2015… Wow!!! It’s Incredible that I get to be here in 2015 and experience all it brings

It’s January 2015!!! Surprise!!! I am still alive and doing relatively well. Evidently God still has plans for my life. So, despite my doctor’s guess of my shortened lifespan due to my health related issues, God still has more for me to experience, share, do, etc. As Richard Bach wrote in his book Illusions“Here is a test to find out if your mission on Earth is accomplished… If you are still alive it isn’t.” So, evidently my mission is not completely accomplished. I’m trying to do my best to keep close contact with God and be aware of the path I’m supposed to be on, or the things I am supposed to be doing, or the people I am supposed to be in contact with through various experiences or happenings.

In a way it feels a bit eerie or out of sync. In 2013, and again confirmed in 2014, based on my doctors examination of me, and feeling the large tumor and it’s placement, she didn’t think I would be alive at the end of 2014. So, on July 4th when I watched the fireworks, I thought this would be the last time I saw fireworks, the same for my birthday… it would be the last birthday I would celebrate, and in both 2013 and 2014 I saw the fireworks and celebrated another birthday. I realized that every day any of us live we are closer to dying. No one escapes that experience. The timing is up to God. So we all need to appreciate every day and live it to the fullest. I have written about this many times. We are not guaranteed tomorrow. We only have the moment we are in.

I feel like it’s the Rocks, Pebbles, Sand, Water scenerio I have heard about many times. A jar is filled with rocks, then we are asked what else can we fit in the jar and we say nothing else will fit. We are told that pebbles will, then sand, then finally water will fill the rest of the space in the jar. I don’t know what stage my life is in. I might be in the sand or water stage, then again, I may be in the rock stage. I just found this story on the Internet about Rocks, Pebbles, Sand and I like what is written better than any other story I’ve read, even though it doesn’t include adding water as the final item. Here is a  Rocks in a Jar version, it’s not as informative as the previous link. Please read these webpages when you have time. They might give you some food for thought. None of us know what stage our life is in, no matter what our age.

I am so glad I took the trip I did from early September through mid-December. It  was great fun. Since I returned, I have been baking cookies and brownies and giving them to friends and businesses I frequent often. Everyone loves receiving surprises, especially home baked ones.

When I started my trip in September I left a shamrock jigsaw puzzle partially completed. Shortly after I got back from my trip I began working on the puzzle and finally finished it. It is really beautiful. All of the detail is hard to see in the picture. Now, I just started two new puzzles. One is large so I can’t fit it through the door into my bedroom, so I started a smaller one so I could sit in bed and work on it. Both puzzles are 1,000 pieces. The puzzle with the ferris wheel has 119 hidden objects in the picture. Some of them are scissors that make up part of the ferris wheel, a suitcase that a boy is sitting in as a ride and using a baton as a bar to hold onto, and a guitar that is the roller coaster ride.

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After I complete these two puzzles, I have two more waiting to be done, in the meantime when I go to stores I will keep my eyes open for puzzles I want to work on. I am including the link to the puzzle store I shop in and the puzzle company I like the most for their unusual puzzles in case you like puzzles and want to explore these sites too.  I already know that I want to buy three Sun’s Out puzzles, the otter, a hot air balloon, and perhaps the State of Texas that I saw online a few months ago. I am going to have to ask Lacy at Prestigious Puzzles to order them for me, or I can order them online. I put pictures of them below so you could see them. I like the otter puzzle the best. These special shaped puzzles are all designed by Lori Schory who I have made friends with the past year or so when I wrote to her telling her I like her designs. Most of the puzzles I do are her designs. She kindly sent me four puzzles to work on, the penguin puzzle is the last of the four. The shamrock puzzle is made with pictures she took in Ireland. The otter puzzle is made with pictures she took at the London Zoo.

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I have found several websites that write about the health benefits of doing jigsaw puzzles, here is the link to two of them. I might add more in a few days: 42 benefits of doing jigsaw puzzles, another is health benefits of puzzling.

My time since I have been back home has been filled with doing errands, having lunch and spending time with friends and my mom, taking naps, reading, talking on the phone, and baking, and not much else except resting which is necessary. The pain seems to be increasing a bit and I’m having to take more medicine more often to control it which sometimes makes me extra tired. I try to take the minimum that I can so I don’t sleep all the time. I had bloodwork done recently and it shows that my kidney function is only a little worse than it was in June 2014 which is good. We thought it might be considerably worse, thankfully, it’s not.

The symptoms caused by the growing tumors are still becoming worse, some days are worse than other days. It changes almost daily and there is no rhyme or reason for it. Sometimes I am awakened in the early morning hours having trouble breathing, other times the amount of food I can eat at a time or in a day is half a cup to a full cup at the most, and when I go to pee it takes a while before anything comes out. I’m still getting numbness and sharp pains in my left foot and leg. We know all of these symptoms are due to the increase of size in my tumors and the pressure it’s putting on my organs. So, I just keep going on and doing my best to ignore the symptoms and not let them ruin my day. If I have to increase my medicine to control the pain I do. If it means I have to sleep a bit more, I do that too.

It could be easy for me to continually think that the end of my life is coming when I have difficulty breathing, or can’t eat much food in a day, or that my kidneys and bladder are totally compressed or blocked when I can’t pee easily. I have to admit there were a few times that I did think that for a short time when it happened a bit more severely than previous times. But then after 3 or 4 minutes when I could pee, or when I went a night without waking up short of breath, or when I can eat a more food in a day,  that I think it’s not now, I just have a new normal. My doctor and I think that my end of life will come when my organs get so compressed that I cannot pee, eat, or breathe, but in reality that might not be how it plays out. My heart could give out, I could have a heart attack, I could choke on food, fall down steps or have a serious fall, be in a car accident, a plane could fall out of the sky and land on the roof of my building, or many other events could be the reason. It’s out of my hands and in God’s hands. I have very little control, if any. So, I live each day to the fullest I can.

Some days are better than other days. Still I do my best to keep an attitude of gratitude and thank God every day for the life I have. So many people have it much worse than I do. I have a safe place to live, food to eat, money to buy what I need, enough medicine to control the pain, a car with insurance to drive with gas in it, people who love me and check on me frequently, I can walk, talk, and breathe at the same time. I can see, hear, feel, and have clean clothes to wear, shoes, a nice bed with a soft blanket to sleep in, and so much more to be extremely grateful for. It far outweighs any challenges I am experiencing. If there are times I feel sorry for myself, I limit them to a minute or two. I wouldn’t be normal if I didn’t have those times where I feel sad or frustrated with how my health condition affects my life and life expectancy.

In October 2013, I wrote a story called Seriously, Really, You would rather be an Ostrich? about the importance of having legal and medical documents prepared so that should the unexpected happen then your wishes would be known, and you can be taken care of in accordance with your wishes whether it’s for a short time or longer or even your final wishes. Have the legal documents prepared so if the unexpected does happen, it could save arguments and guesswork for who should be your representative and make decisions. When things are going well and there is no pressure to prepare these documents is when it should be done, and it’s the time to discuss various topics with those close to you. Please make time to read this important story. Age should not be a factor, I know young people in their 20s and 30s that have died unexpectedly in car accidents, or had health conditions that became fatal. We never know when life changes. If we have our documents prepared, it makes it easier for those we love and/or who are in charge of our affairs should we become unable to make decisions, even temporarily. They won’t have to guess what we want done with things, or if we want life support, surgery, maybe you want to be an organ donor.

It can be so easy to stay in bed and feel sorry for myself, but that’s not me. Some days I really have to talk to myself and tell myself to get out of bed, that I cannot just stay in bed and not do anything. I also give myself permission to sleep later in the morning if need be. My sleeping pattern is all messed up since I often nap in the late afternoon into the early evening. Sometimes I am awake at 2:00 a.m., sometimes I am awake until 5:30 a.m. Then if I sleep until 10:00 or 11:00 a.m. half of the day is gone when I get up. It really feels odd. I try to listen to my body and rest when I really need to, but other times I push myself past that point so I don’t get in a rut of sleeping all of the time.

JBsOne of my friends that lives in Seattle came to stay with me for two days before she took a flight out of Miami airport. It was nice to see Patt, the last time we saw each other was in July 2011 when I was in Seattle during my 2011 trip to the northwest. We went to a RV Show and looked at motorhomes and pull type campers. I still like my camper van the best. Patt gets to see the Pacific Ocean, not the Atlantic Ocean, so we ate lunch at JB’s on the Beach sitting outside on their porch looking out at the turquoise ocean and watching the pigeons and seagulls. It was very nice. Check out their website and on their main page you will see beautiful pictures of not only the restaurant, but also of the beautiful beach and fishing pier, in Deerfield Beach. The water is almost always a beautiful turquoise. As we were leaving the restaurant we saw three brightly colored motorcycles parked out front. They were really amazing and I would have loved to take a ride on any of them.

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During Patt’s visit this week we talked about many topics. One of the things we talked about is my medical condition and how I’m dealing with it. She said she admires my positive attitude and how I have chosen to live my life. She said I’m an inspiration to her and many others and she said that she frequently tells people about me. I told her that I want to write an article that says something to the effect that dying slowly when you know it sucks. She laughed and we talked about dying suddenly vs knowing it’s coming but not knowing exactly when like is happening to me. A story I wrote in July 2014 expressed some of my thoughts about that topic. I try my best to live with a positive attitude and as a result it seems I am an example to others of how to live without feeling sorry for myself because of my health condition. It’s not really hard for me to live with a positive attitude and with one of gratitude because it’s how I have lived my life for about 27 years. I find that living in the solution and not the problem provides me with a better way of life, a more peaceful and contented spirit, and peace of mind, no matter what my life situation is. There are still days that I don’t want to live this way anymore, or at least not for a long period of time, that I’m tired of the pain and limitations that my tumors have caused. But those days or moments are very few and they do not happen close together thankfully. I’m grateful that I don’t dwell on them or give them attention, so they disappear quickly.

