a database called BillionGraves, to assist folks doing their family history/geneology. One memorable discovery we made during our cemetery excursions was the pain of fire ant bites….OUCH!

We got rockhounding caps for our 7th anniversary last September
Typical fossil-hunting / rock hounding attire

While in the area we were also able to meet Karen’s cousin Cathy and her husband Bill in Dallas for dinner and rekindle family connections.

Cathy & Bill

Next up was a week in Arkansas, the central area near Mount Ida/Hot Springs. Wow! This part of Arkansas was almost magically beautiful with the hills, rivers, lakes, trees, and crystals.

We enjoyed digging for crystals in Arkansas

The locals are a colorful bunch, usually very helpful and friendly. We did, however, experience a bit of a “Deliverance” moment when we stepped into an old diner for a late breakfast, were hit by a suffocating wall of stale grease air, and were told by the two nearly toothless women, while wiping their hands on dirty aprons, that they had “run out of breakfast fixins.” You really had to be there to capture the essence of it all.

We stayed at a small Airbnb house on a hill above the Quachita river and had incredible sunrises to the east and sunsets to the west. Great stargazing from the back deck too!

View of the Ouachita River from the deck of our Airbnb

Being the week of Thanksgiving, less “work work” was accomplished. It was mainly a vacation week, though it turned out to be a physically demanding one. We spent three days mining crystals at three different locations, then a day digging and sifting at Crater of Diamonds state park (NOT as easy to find diamonds as it sounds) and Thanksgiving Day morning in Hot Springs, serving the homeless and others down on their luck.

Photo from the Hot Springs Volunteers group that we were temporary members of

We ate our Thanksgiving meal at Phil’s Restaurant—a first for us to eat out on Thanksgiving. But the highlight of our day was surprising John, a young Dollar General cashier we’d met the day before, who mentioned he’d be working Thanksgiving Day. We expressed sympathy and he joked “I’ll be alright as long as I get a slice of pie.” When we actually showed up with a pumpkin pie and can of whipped cream, he gave us the hugest hugs we’ve had in awhile!

John and Jeff

The next week we left Arkansas and started our sojourn west—passing through Sherman, TX (found some shark teeth and fossil shells in the creek), a couple days in Roswell, NM surface hunting for Pecos diamonds, and an afternoon of dirt biking at Haystack Mountain. Sorry to report no real green creatures were seen and the friendly citizens did not ‘alienate’ us at all . . .

The only sign of aliens were the carvings and banners around town

From Roswell, we made an early morning departure to walk through the vast Carlsbad Caverns in southeast New Mexico, and then stayed the night at a tiny motel in Duncan, AZ. The next day was spent searching for fire agates at Round Mountain and enjoying the remote and rough mountain desert terrain. It was another test for the 4Runner (such a great car for our current needs). By the way, if you are ever near Duncan, AZ, you need to stop and meet Doug at the Rock-a-Buy Rock Shop. He is a real gem, who gave us great information including agate location maps. A renaissance man, he also makes beautiful knitted and crocheted items. What a great guy and a great place!

The immensity of the caves is mind-boggling
Doug showing some of his fire agates, and a Christmas stocking he knit for his grand niece

After a long day of fire agate hunting, we drove to the Phoenix area, where the next day we visited some family members Don & Chris and Lorne & Deanna. Then to Surprise, AZ where we stayed two nights and a day. The first night we were “Surprised in Surprise” with a city party including 3 sky divers (2 of whom missed the landing zone and came down in the crowd of spectators!) and a fireworks show right outside our hotel!

Aunt Chris & Uncle Don Godfrey live in Queen Creek, AZ
Cousins Deanna & Lorne Bragg winter in Mesa and summer in Alberta

The day was spent dirt biking at Boulders OHV north of town. A great place to ride—through desert landscapes, up and down small mountains, rocky ridges and creek beds—UNTIL you fall on a cactus or worse, get lost (the maps and trail markers are poor). All of our riding skills and stamina were put to the test in what evolved into a 6-hour odyssey. Upon confirming that our intended loop route was actually a rocky one-way trip to Hades, we reversed course just as the sun was dropping in the west. Jeff ran out of gas but thankfully had a reserve tank. We picked up the pace and barely made it back to the trailhead as the sky darkened, with a prayer of gratitude in our hearts. We were more pleased with our riding skills and machines on some extreme terrain, than our navigation skills. It was a great adventure that could have gone really wrong.

We are now at Jacob Lake in northern Arizona for some slickrock hiking in Vermillion Cliffs tomorrow and a visit with Emily & Alek, with an ETA for Lehi on Tuesday.

Of all the things we have crammed into the last couple of months, we have truly enjoyed meeting so many good people along the way, as we have planted small seeds of love and service, and traveled parts of this amazing country. There are needs everywhere—food pantries, immigrant assistance, help for the homeless and hopeless, and sharing life experiences with others as we wind our way through each day.

As we bask in the afterglow of Thanksgiving and anticipate the wonders of Christmas celebrations, it’s our hope that we’ll all have opportunities to give and share.

“Gratitude unlocks the fullness of life. It turns what we have into enough, and more. It turns denial into acceptance, chaos to order, confusion to clarity. It can turn a meal into a feast, a house into a home, a stranger into a friend. Gratitude makes sense of our past, brings peace for today and creates a vision for tomorrow.” Melody Beattie

We are thankful for life, our family, our friends, and for all that we continue to learn as we look and walk toward the future.

3 thoughts on “BIG News

  1. Keri Skousen

    Once again, I sure enjoy reading about your adventures. I love that you include lots of couples fun at the same time. We are going to a homeless shelter on Christmas day because of your inspiring posts! And we are going to plan a few more similar simple service slots in our lives. Instead of planning or helping with a big event, we’re going to look for simple opportunities instead.

    1. Karen

      Thanks for the great feedback Keri! We love your Christmas plans and other service ideas. Warm and happy wishes for you and yours.

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