A Done ’21, A New ’22

Belated Happy New Year!

Since our last post in early December, it has been a whirlwind of activity! Our fall road trip concluded with a true 4×4 adventure, driving and hiking in the remote “White Pocket” geological area and being awestruck by the crazy rock formations.

December saw quick trips to NYC, Jeff’s office in CA, medical checkups, and an incredible Christmas with all the kids at Sundance, UT . . . ending a year of varied and enriching experiences.

What a long-overdue blessing it was to be together! Through a series of tender mercies, all were able to make it, despite days of significant snowfall and travel issues. We skied, snowmobiled, hot tubbed, and just spent time together.

A magical moment transpired on Christmas Eve. We had barely sat down at the table, plates piled high with all the traditional dinner fixings when, just prior to a prayer of gratitude, the power went out! The next couple of hours were enjoyed together via a flickering fireplace and candlelight. Wish we could say we planned it that way, but sometimes unexpected and amazing things happen.

And so 2021 ended. Even during a year of societal disruption and global unrest, there is SO much to be thankful for, with more hopeful days ahead.

January saw 2022 plans formulated, another work trip to CA, a rock hounding day for Wonderstone near the old Pony Express Trail in Utah’s West Desert, and church service opportunities.

Utah Wonderstone

A note on the Wonderstone trip—After a beautiful and sunny day scouring the hills, we stopped for some grub at the Silver Sage, a small cafe and convenience store in Vernon (population 329).

While there we met a nice fellow from Sandy, UT, on his first outing after a tough battle with Covid. It was fun to share stories and make a new friend. As we have sojourned this past year and a half, there has been one constant—no matter where we go, there are always chances for friendly interactions that can turn a good day into a GREAT day.

We’ve been in Driggs, Idaho since February 1, with one more week to go. We are braving a winter month in the area where we plan to eventually build a home. The white snow, crisp fresh air and beautiful views of the Teton mountain range create a unique experience.

Karen’s sister Ruth and her husband Robert live an hour away in Rigby

We’ve been balancing work, skiing (downhill and cross country), snowshoeing, wildlife observation, mingling with the locals, and visiting family members in the area.

We were THRILLED our second day here to find someone to serve! We drove around the corner of a slippery road to find a young man with his truck hopelessly stuck in a snow bank. Yes, we realize we’ve become a little weird, looking for people in trouble. One person’s mishap is another person’s chance to help. Jeff’s handy tow strap, a minute or two of tugging, and he was out and good to go!

“Rescued” Food

Our regular volunteer service in the community has been picking up dated food from the grocery store and delivering it to the local food pantry and distribution sites a few days a week. Most of it is still edible. The farmers use the rest for their animals or composting. Again, no matter where we are, service opportunities are not hard to find.

Part of our nomading involves supporting local businesses. At The Local Galleria, our first ever date night painting class was a fun new challenge. Let’s just say we won’t be quitting the day job anytime soon . . .

We are thankful for the ongoing ability to live this unusual life. Stay tuned for our next post from a location a bit south of here. One clue for you . . . we’ll be sampling the “Pure Life.”

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.

“On the Road Again…”

Howdy from Amarillo, Texas!

It’s hard to believe 3 months have passed since our last post. Time truly does fly—fun, work, service, family and friends continually filling the turning calendar pages.

We visited the Utah west desert a couple more times rockhounding for bixbyite, red beryl, pink topaz, sunstones and garnets (Ely, NV) and agate (Wendover, NV). There is something about discovering naturally formed stones and gems that is exciting and adventurous. We have put the 4Runner’s 4WD to good use on the desert roads and mountains. A new awareness and appreciation has grown, searching for small and beautiful remnants of nature’s handiwork—reminders of the blessings hidden in so many small and God-provided things in life.

Jeff found a beautiful sunstone
Our largest garnet

It has been great to share time with immediate and extended family and friends in the past few months. We have also found projects and simple ways to provide service (mostly anonymous) everywhere we go. Sometimes it’s as simple as striking up conversations with complete strangers and making surprise connections, even in places as small as Albany, Wyoming (population 52). Seems like a lot of good could be done in the world, if folks just looked for ways to reach out and uplift others each day, rather than being so caught up in the thick pursuit of thin things.

After finishing the summer in Lehi, we travelled to Modesto, CA for a few weeks of work catch up and coordination. It was eye-opening on both ends of the pendulum as we drove through the beauty of the Nevada mid-section with its unique desolation (loneliest highway in the US), and through beautiful Yosemite over Tioga Pass . . .

. . . then into the central valley of California, with glaring signs of social division and its consequences. We were a bit shocked to observe the increased numbers of homeless shelters and shanties in CA. While In Modesto, Karen confronted and chatted with (before he ran away) an early morning backyard intruder at our Airbnb, who had let himself in our private gate and was checking for unlocked doors and windows. Another unsettling sign of the desperate situation there.