If my health continues the way it is now and doesn’t get significantly worse, I am planning to take another trip the end of March or early April. I have to figure out a route. I know that I want to be in east Texas in early to mid July for a hot air balloon event, and I want to be in Albuquerque the end of September through mid October for the hot air balloon fiesta again. Other than that I have no destination selected. I really would like to explore the upper Michigan peninsula, but it’s quite a bit north and then to come all the way back south is a long distance. I need to find interesting things to experience through the middle states that I have not seen already. Perhaps go further west than New Mexico and come back east to Albuquerque. I’m sure I will find a good route, even if it evolves as I’m driving. That has worked well on previous trips. Talking with people in campgrounds along the way has often provided me with interesting places to stop and see. I have also been able to share information on places that I went to and found interesting. I really like having my website, it’s nice to look at pictures I’ve taken and read stories I wrote a few years ago. It brings back wonderful memories, and also reminds me of things I forgot that I saw or did.

My concern about taking another trip is the same concern I had for the two trips I took in 2014. There were days I could not travel so I stayed where I was until I was able to go on. Since there is no control over the growth of my tumors and their effect on my health condition, I don’t know when I might get a blockage which we feel will cause the end of my life. I don’t want to be far away from home and have to make arrangements to get back home. I prefer to be able to drive myself home, rather than have to either go in a hospital somewhere near wherever I would be traveling, or having to fly home in a distressed medical state. I have to have faith and trust that God will continue to allow me to watch my symptoms and hopefully let me have sufficient time to get home on my own. I almost cut my recent trip short a couple of times, but when I stayed where I was for a day or few days I found I was not getting worse. I can hurt anywhere, I don’t need to be home. I can manage my pain wherever I am and it’s more fun to be traveling and exploring the country than staying home and reading and watching television. If I should suddenly die while I’m on my trip, I have prepaid funeral arrangements including travel insurance to transport my body. Like I said before, I don’t focus on this, but it is in the back of my mind and thoughts.

In 2011, I pretty much did almost everything on my Bucket List. I have a few things left on it which are seeing the Northern Lights, going to Alaska, Italy, and Greece, watching episodes of NCIS, NCIS Los Angeles, and NCIS New Orleans being filmed, and going to the Ellen Degeneres Show.

So, now that I am still alive I need to add to my bucket list. One of the things I have wanted to do for years is go see the Macy’s July 4th fireworks. I don’t really like large crowds and to see the fireworks from a good location I am guessing I would need to get there really early and then it would be a challenge to find restrooms, places to eat, etc. and then have to navigate through the crowds and get transportation back to a hotel, that is if there are any hotel rooms available. I don’t really think I have the energy or stamina for the experience of being in large crowds in New York. So, like in previous years, I will be happy to watch the fireworks on television. I get to see a great firework display in Albuquerque during the Balloon Fiesta. It’s not the Macy July 4th fireworks, but they are still pretty incredible and very beautiful.

I have done so much more than I would have even thought to put on a bucket list, so instead of creating a new bucket list, I will continue to live my life one day at a time and be content and happy with how each day unfolds. It’s been pretty good living this way so far. I did intentionally plan most of my 2011 trip which included my dream of going to the Albuquerque Hot Air Balloon Fiesta and I accomplished that, and also attended in 2012 and 2014. I didn’t have a ride in the Goodyear Blimp on my bucket list, and I had that incredible experience. I am convinced that if I am to have a specific experience or adventure it will happen. Sometimes it takes the help of a friend or effort on my part, other times it just happens. I am so blessed and grateful for the life I have, even the difficulties and challenges. They have helped me become the person I am.

Here is an amazing dog video that someone sent me. It’s incredible dogs doing tricks, stunts, catching a frisbee, and jumping rope at an Eagles Halftime show. I hope you enjoy it.

The Webbs Mill VFD, Bradford VFD, and East Hill VFD who are three of the volunteer fire departments in New York State that I donated money to sent me pictures of the equipment they bought with my donations. I want to share the pictures with you. Check out the fire helmet on the top of the tree. It really touches my heart that several of the volunteer fire departments and other organizations I have helped keep in touch with me.

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When you get a chance listen to this version of Amazing Grace, a friend sent me this link.

That’s about it for now. I wish everyone a blessed 2015, I hope you enjoy every day and let people in your life know that you appreciate them, love them, etc.

Posted in 2015 Trip | 3 Comments

Return home from trip, Back home in Florida, and Health Update as of the end of December

On December 11th when I returned home to south Florida, I added this post to let everyone know I was home. It’s now the end of December and I finally have time and energy to add to this story and add an update as of December 25th, the day I am writing this post. Last summer, and also earlier this year, my doctor didn’t think I would live to see the end of 2014. Now, it’s about a week away and I am still alive. Evidently, God is not ready for my life here to be over yet.

I arrived back home in south Florida on Thursday, December 11th. After I left Waco, I took my time driving back. It took me four days. It was not always an easy drive, due to pain. I stopped frequently to rest or take a nap, or my pain medicine. I stopped in Yulee, Florida to visit with my friend Cindy for a few days. We baked cookies and caught up on life and I told her about my trip. I also was able to wash the rugs in my camper, they got pretty dirty on my trip. A friend of mine met me when I got home and helped me unload my camper so I could not have to go up and down the stairs to my apartment as many times. It also saved me from carrying anything heavy. I am so grateful for Dale’s help. I still find it difficult and not easy to ask for help, or admit I need help. I’m trying to be better at it. I know when I help others it feels good. Lois told me many years ago that if I don’t let others help me then I am depriving them of feeling good for helping someone else. Lois died in May 1989, yet her positive impact on my life still has a positive effect all these years later.

I am so glad that I made the decision in early September to take another trip. I really prayed hard and sincerely about it for a few months, and at times I was hesitant to take the trip due to the increase in my pain and symptoms I was experiencing due to my tumor and health condition. I kept praying and taking action for taking the trip. After much prayer, thought, talking with my doctor, and planning, I decided to take the trip. I wrote about this in a story the end of August or early September.

Anyway, thankfully, I made the entire trip. There were a few times I thought I would have to cut the trip short due to health symptoms, but I waited a day or so and decided to continue on the journey. I am so happy I did. I enjoyed my entire journey. You can read the stories in the posts I wrote since September. Wow!!! I also got to go to the Albuquerque Balloon Fiesta, crewed for Scott and went up in his balloon again, and volunteered at the event, among other experiences and adventures.

Now that I am home and have time, I finally wrote the story about the Homestead Heritage Fair, so I hope you read it, along with a few other stories I wrote about my five weeks at Homestead Heritage where I had the privilege to visit with many of my friends there and to help out in various ways such as working at the gristmill, cheese shop, and picking vegetables in Kim’s garden, and the other places I visited on this three month expedition. The Yarden family who I have become very close to over the past several years let me park my camper in their front yard and they include me as part of their family, and they invite me to eat meals with them.

Since I’ve been back home, I’m slowly getting everything put away. I got my clothes put away within a few days, however, it’s the other things that seem to be taking a bit more time. I’ve been baking a lot of cookies and brownies for the holidays and giving plates of goodies to friends and places of business that I use frequently. I brought back cheese, jelly, spiced pecans, and Gristmill products and I’ve been gifting them to friends as well. I also am enjoying the same items I brought back since I brought back enough for me to keep too. My mom loves the spiced pecans and my friend Ahavah that makes the pecans gave me the recipe, so I made a two pound batch for my mom and I gave her several types of my cookies too.

I wanted a blanket for my bed, so I went to one of the big box stores as they are called and I found a very soft, plush blanket. I love the soft feel of it. I also found some 50 x 70 throws that are really soft so I bought three of them too. I will keep one or two home to use for my naps, and the other will go into my camper as a blanket on my bed there. I might put two in the camper. I find when it’s really cold, that if I put a blanket under me, over the bottom sheet, that it keeps me warmer and it’s a great feeling to have something soft to lay on. I guess it might be like in olden days when people laid on animal skins that were soft and plush.

For the past year or so my doctor said to eat whatever I can because there were and are times I can’t eat much at a time. I was eating lots of things that were not low calorie, such as ice cream, pasta, etc. I gained about 25 or so pounds. On my recent trip, I was walking more and not snacking very much, and not eating much. As a result, I lost 22 pounds. This summer I had to buy pants a size or two larger since I couldn’t fit into my jeans. Now, those jeans are way too large. So, a few days ago, I went and bought pants two sizes smaller. If I lose or gain a few pounds these jeans should still fit me. I am not trying to gain weight, but I’m guessing I will be since I’m now baking and cooking and able to snack more often. I still can’t eat much at a time, so I eat small amounts a little more often if I can. I seldom get hungry, I look at the clock and based on the time, I know I should eat something. I also have to make sure I drink enough fluids so I don’t dehydrate.

I went to the doctor the other day and she confirmed what I already know. I could tell by her expression when pressing my abdomenal, chest, and pelvic areas, that’s where the large tumor I have that is located, that she is puzzled by how I can still be alive. I know I am. My entire abdominal, chest, and pelvic areas are extremely hard, as is the tumor which is definitely larger than it was in June. We have no idea how my organs are still functioning, we know they are but at a lesser capacity, based on my symptoms. My tumor is still growing, and it’s pressing more on the nerves in my left leg, and pressing on my organs more. For the past few months, occasionally, I wake up during the night or early morning having trouble breathing. The tumor is pressing on my diaphram, and it’s also causing my bladder, lungs, stomach, etc. to be more compressed, therefore, causing me to eat less, have less oxygen in my lungs, etc. I had bloodwork done to see if my liver and kidney function is different than the bloodwork I had done in June. We don’t think I will have another CT Scan, but we will decide after the doctor sees the results of the bloodwork.

I am going to make an effort to make myself walk and try to be as active as I can. I don’t want to gain the weight I lost so I know I will have to watch what I eat, even though it might be tough. I like to eat cake and cookies, pizza, pasta, etc.  I am not going to stress over it.

That’s about it for now. Happy Holidays Everyone. Thank you for your love, support, encouragement, friendship, and so much more!!!