A typical CA homeless encampment
No uninvited backyard visitors please

While Jeff worked hard at the office, Karen volunteered a few times at the Salvation Army food bank, digitized her mother Ann’s journals, and went on some long human-powered gravel bike rides on the canal banks, country roads, and city streets (yikes!) of Modesto.

Together with family, we were able to remember those who have preceded us in eternities’ chapters, as we marked the 3rd anniversary of Braden’s passing. Megan’s grave was also decorated with fall foliage when we returned to Utah.

After a quick changeover back in Lehi, we left on our fall adventure October 3. Our first stop was Albany, WY, where we had lots of fun dirt biking . . . until an unfortunate hand injury (thankfully no broken bones). We then proceeded to Erie, CO and spent a wonderful week with son Jordan and his master (Roman the French Bulldog), visiting and helping with Choice House. Karen found some great bicycle trails, and we were able to locate a small local food pantry in need. There are ways to help no matter where we all are.

Jeff says “It’s just a flesh wound.”
Addiction recovery center
Plumber Jeff to the rescue!
Colorado has some nice bike trails
4Runner full of groceries

As we start our sojourn through Texas and Arkansas over the following 8+ weeks, we look forward to seeing more family, making more friends, serving more strangers and yes, sampling a small steak or two at the Big Texan steakhouse in Amarillo!

Utah to Arkansas. Return route TBD.
Home of the 72 oz steak

Upon reflection, the past months have seen new and unusual levels of societal shifting, COVID-19 swings, global unrest and, unfortunately, increased tensions surrounding political positions and special interests. As we were driving through the thriving metropolis of Carlin, NV a few weeks ago, there were some people on its only highway overpass with flags and a simple sign “United We Stand.” Sure seems like a good idea—respect the differences among us with tolerance and love, and look for the good in life and others, to unite in positive and productive ways.

We experienced this in August, when a strong windstorm in Lehi blew over a huge tree in the neighborhood. One person sent a text and we were blessed to be part of a community group that quickly assembled and within 45 minutes cut, cleared and removed the entire tree. Great things can be done in unity….

Service Nomads
Karen & Jeff
See you again soon!

Layover in Lehi

Time has been flying by and our current Utah stay is going quickly.

The past year has taught us many things. Among them, the rapid passage of time in each place we have been, and also the yearning for a place to “park,” if only for short periods of time between our sojourns.

On our return to Utah, it became clear that the hassle of living out of 3 storage units, and the “unique” circumstances of Airbnb-living here could be avoided with a home base of some sort.

Lehi, Utah (pron. Lee-high) is a small city between Salt Lake and Orem. It is quaint and cutting edge at the same time. A local landmark is the Lehi Roller Mills, featured in the 1984 Kevin Bacon movie “Footloose.” Lehi is also known for its “Silicon Slopes,” similar to Silicon Valley and home to countless high tech startups and established companies such as Adobe, Intel/Micron, SanDisk, doTerra, and Ancestry.com. Thanksgiving Point is a big attraction in Lehi along Highway I-15 that boasts beautiful gardens and special events, interactive museums, petting farm, butterfly house, restaurants, IMAX and other theaters.

We were blessed to quickly find and buy a small two-family home in old town Lehi. We will be the basement dwellers between road trips, and Christopher and Kristen with their 3 young ones will rent the main floor and care for the place as we continue “service nomading” for awhile longer. Our travels have required continued flexibility as we adjust some of our original plans. It has been great to spend time with family and friends this summer.

It’s the perfect little house
The cute family upstairs

In May, to celebrate Jeff’s 29th birthday (tee-hee), we traveled to the west Utah desert for some rock hounding and dirt biking. The first day was spent chiseling for 400 million year-old trilobite fossils. That made turning 61 feel like a new birth, compared to the ol’ trilobites!

Jeff levering the sedimentary rock layers
One of our trilobite finds

Day 2 was a real blast with some of the kids joining us at Topaz Mountain, where we were able to dynamite fresh rhyolite and hammer/chip away for prized Topaz gemstones. It was a great adventure and all were able to find plenty of treasures.

Day 3 was spent on our dirt bikes at the Amasa Basin area near Notch Peak. The trails were great and we enjoyed exploring the old mines and wide open riding areas. Karen is enjoying her new hip armor, especially after collecting some gnarly bruises last season.

June was busy moving to the house, routine doctor appointments, maintaining a heavy workload, and providentially being here to assist Ethan after he and his car were the unlucky target of an inattentive driver who ran a red light. A ruptured spleen, bruised lung, concussion and cancelled summer work have been the more critical damages. Fortunately, with Mom nearby, his recovery is going well. Wish we could say as much for the insurance system and challenges of restoring normalcy to Ethan’s life.  

July 4th in the Provo area is as “Red White and Blue” a place as anywhere, and we celebrated by attending the “Stadium of Fire” with some of the family. Lots of emotions, as it was the first time we had been in a large gathering for almost two years or participated in the big event, including an impromptu stadium sing-along with Lee Greenwood leading “God Bless the USA” (chills….)

It’s not called Stadium of Fire for nothin’
Nitro Circus performed too!
Karen, Kristen, Haley

A huge July highlight is a new song daughter Emma cowrote with the EDM artist ILLENIUM about her experiences associated with our mortal loss of Braden, almost three years ago now. “Brave Soul” was publicly released last Friday as the final track on ILLENIUM’s new album “Fallen Embers.” You can click on the album cover below to listen!

Emma Grace
Braden and Jeff years ago

In other wonderful news, we are thrilled that Ramila, one of our Nepalese “adopted children” is now serving a full time mission in Bangalore, India. She is a sweet sister missionary and we are confident that her sincere testimony of Jesus Christ will touch many lives.

Sister Adhikari

Even with all the craziness and uncertainty of the times, there is much good in the world and there is much good to do.

With a bit over a month to go before hitting the road again, it will be a busy blend of work, quality time with family/friends, and some fun to fill the gaps.

“Wagon” oops . . . “4Runner Ho!”

Leaving Penticton, 4Runner FULLY loaded

Greetings from the mountain valley of Provo, Utah. On April 30, after 6 months in Penticton, British Columbia, we headed south across the 49th parallel, in a surprisingly simple border crossing back into the USA.

Our time in Canada was indeed timely, as Karen’s dad is experiencing all the progressive effects of aging. We were blessed to be able to make some more happy memories with him and Karen’s brother and his wife, David and Karen. (Yes, family gatherings were a bit confusing with two Karens.) A few of our farewell activities included a boat ride on Skaha Lake, walks along the beach, and a fun “rickshaw” ride courtesy of a wonderful non-profit called “Cycling Without Age.”

Springtime in BC is exciting! The snow in the mountains is still there for diehard snowshoers, snowmobilers, XC and Downhill skiers (as long as the resorts stay open), while the hiking trails become increasingly more accessible. As the valley heats up, the water sports resume…kayaking first, then paddle boarding, sailing, motor boating, wake boarding, etc. Interestingly, one thing that never really stops in Penticton is golfing. As long as there was no snow on the course, we saw golfers out there! Canadian golfers are hardy, Eh?

In an unfortunate twist of events the very LAST day of the ski season, Karen had a hard fall while adjusting to new skis. She doesn’t remember much after being knocked unconscious. But she does remember the 4 long weeks it took to heal some badly strained muscles and ligaments in order to walk comfortably again. Thankfully she recovered fully, and just in time for some tennis and kayaking before we left.

Karen’s before and after

While our main service focus in Penticton was Dad, we were able to help out in other small ways here and there. We felt our time and efforts were well spent. Jeff, working remotely, was busier than usual due to all the changing tax laws, client business sales, and clients planning for CA exits. Locals began to refer to him as Hermit Hamilton.

On the drive south, we visited two pieces of land we purchased (sight unseen!) with the Sundance sale proceeds — one in Tetonia, ID and the other in Eden, UT. Both are very beautiful areas, but we’re not ready to call either “Home Sweet Home” yet, mainly since they are still dirt, rocks, and animal scat. We may be houseless, but we aren’t homeless.

View of the Tetons from our acreage between Tetonia and Driggs

After settling in for 4 months here in Provo, one of the first things we did was go get our first vaccine. Dose 2 is already scheduled with a 3-week interval. Unlike Canada, where things are still pretty locked down, life here in Utah seems to be getting back to “normal.”

While we were up north, Jeff dutifully tried to speak “Canadian” but was never quite fluent. Karen, on the other hand, quickly reverted to most of the different words, expressions, spellings and pronunciations of her native dialect. Back in the USA now, we are talking like true Utahns again. Thank the lard!

Karen celebrated our homecoming by joining some friends for a patriotic craft project. While she has been a US Citizen for decades, we’ve learned that her dual citizenship is helpful at times. In some ways “O Canada” will always be her “home and native land.”

As we reunite with family and friends, 6 months doesn’t seem that long, until the three grandkids are on the scene. They have grown and developed a lot over the past six months. While THEY grow, WE try not to slow! With other family members geographically spread, we look forward to the days ahead of time together.

After the May 17 tax deadline, we look forward to some hiking and biking in the beautiful Utah mountains. Our dirt bikes are calling as well. And, with life “opening up” here and in other places, we are anxious to find more quiet opportunities to serve folks and causes in need.

The past year of “lock downs” has established a greater sense of gratitude for the liberty and opportunities we can easily take for granted. As well, it has uniquely provided time to re-assess life’s priorities and learn how to love and respect others in non-judgmental ways.

The big question now is whether societies will find deeper levels of gratitude, tolerance, respect and hope going forward or, will the tensions and frustrations of the past year fester into increasing conflict and contention?

We choose the former…