Posted in 2014 Trip | 2 Comments

Homestead Heritage Fair, Waco, Texas

The Homestead Heritage Fair began today, Friday, November 28th, and it ends Sunday, November 30th. The weather is beautiful and there were approximately 9,200 visitors in attendance today. It’s a new record, the previous record was 9,000 in one day. Both Friday and Saturday had days of record attendance. It’s estimated there were at least 25,000 people in attendance during the three day event. Thankfully, the weather was really good all days. It was a bit more windy than everyone wanted it to be, but temperature wise it was good. Monday morning it was really cold and windy, so we are all glad it held off until after the fair. If you get to Texas, please be sure to visit Homestead Heritage. Feel free to check out their website, there are many interesting shops with links on the website. You can also order many items online and have them shipped.

I posted pictures online that I took during the Fair and during the weeks leading up to the fair. Instead of creating a new photo album just for the Fair, I added the approximately 700 pictures I took in the past three days to the album I created a few weeks ago. So, if you already have looked at the pictures in the album, skip through the first 200 pictures and look at the rest. I added each day’s pictures after the previous day’s pictures so if you see the yellow and white striped Gristmill tent, or the Cheese Tent, etc. know that the next set of photos are different than the previous day’s photos even though they might look similar. There are also pictures of storyboards that have stories that several of the children that live here have written about different experiences they have. I hope the text is clear enough so that you can read their stories. I took pictures both with and without the visitors so that you can see the various booths and exhibits. Looking at the pictures with the visitors you can get a feel for what it was like to walk around during the Fair.

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On both Friday and Saturday of the Fair, friends of mine from Dallas and Fort Worth came to visit with their families so I walked around both days giving tours of the grounds, exhibits, and demonstrations. I was also able to explain about various areas such as the Aquaponics Greenhouse, Gristmill, cheese making, weaving, etc. since I have been helping in these areas, or watching them be completed, for a few weeks this time and in previous years. My friends told me that they enjoyed the Fair and even more so because I was with them explaining things and making sure that they saw what was of most interest to them. The aquaponics area had a small scale garden using plastic barrels and goldfish.

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Of course, we made sure that we sampled many of the delicious foods and desserts. There were so many unusual and regular foods that it was difficult to choose what to eat. I’m glad there were three days to the fair so I could eat a variety of these foods. I even bought extra foods and desserts so that I could eat them on the drive back home. It turned out well, I didn’t have to cook on the way back.

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The choirs and orchestra performances were outstanding. One of the children’s choir songs sounded like rain and thunder. The sounds were made only by stamping feet, and rubbing, clapping hands and snapping fingers. Another song, performed by the adult orchestra sounded like a train, including a machine that made steam that looked like a steam engine was there. Another amazing and humorous performance was when one of the very talented musicians played the part of making believe he was a new student that was just learning to play the piano. His “teacher” played the part well. Then a short time later, two other musicians joined in and all four of them were playing two pianos. They continually played as the four of them walked around the two pianos, not missing a beat of the song. It was magical and very entertaining.

Fresh apples were pressed into apple cider which was sold in one of the food booths, and the Gristmill was demonstrating how a portable mill that was used to grind grains operated. Because it is portable, it was moved from town to town grinding grains at various rural towns in olden days.

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The Native American Trail Marker Tree I found very interesting. I’ve seen it all of the years I have been at Homestead Heritage, but until this year when I saw the sign explaining about the tree, I didn’t know it had a purpose other than serving as a bench.

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The Brazos Valley Cheese Shop tent had a display showing the wheels of cheese, and a case with a cowboy hat, cowboy boot, and turkey all carved out of cheese. As I wrote in the previous stories I wrote recently, the cheese is made in the mornings after the milk from local dairies is delivered.

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Seth that works in the Cheese Shop is an extremely talented artist. His paintings and drawings are remarkable. I really enjoy looking at his artwork.

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My friend Kevin who is extremely involved in Homestead Barns did barn raising demonstrations where visitors could help raise parts of the barn structure. Kevin and his company build barn houses all over the country. I have been in a few of the structures he’s built since they are on the Homestead Heritage property. Check out the Homestead Barns website to see some of these beautiful houses, including the Crawford Ranch where President Bush and his wife Laura live. Their house was featured in Architectural Digest a few months ago. At the fair there was a poster explaining why barns are painted red.

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My friend Shahar is very involved in the Homestead Gristmill. He went to mills in other states and learned how to mill grain and he has taught others here how to operate the mill and grind grains. Checkout Homestead Gristmill on their website. They will gladly send you any items on their website, I can tell you everything is very delicious and non-GMO.

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Randy and Terri own Brim Seed Company. I found their tent very interesting. All seeds are no GMO, organic, and the best seeds to buy for a healthy food crop. Living in a small apartment, I found myself very interested in several items in their tent that would allow me or anyone to grow vegetables in a small area, either with or without soil. The hydroponic towers to grow plants using only water with nutrients was very interesting.

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Homestead Fiber Craft Shop is an amazing shop. They carry traditional types of yarn, and also hand dyed and spun yarn. All of the dishtowels, scarfs, hats, quilts, etc. are handwoven, knitted, or sewn here and every item has the name and age of the person that made the item. My friend Shlomit who is 13 hooked a rug that was the base for a barnyard scene. Other girls crocheted animals, a barn, and people to complete this scene. Another group of girls crocheted a tea set. I am so impressed by the skill of everyone here.

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The hay maze, children’s animal petting area, and hands on craft’s were really popular. The children loved making candles, weaving a coaster, assembling a wood boat, and many more hands on projects. It was fun watching the children do these various projects.

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The Fair was over Sunday afternoon and then everyone packed up all of the merchandise, food products, etc. that was left in the booths so they could get ready for business the next day. On Monday morning, almost the only sign that there was a fair this weekend were the tents that were still up.

I’m so happy that the Fair was a huge success, just like it always is. The weather cooperated and everyone there looked like they were having a great time enjoying the food, listening to the demonstrations, looking at the exhibits, and learning about various aspects of this community and the way they live.

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Madray Springs Volunteer Fire Department needs our help to win fire equipment

Update: December 15, 2014, Chief Dent notified me that his department did not win this contest. He said to thank everyone who voted.

My friend Fire Chief Ashley Dent in Madray Springs, Georgia, needs all of our help to win a contest that runs through December 10, 2014.

Madray Springs is one of the volunteer fire departments that I am close to and donate funds to. This is one of the fire chiefs that drove down to visit me last year. In May I spent several days at their department, I wrote a story about my visit with them.

Chief Dent sent me an email on Friday, November 28th, and he wrote: We are in another contest. We are the only department in the USA to enter and we are competing against 3 departments overseas. The contest winner is determined by Facebook votes. The winning fire department receives nearly $50,000 in equipment/SCBA air packs that firefighters wear to breathe clean air when fighting fires in smoke filled rooms, or in dangerous situations, etc.

Voting is open now through December 10th. People can vote once a day at: http://woobox.com/v8ejxj/vote/for/5310203

This link takes you to a video they created for the contest and on the top of the video frame is a vote button.

Knowing Ashley and his department, if they win, and other departments need to borrow this equipment, they will lend it to other departments, or bring it to where it’s needed.

PLEASE: Pass this info on to all of your friends and contacts using email, Facebook, and whatever other methods you have.

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Still in Texas, Thanksgiving is rapidly approaching

I’m still here at Homestead Heritage, I plan on leaving on Monday after the Thanksgiving weekend and heading east towards Florida. I’ve been staying very busy. Mostly I’m doing the same things I’ve written about in my previous two stories so I haven’t added any new stories. I most probably will not post another story until after the fair when I am back east and I have Internet. If anything important happens before then, I will add another post.

The Homestead Fair is rapidly approaching, everybody’s getting really busy setting up booths and doing the final tasks to be ready for the fair. Approximately 18,000 to 20,000 or so people attend this three day event. I’ve been listening to the choirs rehearse. All of the choirs are really extraordinary, however, I love listening to the young children sing. They are so enthusiastic and many of them have waited years to be in this choir, they have watched and listened as their brothers and sisters sing in the choir and now it’s the their turn, I think the youngest age they can join is six years old.  One of the songs the next age group performs sounds like various sounds you hear in a rain storm. Snapping fingers, rubbing hands together, and stamping feet, sounds like the wind, lighting, and thunder. The entire song is the sound effects they make and they start off slowly and quietly, then it increases to sound like strong storm, then it ends quietly.

My health is about the same, and I am managing pretty well. I still take my medicine to control the pain and I try to take naps every afternoon. The weather was pretty cold for several days, it got into the low 20’s at night and in the low 40’s during the day. For the past day or so I think it reached a low of high 30’s to low 40’s at night and in the low 60’s during the day. Today it rained pretty hard most of the day which is good now since many acres of wheat were planted this week and the grain needs the rain to grow. Everyone here is praying for good weather and no rain for the Thanksgiving weekend fair. This week everyone will be setting up the various booths.

Well, that’s about it for now. I knew that several of my friends watch my website for updates, so I thought I would post this short one to let everyone know that I’m doing well and there is nothing new happening. When I leave Waco, Texas, as I travel east when I get an Internet connection, I will update my Travel Map with my approximate location. Happy Thanksgiving. I have so many things to be grateful for… I am truly blessed. Thank you for being a part of my life. Best wishes to you and your family and friends.

Posted in 2014 Trip | 3 Comments

Homestead Heritage, Waco, Texas, my visit continues

I started the story about my time here at Homestead Heritage in Elm Mott, near Waco, Texas, in October and I’m going to be here most probably through Thanksgiving. So, since it’s now November 11th, I decided to write more about this wonderful place and what I’ve been doing for the past few weeks in this new story. You can explore the various links on this site to the gristmill, cheese shop, gift barn, and other types of shops. The Special Events tab at the top has the Homestead Fair information and video you may find interesting to explore. I also have an album with the pictures I’ve taken here.

As an update to the October story, I am still helping to harvest vegetables from Kim Yarden’s garden. It’s supposed to be below freezing tonight and for the next few days so this afternoon we picked all of the vegetables including green tomatoes so they won’t be ruined with the freeze. I know that we would have liked the freezing temperatures to wait a while so the tomatoes could turn red, but that’s not the way it happened. The wispy type plant is an asparagus bush. Other vegetables like cabbage, swiss chard, and carrots love the colder temperature.

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I’m still helping out at the cheese shop two days a week. The cheese is sold at farmers markets throughout the state so on Tuesday and Wednesday we package the cheese so it can be shipped on Thursday. Every time I am there I learn new things about the process to make different cheeses, Marc is really good about answering my questions and explaining the process to me. We also get to sample the cheese as it’s being cut, eating some of the small pieces cut off of the large wheels. Since the last time I was here which was in 2012, the packaging process has become much more efficient and better thanks to the vacuum packing machine which seals the cheese in air tight packages, and the remodeled shop which has a storefront and an area to cut and package the cheese.

Today, one of the cheeses we were packaging was smoked Gouda. The cheese is made, aged, and smoked here on the premises. The smokehouse is a very old building and just walking by it the smell of smoke is very strong. Today, I learned that when packaging smoked cheese we have to be extra careful because the smoke leaves a film on the wheel of cheese and when it’s handled the smoke dust for lack of a better word comes off on hands, the knife, and any surface it touches. So in order not to have fingerprints on the cheese surface we handle this cheese more carefully and make sure the knife, gloves, and work surface don’t have the brown smoke on them.

One of the things I have become very conscious of during my time here, and especially for some reason this visit, is that almost everything is done by hand and in made in small batches. This is the case for all the food types prepared, not only at the Cheese Shop and Gristmill. The same goes for the ice cream, ice cream cones, breads, etc. As for the cheese, depending on the type of cheese, it’s made in batches of 100 gallons to 400 gallons. The cheese making process is done by people, not machines. The same with cutting and packaging the cheese. One of my jobs is to put the labels on the cheese packages and to weigh them and put the sticker on the package.

When we made the Malawach dough last week, we made it in batches using 5 pounds of flour for each batch. I think we mixed and rolled out 10 batches of dough. The same at the Gristmill when making mixes or other type of flour products. It is made in relatively small batches. This ensures the quality is good, and also that it is made and sold fresh. Many days the flour is ground and sold the same day. And each bag for every product is labeled and filled by hand, not a machine.

Friday afternoon I was not feeling that great. My insides and back were really hurting bad. So on Saturday morning I slept late, and during the day I took more medicine than I remember taking in one day to control the pain. I don’t know why it was so bad, but it happens occasionally and I have no control over it. I try to find the balance in taking medicine so it takes away the pain, or at least most of it, while not taking too much so that I sleep all the time. Sometimes, I have to just sleep until I feel better. In the afternoons I try to rest and sleep for about an hour or two. It’s a good night when I can sleep through the night, or at least most of the night. I’m finding that the past month or so my pain has been increasing quite a bit. I think the tumor is growing in size because it’s more sore by touching it. It seems to be pressing more on my organs causing a few different symptoms, but nothing too more life threatening than I’ve been experiencing, as far as I know. It would be nice to have a glass window so I could see what’s happening inside me. Since I didn’t have a good day healthwise, I stayed in bed until almost noon resting and napping.

I’m camped in my friends, the Yarden’s, front yard and they include me as part of their family. I join them for meals and to sit and visit and talk, and I also get to take a shower and do my laundry. I am so grateful to them for including me in their family. I also learn quite a bit in all sort of ways. They have lots of muscovy ducks, I’m guessing now about 100 of them? A few times a year they slaughter the ducks and then freeze or can the meat and broth to enjoy all year long. These ducks do not quack, you don’t even know there are ducks on the property if you don’t see them. For some reason if you have muscovy ducks there are no flys around.

Saturday morning was a duck slaughter day. I was invited to help but I didn’t want to do that. I watched a few years ago when another friend here killed the turkeys and chickens for our Thanksgiving dinner two days before Thanksgiving. That was enough for me. Saturday, after the ducks were cleaned and were being cut up to freeze or can, I helped package the duck meat and after the bones were cooked for broth I took the meat off the bones and we made duck salad with it, sort of like chicken salad. It tastes almost the same. Saturday night we had duck cacciatore for dinner, it was really good. One of my favorite dishes the Yarden family makes is duck enchiladas. You really can’t tell that you are eating duck, it tastes like beef or chicken depending on how it’s cooked and with what seasonings.

On Sunday, we had a workday at the Gristmill, there were about a dozen of us working at various things such as filling granola bags, putting mixes into bags, and someone else was grinding and sifting cumin. Yes, fresh ground cumin… it smelled like someone was cooking enchiladas or some other wonderful smelling dish. My primary job at the Gristmill this year is putting labels on bags. It’s easy for me to do and I can sit while working. Working together is a great way to get to know people and share stories about our lives and what we like to do.

After finishing at the Gristmill about 3:00 p.m., I went over to the kitchen where my friend Ahavah and several other ladies were making sorghum pecan brittle and caramel sauce for candy apples for the fair. Before the pecans are used for anything like the brittle or spiced nuts, we open every bag and sort through the pecans to make sure there are no rotten pecans or parts of the shell. After the brittle was cooled, I helped package it. After it was all packaged, Ahavah told me to take the bits and pieces from the bottom of the pan so I could snack on it later on. It tastes so delicious. It’s made with rice syrup, eco sugar, butter, cream, and pecans which were grown on the Homestead Heritage property.

The ladies also made caramel sauce that would be hands on project for children during the fair Thanksgiving weekend. Ahavah wanted to try to find something different for the children to roll the caramel apples in besides nuts, so they were trying crushed pretzels and white chocolate chips. In any place we work with food, everyone wears aprons and hairnets, and in some cases like the cheese shop we wear rubber gloves too. We make sure that everything is clean as we work.

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These same ladies, along with a few others make various jellies such as prickly pair, jalapeno, and habanero. I don’t normally like spicy foods, but after trying the habanero jelly, I really like it when a small amount is put on a cracker, especially if it has a little bit of cream cheese on it too. I find the habanero jelly is not as hot as the jalapeno jelly, I think it’s because of the red peppers added to the habanero jelly. Two years ago when I was here I helped make the jelly… boy was it tough to be in the room when the pepper jelly was being cooked and put into jars.

Monday I worked at the Gristmill, I got to package the cumin that was ground on Sunday, along with cinnamon, and ginger, and I put labels on bags that would be used as needed. Then I came back to the camper and picked up pecans from the ground and filled a basket with them, and then I laid down in the camper and took a nap. I try to help out at the Gristmill two or three times a week. That with two days at the Cheese Shop gives me a pretty full week. The most I try to help in a day is four or five hours at the most. That’s about it for my physical limit. Some days it’s two or three hours.

Here are photos looking up into the pecan tree. These are native pecans which are smaller than other pecan types. When the pecan is ripe, it separates from the green covering and falls to the ground. In the photo on the right you can see a pecan separated from the covering and ready to fall to the ground.

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Besides the pottery shop, the woodworking shop, and the fiber craft shop, there is a blacksmith shop. When I walked by the other day, Caleb was making axes. It really is a hard job, the force of hitting the hot iron with a sledge hammer is tough on the arm.

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One of the new techniques of gardening here is aquaponics. I’ve heard of hydroponics, but not aquaponics. The basic difference between the two I think is aquaponics uses fishes. Elizabeth explained the process for this type of garden. There is a large 8 x 8 foam tank for the fish, and another tank for overflow and to keep the tank full, and the fish tank water will be pumped into the vegetable beds where the plants take the water they need and evidently somehow clean the water which is constantly being pumped and recirculated through the vegetable beds. Various types of fish can be used, and when they are mature the fish can be taken out of the tank and eaten.

The family building this aquaponic garden is doing a modified version, they are adding soil to the vegetable beds in addition to the gravel. This provides additional nutrients in the soil and it gives the plants more stability. The pipes are in the bottom of the bed, then gravel, then a layer of fabric, then the soil. The greenhouse has an opening at the top which can be opened or closed as needed for heat or cooling, and the sides can be rolled up for the same purpose. Having this controlled environment can help to eliminate bugs, and control weeds, and the raised height makes it easier to take care of the plants and harvest the crops.

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In several areas around the grounds of Homestead Heritage there is a plant called the Pride of Barbados. I see the plants by the cafe and gristmill most often since I go by there frequently. This is the most unusual and beautiful plant that I always enjoy stopping to admire. The colors of the flowers are unusual and they vary bloom to bloom.

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There is an area that has some animals and one of them is an alpaca, it has a very unusual face. Look closely at its mouth, it seems to have a split lip.

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That’s about it for my activities here for now.

On a different subject, I’ve had a few people tell me I should write more about my health situation and how I’m dealing with it emotionally and physically. I do write about it periodically, but I don’t want it to be the focus of my life. Yes, my life and activities are more limited because of my tumors and how they are affecting my body, but I like to focus on what I’m able to do even by modifying my activities like sitting when working, or not walking as far and asking for rides to where I want to go, and taking longer naps daily. I have to take more pain medicine than I was previously and it’s been hard to do emotionally, because I don’t like taking medicine of any kind. Thankfully, my pain medicine does not affect my mental state. It only takes the pain away for which I am very grateful.

I do on occasion write about my thoughts regarding what’s happening to me physically and how I deal with it, but I like to focus on what I’m able to do and accomplish during this time I have left to live. It’s almost the end of November 2014, and last summer my doctor said she didn’t think I would live to see the end of December 2013… wow, almost a year longer than expected, and I’m still alive.

I have no idea how much more time God will let me have to live. I like to think that I have used this extra unexpected time wisely. That I have made an impact in a positive way to help others, and I believe that I have. What more could a person want. I feel close to a Higher Power that I choose to call God. I try to live the way I think God would want me to do. I do my best every day to have a positive attitude and be grateful for the life I have, even with health issues. Yes, there are days when I feel sad, but it only lasts a very short time, sometimes less than 5 minutes. Mostly, it’s at times that catch me unexpectedly. I might be doing something or talking with someone, and it occurs to me unexpectedly at that moment that I might not have many more opportunities to do this again or talk with this person, or see another eclipse for example, or share special moments with friends and family. I have shed some tears, but not too many and not too often. If I didn’t I don’t think I would be normal… whatever that is. On a rare occasion I will just let myself cry for a while to get it out of my system and feel my feelings. It’s okay to do that too, but I don’t want to stay in that place for long. There is so much to be grateful for and to still do with my life.

I’m very grateful that I have several close friends that I can talk about anything with, including when I feel frustrated due to my limitations, and sad on occasion when I think about my life ending sooner than might have without the tumors and their affect on my body. I have no control over the growth of the tumors or their affect on my organs, nerves, muscles, etc. I have no idea when they will further compress the nerves in my leg that might cause more loss of feeling in my left leg, or when they might put more pressure on my internal organs to compress them further then they are now, which might result in still less lung capacity or eating still smaller portions of food, or put more pressure on my bladder and intestines that can cause other complications which I know are a possibility. There are many scenarios, but I do my best to not think about it or focus on it because that would not do me any good. I’ve learned worry doesn’t accomplish anything, however, prayer accomplishes a lot. It brings me closer to God and I know that God has a plan for me and my life. Worrying is suffering in advance. Things I worry about might not even happen, nor happen the way I think it might. It’s even possible that the end of my life might not even happen as a result of my health condition. People die from falls, auto accidents, all types of unexpected events. So, I leave my life in God’s hands and just pray  for God’s will and ask to be shown what that is every day.

An example of worrying about things that might not happen is that I brought my walker with a seat on this trip in case I needed it since my left leg and foot has numbness from the tumor pressing on nerves in my left groin and pelvic area. When I was at the Balloon Fiesta one night in my camper by accident, I hit my right foot on the edge of a table leg and a few days later when I was putting on my sneakers I realized my right foot was swollen and bruised and it was not happy to be in shoes. When I left on my trip, and as I traveled, I didn’t even think about hurting my right foot. My left foot and leg were good most of the time and didn’t hinder my activities, but my right foot did.

No one knows when their time is up, or when they might unexpectedly have a serious health condition arise in their life or the life of someone close to them, or when an accident or injury could change their life. Once again, I like to express my wishes that everyone live their life fully every day. We never know what tomorrow might bring. Don’t miss what is here for you now. I have always liked to walk rather than ride a bike, even though it would get me somewhere faster. By walking I get to enjoy the scenery, stop to admire a flower or butterfly, stop to talk with someone rather than waving as we pass, smell the fresh air, look at the clouds, the sunrise or sunset.

Live each day with an attitude of gratitude, no matter what. There is always someone who is going through something more challenging than I am. It keeps my life in perspective.

Posted in 2014 Trip | 2 Comments

Homestead Heritage, Waco and Meridian Volunteer Fire Department, Texas

I am doing well and having fun visiting with my friends at Homestead Heritage in Waco, Texas. I have been helping at the Brazos Valley Cheese Shop, and also at the Homestead Gristmill. Also, I’ve been visiting with friends I’ve made here over the years. I visited here in October 2011, November 2011, and October and November 2012, using these links you can read about those visits.

During my time here, I have been taking pictures, including many of the cheese making process. The cheese shop gets fresh milk early in the morning, from local dairies right after the cows are milked. The cheese making process begins upon delivery of the fresh milk. There are several vats used to make cheese. The largest is a round steel tub that holds up to 400 gallons of milk. My first day at the cheese shop, there were 350 gallons of milk which would produce about 330 pounds of cheese that afternoon. I took pictures and some videos of the cheese making process, and I also got to taste some of the fresh cheese curds. Salt is added after the curds are drained. It was my first time eating curds and surprisingly I really liked the taste, they also squeak when chewing them. When the whey is drained from the curds it goes down a drain into a tank where it is collected and then pumped into a tank that goes back to the dairy and fed to the cows. The whey has lots of nutrients so it is used in beneficial ways, such as feeding it to livestock and watering vegetable gardens. There is a large window from the retail portion of the cheese shop, so that visitors can watch cheese being made.

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After the cheese is put into the molds and pressed into the cheese wheels which are approximately 15 pounds each, they are brought to the cheese cave that was built a few years ago. Since it’s so hot in Texas in the summer, a cheese cave was built about 16 or so feet below ground where it stays cool and is climate controlled, and it has pine shelves to hold the cheese while it ages. Various cheeses have different aging periods. Also, the different cheeses require a specific PH factor in order for it to become a specific type of cheese.

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Over the past several years, the Brazos Valley Cheese Shop has won first, second, and third place ribbons from the American Cheese Society for several of their cheeses. You can see the ribbons in several of the pictures. I remember when Rebeccah who was the first one that started making cheese called me many years ago to tell me she was now making cheese at home. I don’t think any of us imagined that it would turn into such an amazing business and that the cheeses would win such prestigious awards. I’m so proud of everyone here that is involved in this process. I’ve been able to watch and realize the progress and growth of this cheese business.

I learned a few years ago from one of my visits here that in order for a cheese to be called cheddar, after the whey has been drained from this particular cheese, the solid curd slabs are placed into a metal cutter which cuts the solid slabs into sort of french fry looking pieces, then the salt is added. Without going into all of the details of why, it has something to do with the PH factor and the absorption of salt into the cheese.

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swiss cheeseI also learned that in order for Swiss cheese to have the holes in it, in addition to the natural enzymes that affect the PH factors for this cheese, temperature plays an important part. The pressed curds have to cure at about 70 degrees for 3 weeks before it can be put into colder temperatures to continue to cure into the Swiss cheese final product.

Everyone here is busy getting ready for the fair held during Thanksgiving weekend. One of the items we are making in the cheese shop is marinated feta cheese. In two days we processed about 30 dozen jars of marinated feta cheese, and we have many more dozen to do. In the cheese cases, I saw that there are several wheels of cheese that were sculpted into different shapes, such as cowboy hat, boots, a mouse, and a cheese tray with fruit shapes.

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The Gristmill has been grinding grains constantly during the day to keep up with the demand.Three mills operate using the water wheel, and 3 operate using electricity.

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Now that gluten free products are in more demand, the Gristmill is building a new facility to grind the gluten free grains and make various mixes. Having this new building ensures there is no cross contamination between gluten and gluten free products. One day I got to watch the frame of the new building going up.

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On Thursday evening the firefighters at the Meridian Volunteer Fire Department about an hour away from here came and picked me up and took me to their fire station for a cookout. It was great to meet the firefighters and several of their wives. They showed me the equipment that I bought their department, some of which is blue fire hose that they said is used at every fire. They gave me a department patch and also one of their t-shirts which has a really cool graphic designed by one of their firefighters. One of the fire departments in New York state gave me the nickname of fire equipment angel, it was a few days before I was at the Meridian fire department, so when Meridian gave me the shirt after dinner, I chuckled to myself because the graphic on the t-shirt I was given has angel wings. I noticed a decal on their fire trucks and the wall in the fire station that I liked.

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There are several new types of gardening being done here, one is Aquaponics. I’ve heard of Hydroponic gardening, but not Aquaponics. The difference is that Aquaponics uses fish, and here they are including using soil in addition to the water to grow the vegetables. It’s very interesting how this method of gardening is being used. I will add more about it shortly, it will be in my November Homestead Heritage story. Internet is intermittent here so I update this story as I can.

On Saturday morning Betty who is a former city clerk friend of mine that lives near Austin, she brought her sister Carol and their friend Lori, I showed them around and we had lunch together, and caught up on life. My friend Kim that lives here joined us for lunch and then invited Betty, Carol, and Lori back to her house where she showed them her garden and gave them some jalapeno peppers and other vegetables. On Monday afternoon another former city clerk friend Linda and her daughter came to visit with me, so I got to show them around and have dinner together.

One day I picked jalapeno peppers and Kim and I put them in jars, added brine, and canned them. It was so cool to pick the peppers in the morning and within hours they were processed into jars of peppers. As the vegetables are maturing and reaching their full growth, we pick them and in many cases freeze or can them so they can be enjoyed all year long. There is a very old and large pecan tree near where I am parked. I’ve been collecting them for the family I’m staying with so they can eat them all year. I hear them falling on my camper, and theses are easy to collect. I’m trying to get them before the squirrels get them for their winter storage. I’ve also seen many roadrunner birds around these grounds. They are really interesting to watch, and I was told they eat snakes so they are good to have around. They run and then stop to look around and their large fan shape tail raises and lowers, then they run on to another spot and stop and do the same thing.

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I’ve been alternating my time between working at the cheese shop and gristmill. To fill in other time, I’m visiting with friends here, and helping out where I’m needed. We are making many foods for the fair. A couple of days I helped make Malawach, pronounced sort of like Ma la wok. The dough is flour, gluten, cane sugar, water, and oil. It’s rolled into 5.4 ounce balls, they rest about an hour and then are rolled out and butter is spread on them, then they are folded into a small square and rolled out again. They are then cooked in a skillet until golden brown. We cooked a few to taste, it was so delicious and very flaky because it’s folded and then rolled out again so it has layers in the dough. I definitely could get hooked eating these. I will probably buy some of this mix so I can make them when I get home.

When I work at the cheese shop and we package the cheese, there are always small pieces of cheese left, and the people at the cheese shop are really nice to me and let me take some with me so I can snack on them in my camper. The cheddar cheese and horseradish pecan cheddar are my favorites.

I’ve also been invited to dinner at people’s houses where we get to eat together and then talk for a few hours afterward. It’s great to get to know each other better and share stories about our lives.

I’m making time each afternoon for a nap and I’m trying hard not to do too much so I don’t strain my body. I have to say that wherever I’m working, the people there make sure that I’m not overdoing it. I’m doing pretty well, my shortness of breath seems to be gone for the time being, thankfully. I’m still controlling my pain with medicine, some days I have to take more breakthrough medicine than on other days.

Posted in 2014 Trip | 2 Comments

My Time in Texas, Fort Worth and Elm Mott near Waco

Monday, October 13th, after leaving Albuquerque where I just attended the Balloon Fiesta, and then spending a couple of hours at the horse rescue about an hour east of Albuquerque, I continued driving east and stopped for the night in Amarillo, Texas, at the Welcome Center. Tuesday morning, I got up and drove to Fort Worth where I am spending a week or so at my friend Sue’s house. Sue and I got together with a few of our mutual friends for lunch and dinner a few times. It’s great seeing my long time friends that I seldom see anymore since we live in different states.

Don and CarolBefore I left on this trip, I contacted one of my high school classmates who lives in the Dallas area to see if we can get together when I get to Fort Worth. He said to let him know when I arrive, so I did. We met for lunch and had a great time sharing our stories and catching up on life. Don is his name and he was active in football and other sports during our high school years. I remember that even though I was shy and introverted in school that Don was always kind to me and talked with me, as did several other guys and gals. Last year when our class had our 45th reunion and they found me on the Internet, I received cards and emails from many classmates, we didn’t stay in touch after graduation in 1968. It has been great to reconnect and several of us stay in touch now. Don and his family take trips and we have been to some of the same places so it was nice to share our experiences about those locations.

IMG_6534Sue and her therapy dog Pepper volunteered their time at a homeless shelter in downtown Fort Worth, as did several other owners and their dogs. It was really amazing watching the people at the homeless shelter interact with these special dogs who have been through training courses with their owners.

On Monday morning, Sue and I went to spend a little while in Sundance Square in downtown Fort Worth. She wanted me to see the changes made to Sundance Square where they took a large parking lot and changed it into an area where there are water gardens and sitting areas for concerts, or for people to just sit and enjoy the park and nearby businesses. A section of the street adjacent to the park is closed to vehicles so people can safely walk through this area. I was really fascinated by the water garden features and I took some videos of the water as it changed from soft flow to waves and another from almost no water spouting upward to large spurts. MVI_6558 The side of one building had a large western mural painted on it. This park area is nice addition to the downtown area.

Sue and I also walked by the Bass Performing Arts Center where large marble angels extend out from the side of the building. In 2011, Sue, her husband Mark, and I went to the Performing Arts Center to see Bugs Bunny conduct the Fort Worth Symphony Orchestra, it was so funny and wonderful.

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Sue and Carol

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As Pat, Sue, and I were discussing where I would be going after leaving Fort Worth in a few days, I was giving thought to the tentative plans I had to drive to see some friends in Leander, which is south of Waco and north of Austin. As much as I would like to have time with these friends, I don’t think I will be driving the extra two hours south to get there. The past ten days have not been the best for me healthwise. My pain has been increasing quite a bit in my abdomen and where my tumor is has been more painful and sensitive to touch. My appetite is less and I often don’t feel like eating much, if anything at all. So, I decided to leave Sue’s house the end of this week and go to visit with my friends in Elm Mott, near Waco in Homestead Heritage. I have spent lots of time in this community, you can search my website for other stories written about preparing for the Thanksgiving Homestead Fair and the fair itself. The stories will be in October 2011 and 2012.

I was planning on staying there at Homestead Heritage until after Thanksgiving so I could help everyone get ready for the Thanksgiving Homestead Fair, but I will see how I’m feeling in a week or two and then decide what my travel plans will be. If I’m feeling okay I might stay longer. My firefighter friends in Georgia want me to come visit them again too. So, I could stay in the Waco area for two or so weeks, then head east towards Georgia and Florida and stop along the way to camp or explore new places I have not been to yet. That way, if my health continues to worsen, or the pain keeps increasing, I will be closer to home. Right now, I’m about 1,400 miles from home. If I get to Georgia or north Florida, it will be about 400 to 600 miles from home. I will do this journey like I’ve done the previous six weeks of it, a day at a time. I don’t have to be anywhere at any particular time, so I can continue to write my plans in the sand and revise as necessary.

 

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Albuquerque International Balloon Fiesta, the New Mexico Horse Rescue, and heading east into Texas

I’ve posted a photo album with 554 of the approximately 2,600 photos I took during my time in Albuquerque at the Balloon Fiesta. The Balloon Fiesta website has lots of great information. I suggest that if you attend the event, sign up and volunteer in some capacity it makes the event more fun. There were professional photographers at the Balloon Fiesta, their photos are fantastic. It looks like currently only one photographer has posted photos, check back later on to see if there are others.

Friday, October 3rd, the day before the Balloon Fiesta opens, Scott and his crew which includes me, went to the Alice King Community School and we inflated the balloon and had it tethered so that the children could come over and watch the process and to see the balloon up close and talk with Scott, get their pictures taken, and get a balloon card. It was great to see the children’s faces watching the balloon. When Scott needed to burn the propane, he warned the children so they wouldn’t be afraid of the loud sound the burners make.

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IMG_5085A few weeks before the Balloon Fiesta begins Scott and his crew and probably other balloon pilots get together with the mounted police and they burn the propane so that the horses get used to the loud sounds of the propane burners so that they don’t get spooked or upset during the Balloon Fiesta.

 

IMG_4598At my first Balloon Fiesta in 2011, I met David who is one of the Launch Directors called Zebras. I saw him in 2012, and again this year. In fact, his camper was parked next to mine in the RV park. This year David was the Launch Director for Scott’s section of the field. Many Zebra’s really get into the dress code and have Zebra items they either wear or attach to their uniforms.

IMG_5766I have been really enjoying my time at the Balloon Fiesta. I’m getting to meet many new people, make new friends, and visit with friends from previous years. In the mornings I crew for my friend Scott on his balloon Big Blue. Then, if he doesn’t need me to go on chase crew I volunteer at the Balloon Discovery Center. If he needs me for chase crew, I get in the truck and ride with his fiance Keralyn and others that are on chase crew and we all keep an eye on the balloon so we can hopefully get to where he will land before he does, or at least very soon after.

My friends Mary and Denny who I also met in 2011 and stay in touch with crew on No Worries and now Norman the Dragon. I also met the crews and/or owners for the green frog, scuba diver, whale, the bees, and many more special shapes.

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Saturday, I noticed that my auxiliary batteries didn’t stay charged for very long. I found out by experiencing a check light on my fridge when I woke up at 4 a.m., along with the beeping of my carbon dioxide detector. Also, when I turned my lights on they were very dim. I ran the generator for about half hour before I had to catch the bus to the balloon field. Later in the day, I called Phil the RV repair man that is here to work on campers that need repairs. In 2012, he replaced my leaky and faulty water pump. Phil tested the auxiliary batteries and said they are not good any more, they are 3 years old. I had them replaced in 2011 when I was in Washington state. Instead of me having to drive around town to find batteries at 7:30 p.m., one of my neighbor campers Ronnie took me. We went to Walmart and they didn’t have the proper kind so we went to Costco and got there about 20 minutes before they closed. Phil installed the new batteries and I ran the generator to charge them fully. Thankfully, that did the trick, all is well at the moment. Update, a few days later… the batteries still were not holding the full charge, so Phil installed a new converter for me. We are hoping this solves the problem.

I was talking with Ronnie as we drove to get batteries. It turns out that about 39 years ago he lost his left leg in a railroad accident. It changed his life and he started a business many years ago making artificial limbs for people and animals. He is also very involved with animal rescue organizations all over the country. It was very interesting talking with him and learning about all he does to help people and animals.

Phil and Ann are people I met on my first visit to Balloon Fiesta in 2011. Over the past few years we are becoming friends. I’m glad they are here and we are getting to visit and exchange stories about life experiences. Their cat Wiley got sick the other day and it turns out he had pancreatitis, sadly, he passed away Saturday night. The RV Escapees Club wrote a nice story about Ann and Phil. Here are the 4 pages of the article.

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Sunday afternoon Robert Mirabal performed on the stage. I have known Robert for many years, I’ve heard him perform at several Native American flute festivals. You can read more about Robert in my November 2013 story about the Native Rhythms Flute Festival. I uploaded some audio clips of his performance in my Balloon Fiesta album, they are at the end of the album.

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IMG_5651A few balloons away from our balloon was the Wonder balloon. It brought back memories of childhood when I used to get small individual loaves of Wonder bread. Amanda who is in charge of the Wonder balloon is really nice, she gave me two bags of Wonder balloon pins to give out. I loved watching the expressions on people’s faces when I gave them a pin. For children, they loved having a pin, especially if it was their first pin or if they are experiencing Balloon Fiesta for the first time. For the adults, many said they remember Wonder bread from their childhood like I did.

After we inflated the balloon on Tuesday, October 7th, Scott handed me a form to sign, and he asked me to sign it, unless I don’t want to go up in the balloon. I said I would love to go up in the balloon and I signed the form without hesitation. I love going up in the hot air balloon, and Scott is such a great pilot that almost all of his landings are pretty gentle. Liz and I joined Scott on this flight. We flew about 45 minutes on our ride. I was so grateful and I loved every second of the ride. I took lots of pictures from setting up the balloon through packing it after the flight.

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IMG_5327Scott and Keralyn

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The direction of our flight took us over the RV park where my camper is located. I searched and found my camper. My camper is on the right in the center photo below, to my left is Erin and Joe’s camper, and to the left of that is Mary and Denny’s camper. To the right of my camper is David’s camper.

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We had a great flight, and Scott found a street he wanted to land in. Thankfully, Paul and Keralyn got there ahead of us and they caught the drop line… Outstanding catch. We landed in the street between two walls and sidewalks. I didn’t realize it at the time I took the pictures as we were landing, but in one of the pictures below is the shadow of our balloon just before we landed.

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For some of the landings during the Balloon Fiesta event we landed in dirt fields, other times we landed on paved or grassy surfaces. We all liked landing on grass or on a road better than the dirt with brush and stickers. One of the days we landed on a dirt road, our clothes sure got full of dust. My navy blue pants and red jacket looked almost beige.

When I wasn’t crewing, I worked at the Balloon Discovery Center Tent, sponsored  by 7 Eleven. They gave out Slurpee’s and candy. In our tent there were exhibits and banners explaining various aspects of balloons, such as size, shapes, types, crewing, and also a flight simulator where people could stand in a basket and virtually fly and land a balloon. There was also an craft area where children could color paper hot air balloons, an activity booklet, or decorate one with stickers and take the item home with them. One of the exhibits in the Balloon Discovery Tent is a banner of the Smokey the Bear balloon. It shows the dimensions of various parts of the balloon.

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NASA also shared our tent space and they had many exhibits about various aspects of space flight and related items.

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Over the 3 years that I have crewed and volunteered, and that Scott has answered my questions and explained various aspects of ballooning, weather, etc. I have found that when I volunteer in the tent that I am able to answer lots of questions that visitors ask and I can also explain what I have learned from hands on experience. It definitely makes it more interesting for me and I’m sure for the visitors. When they ask what they should see or do, I know what I find interesting and I recommend things to them, such as going to the pilot briefing at 6:15 a.m. Pilot’s briefing is very interesting. This is where the pilots receive information on the wind conditions, wind speeds at various levels, and the weather conditions. It’s also announced what pilots have done something outstanding that they are recognized for, or what pilots have done something they shouldn’t like fly too low over the field. It is a good feeling when I’m asked how the pilot changes flight direction that I can explain it, the same goes for other questions. If I don’t know the answer, I try to find it out for the person, or if no one is available to provide an answer, I ask Scott and then I have the knowledge the next time I’m asked.

Between crewing and volunteering for the morning and afternoon shifts, I tried to get a nap of an hour or two before reporting back to my volunteer station. I had about 3 days where the pain was a bit too intense, so I just took it easy and didn’t volunteer the afternoon shift on one day. There were 5 days of spectacular fireworks. Every evening of fireworks was a different fireworks show. They had the most unusual fireworks that I have ever seen. Some nights I watched from the field, other nights I watched from my camper. Thanks to Mary and Denny, and Roy, I got to watch NCIS and NCIS NO, and NCIS LA at their campers.

This year the temperatures were mild compared to previous years when I was there. The coldest morning the temperatures were in the low 50s and it warmed up to the 70s and maybe 80 degrees. In 2011 and 2012 there were days when it was in the low 30s and we had frost on our shoes. This was a pleasant change.

There are many side stories about my time at the Balloon Fiesta. I want to share some of these stories with you, however, they are not in any particular order. As a volunteer we are served breakfast beginning at 4:30 a.m., yes really. I was at the balloon field before 5:00 a.m. every morning. Our usual breakfast was either a breakfast burrito or eggs, sausage, and a roll. One morning I only ate a little so I took a burrito with me to eat later. I wasn’t very hungry, and I was busy crewing and volunteering so after my shift was over about 11:00 a.m. and I was walking to get the bus back to the campground, I stopped at one of the food vendors who sells burritos and asked him if he thought the burrito I got at 5:00 a.m. was still good to eat. He asked to see it, and when I gave it to him he handed it to one of his workers and told him to throw it away and give me a fresh, hot breakfast burrito. I told him it wasn’t necessary and I didn’t expect him to give me one. He said he knew that, and that’s why he did, and he didn’t want me to take a chance on getting sick. I thanked him and went on my way back to the RV park.

When I got back to my camper, I ate part of the burrito before taking a nap before my next shift. The next morning I went by the burrito booth and thanked them, I found out by asking that the man’s name is Bryan. We talked a while and got to share our stories a bit. Every time I walked by his booth, I stopped and said hello to Bryan and his crew. I also bought a burrito the next day and then the last morning of the Balloon Fiesta I stopped by their booth and bought some tortillas they were selling because they had so many extras. I gave several packages away to people in the RV park, and Bryan told his staff to give me an extra burrito and pack of tortillas for me since I have a long trip ahead of me. I offered to pay for the entire purchase, but he insisted on giving me some food at no cost. I thanked Bryan and the guys again and made my way to the camper.

I have a friend named Carol Anderson who is a single woman traveler like me. In fact, she has been an inspiration to me since 2011 when I first found her online. I met Carol in 2012 when we were both at the Balloon Fiesta at the same time. Carol is an extraordinary woman and a truly gifted writer. She has had a website many more years than I have. I found her website when I was checking to see if anyone had carolsadventures when I decided that’s what I wanted to use. It turns out her website is similar to the one I wanted to use and I wrote and asked if she minded me using carolsadventures, she was gracious and said it was okay with her, that’s how we met. Check out Carol’s website and stories. Carol volunteered as a Greeter this year at the Balloon Fiesta, so on the mornings she worked I stopped by the gate where she was stationed to say hello and visit for a while before I reported to crew for Scott.

todd jelly bellyThere are many tents lined along the midway. Many are food vendors, and there are also lots selling various items like jewelry, pins, shirts and merchandise, chairs, etc. Other tents are of places to visit, state police, casinos, and civic organizations. A few days into the Balloon Fiesta I saw a large tent that said Jelly Belly. I had to stop and check it out. They had a wheel to spin for a treat, which was usually small packages of Jelly Belly’s. I started talking to one of the men, his name is Todd, he’s on the right in the above photo. I told him how I’ve been buying many 4 pound containers of Jelly Belly’s at Costco and I eat a lot of them while reading, and doing jigsaw puzzles, and I also give the containers as gifts. I also mentioned that I eat them to get rid of the bad taste my pain medicine leaves in my mouth because it’s bitter. Todd was extremely kind and he put handfuls of the small Jelly Belly packages in my tote bag so I could keep them in my pocketbook or pockets to have for when they are needed, and for me to share with others. I really appreciate his kindness.

One day when I got back to my camper at about 11:30 a.m., I took a nap and woke suddenly and knew I had to get to the Balloon Fiesta office, I thought it was so I could use their wifi to upload my photos and create a story. When I got to the kitchen to set up my computer there was a woman there eating lunch and a man at the soda machine. He offered to buy a soda for the woman and me. I declined at first, but he insisted. After he sat down with us we started talking. He looked really tired and he said that about a month ago he was diagnosed with cancer and that he is on pills as a form of chemotherapy. It’s zapping his strength and causing him not to feel well along with other symptoms. I knew then that God woke me up and told me to go to the Balloon Fiesta office for a reason. The timing was perfect, a few minutes either way and our paths would not have crossed. I shared parts of my life story and journey with cancer and what I’m going through now with him and I gave him my contact information. He also has a strong belief in God and a positive attitude. I’m so grateful that we were able to talk and share our stories with each other. I know that having someone to share with that has been where I am or going through what I have been through helped me and I have a strong feeling that by sharing together it gave him hope and encouragement. I also loaded some of my peaceful relaxing music and the healing meditation on a flash drive for him. I hope he uses it and finds the peace that it brings to me. Please keep him and his family and friends in your prayers. I told him that I would ask my friends to keep him in their prayers and he said that would be fine.

geico lizardIt rained a few times during the Balloon Fiesta and twice there were full arc rainbows. There were a few afternoons where the sunset was beautiful colors. Geico had a booth on the midway and I had my picture taken with the Geico lizard. One of the mornings when I arrived at the field, I looked at the moon and noticed there was an eclipse and the moon was a reddish color. Other people were looking at the moon too, when it wasn’t trying to go behind clouds. I was told it was called a blood moon and that it was also an eclipse and a rare sight to see. I don’t have a picture because I didn’t think it would come out good in a photo.

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IMG_6472On Saturday afternoon I connected with my friends Barbara and Eileen who live near me in Florida and are on a trip with a tour company. They are visiting several National Parks in southwestern states and their first stop was the Albuquerque Balloon Fiesta. It was nice to see them and spend some time together.

Once again, I was the unofficial crew photographer, I always give Scott a flash drive with all of the pictures I take at Balloon Fiesta and I make sure I take lots of pictures of his balloon being inflated and packed and I try to also get his crew and family in the pictures too. In between, I take pictures of balloons inflating and lifting off of the field. Since we are on the far north side of the field, I don’t get pictures of balloons in mid field or to the south. Now that I am an experienced crew hand I know a bit more about how to help without being told, and what to watch out for as the balloon is inflating or landing. I also learned to always have my gloves handy.

I took way too many photos to post in my album, so I selected pictures I thought would be the most interesting to look at. I took almost 2,600 pictures during my 2 weeks at the Balloon Fiesta event, this photo album contains many of the pictures. This includes the 9 days of the actual Balloon Fiesta, the Balloon Museum album contains those photos. The winds on the last day were too high, so there were no balloons inflating or flying. In fact, Sunday afternoon when we were back in our campers the winds were so strong that not only was my camper rocking, so were others. I was in Mary and Denny’s motorhome and it was rocking too. I shared the photos I took with Mary and Denny, and also a few other people. It’s so easy to get carried away taking pictures, and digital cameras make it so easy.

When deciding whether or not to make the long trip to Albuquerque for the Balloon Fiesta and stopping along the way both there and back to see friends, I wasn’t sure that physically I would be up to the challenge because I was having some physically difficult and painful days for several weeks before I was due to leave town. I decided to make the trip and if I could complete it great, and if not, than whatever I was able to do would be find. Thankfully, I made my furthest western destination Albuquerque. I’m so grateful that I made the trip. Yes, there were some painful days and yes there were some amazing experiences. They all are part of my journey and I’m so glad I made the trip. As I write this post I think about all I would have missed experiencing and the people I would not have met if I hadn’t taken this trip. Once again, I choose to live life to the fullest… that’s all we can do. I still want to cram as much into life as possible until I can’t do it anymore.

On my way east towards Texas, I stopped at the New Mexico Horse Rescue Ranch, Walkin N Circles Ranch to see their facility and check it out for a story on my website, and also to see what they do and what their needs are for the possibility of donating funds to help them. The staff members seem to really care about the horses and the horses get fed proper diets for their condition. It is really sad that animals are abused and/or abandoned. This facility is using hydroponics to grow grasses to feed the animals because not only does it have more nutrients, but it also saves them money if they don’t have to buy grain and hay. As you can see in the pictures, there is no grass growing on this horse ranch, so hay and feed has to be purchased or grown in order to feed the horses. A wagon load of hay costs approximately $5,000 and it lasts almost 3 months. The hydroponic grains that they grow on the ranch feeds approximately 15 or 16 horses. I was told there are usually at least 70 horses on the ranch, sometimes even 100 horses.  If you are looking for an organization to donate to, I would recommend this one in addition to others that I mention in previous posts.

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After my visit at the horse ranch, I continued heading east towards Texas.

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Albuquerque Balloon Museum, and arrival at Balloon RV Park

On Thursday, September 25th, I went to SuperCuts to have my hair washed before heading to the RV lot near the Balloon Fiesta Grounds. I also stopped at the grocery store and at the propane dealer to get my propane tank filled. Because I volunteered to help set up the Balloon Discovery Tent on Saturday, September 27th, I was able to get into the RV lot a few days earlier, it opens to the public on Monday, September 29th. Currently, there are not many campers in the lot, by the weekend and throughout this event, there will be over 1,800 RVs. Sometimes 800 or so arrive in a day.

The RV lot volunteers made chalklines throughout the RV lot which is many acres in space, so that they know where to park the campers. It rained and washed their marks away. Sunday it was sunny, so they remarked the spaces. Then Sunday it rained and washed them away again, so they had to remark the field for the 3rd time. The building in photo on the right below is a General Mills cereal plant. They make Cocoa Puffs and some type of berry cereal. When they are baking the cereal we can smell the sweetness and flavor. At night when they burn off the ovens, it smells like burnt toast.

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When I arrived at the RV lot, a RV park volunteer named Roy, who I met when I was here in 2011 and who I talk with periodically, showed me where to park my camper. Thankfully, it’s a level space near where I parked in previous years. It’s pretty convenient to the bus stops for the shuttle bus to the Balloon Fiesta, and not too far from water faucets and the garbage dumpster. I also saw and talked with several other volunteers that I met in previous years.

On Friday, September 26th, which happened to also be my 64th birthday, I went to the Balloon Fiesta office to see what items they have available. I always like to browse at the many items they have for sale. I was talking with one of the volunteers working in the gift shop and I was telling her about my website, what a surprise I had when I pulled up the website and saw that Pam had posted Birthday Wishes and a virtual cake and basket of flowers on my website. It really touched my heart. I had several phone calls and emails wishing me a happy birthday. How wonderful to have so many people care about me. I’m glad I made the trip out west, what a great way to celebrate my birthday again… at the Albuquerque International Balloon Fiesta.

About mid-afternoon, a couple arrived at the RV lot and they were being parked next to me. It turns out that they told Roy that it’s their first time at the Balloon Fiesta and that they are volunteering at the Balloon Discovery Tent, so Roy parked them next to me. Their names are Erin and Joe, and their children are an eight year old boy named Zack and a six year old girl named Reagan. We talked for a while and since it is their first time here and also volunteering, I shared my experience with them and gave them some helpful hints and info that I found helpful during my previous two times here and also volunteering. While I was talking with them, a friend called to wish me a happy birthday. When Erin and Joe heard it was my birthday, Erin offered to bake a chocolate fudge type cake for me. I thought that was so nice of them. Roy called and said he made meatballs and spaghetti for dinner for a covered dish meal for the volunteers, and he invited me to come over and eat dinner with him before he brought the dish to the RV lot volunteer dinner. It was a nice birthday and what a surprise to have dinner and dessert made for me.

On Saturday, September 28th, Joe, Erin, Zack, Reagan, and I arrived at the Balloon Discovery Tent at 8:00 a.m. to help with setup. There were quite a number of volunteers and we did as much as we could with the items available. The tables and chairs and other items were not delivered yet, so we went back on Sunday and Monday to work more on getting the tent prepared for opening day on Saturday, October 4th. The Albuquerque Box table really needed some sprucing up so the five of us did that on Monday. It looks lots better than it did.

joe erin carolOn Sunday, September 29th, after we finished with setup at the tent, Joe, Erin, and their children and I went to the Balloon Museum. It turns out on Sundays from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. is free admission. Joe was taking panoramic pictures with his phone, he showed me how to do it on my phone. I’ve had my phone since 2011 and never knew I could take panoramic photos with it. It turns out that Joe knows a lot about computers and he helped me find a good tablet at a reasonable price. I’ve been wanting one for quite a while but didn’t know what one to buy. I ordered it and it should be delivered to my balloon pilots house on Monday. Joe said he will show me how to use it and install apps that I can use for various activities and also for things that will be handy when I travel.

Back to the Balloon Museum… We found it very interesting to read the storyboards throughout the museum. I really learned a lot that I didn’t know, not only about hot air balloons for the fiesta, but also how balloons were used during several wars, and for weather purposes. They had displays for balloons and other aircraft that went across the oceans and around the world. I took pictures of the storyboards and aircraft and they are in the album I posted. You can click on the pictures to read the stories. There are so many interesting stories, it would take lots of space and time to write all of them. I am only posting a few here, feel free to explore the album to read more.

IMG_4417One of the most surprising stories I read was about how over 1,000 school children in Japan were enlisted to make Fugo balloon bombs. They didn’t know that’s what they were making and many of the students when they got older were grief-stricken when they realized what happened. Here is one of the stories written in the display, there are several in this grouping, you can read them in my album.

Another display was about commemorative postage stamps with hot air balloons. I recognized these stamps because earlier this year my friend Jack in Fort Worth sent me a block of them he collected years ago, so I could add it to my door poster.

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There is a sculpture of a girl and if you click on the photo, and look closely at the bright colored ribbon she is holding, you can see that it’s probably thousands of very tiny origami paper cranes connected together. Many years ago, when I lived in Fort Worth, I belonged to an Origami Club and we made lots of these cranes. I also made them when I traveled in airports and gave them to children who were waiting for flights.

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There are hands on exhibits in the museum where people can attach pieces of fabric to make a balloon envelope, there is also a flight simulator where a person stands in a gondola basket and using the instructions on a sign virtually flies a hot air balloon and tries to land it on a target. This is an exhibit that gets moved to the Balloon Discovery Tent during the Balloon Fiesta. It’s one of the most popular exhibits. Zack and Reagan had fun  flying the balloon.

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Next to the virtual balloon flight was a mural, when I looked more closely, it turns out it is a jigsaw puzzle. I have seen this puzzle at the jigsaw puzzle store near where I live. If I remember correctly, I think it’s a puzzle that has 32,000 pieces. If not, it has 25,000 pieces. It took volunteers about six months to assemble this puzzle. Most of the pieces are the same shape and not very large. I remember talking with the owner of the puzzle store and he says that when puzzles are very large in size, there are several bags in the box, each bag represents a section of the puzzle. Also, when I was looking in the museum gift shop, they had many puzzles, including several by Lori Schory who if you have been reading my posts know that she is now a friend of mine since I assemble many of her special shape puzzles. I sent her an email informing her that her puzzles are in the museum gift shop.

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Friday, October 3rd, I will be crewing for Scott and we will be inflating a balloon at an elementary school so the children can see the balloon being inflated, and get in the balloon basket and have their pictures taken. It’s great to see their excitement when the balloon stands up and they can get close to it. I went with Scott in 2012 when we went to a different school.

The Balloon Fiesta begins Saturday, October 4th, so I will be crewing and volunteering through Sunday, October 12th. I will try to write another story sometime next week, if I get a chance.We have free afternoons Monday, Tuesday, and Wednesday. If you are wondering about how I’m feeling, I’m doing pretty well. I have had a few days when the pain was a bit intense. Thankfully, it was during the days before the Balloon Fiesta begins so I was able to take my medicine, nap and relax. If I hurt during the event, I will take my medicine and do what I can.

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Happy Birthday Carol!

HappyBirthdayCarolHappiness and blessings to our very special friend!

Carol, I hope you’re enjoying an absolutely wonderful adventure
and please know lots of love and warm wishes are on their way!

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Oklahoma City National Memorial, and Albert Gray Eagle and Studio 222, Oklahoma City, Oklahoma

After camping in Arkansas for several days, I arrived in Oklahoma City and parked in front of my friend Albert Gray Eagle’s house for a couple of days while visiting with Albert, his niece Tori, and his wife Penny… and their 2 dogs and 3 cats. I’m really glad I planned this trip to stop and visit with them for a few days before heading to Albuquerque. Other thank visiting and catching up on life, I got to also take a shower and wash my clothes.

Albert and Tori work with Studio 222, to provide educational experiences to children. Further down in this post is my story on Studio 222. On the way to Studio 222 on Tuesday, we drove through downtown Oklahoma City and Albert pointed in the direction of where the Federal Building bombing happened in 1995, and a memorial park has been created. I asked if we could stop by it Wednesday on our way to Studio 222 so I could see it and take pictures. The new building is a few blocks away.

We left about an hour early on Wednesday, so we could have enough time to walk around the Oklahoma City National Memorial. It was a pretty emotional experience, especially looking at the chain link fence where there are so many items that people left, and continue to leave, remembering their loved ones and the event of that day. Seeing where the day care center was very touching as well. The Reflecting Pool down the middle of the Memorial area, the Survivor Tree, and the Field of Empty Chairs really made an impact of the events of that day, as did other parts of the outdoor memorial. I took lots of pictures while we were there, including the signs, they are in my photo album. I think you should be able to read them if you click on them to enlarge. Click on the 2nd photo down on the right and read the text in the rectangle above the window.

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The story and significance of how the various parts of the park reflect the events is amazing. Parts of the original building still stand, and the Field of Empty Chairs is even arranged to represent the events of the day and destruction of the building. Each of the 168 chairs symbolize a life lost, with smaller chairs representing the 19 children killed. The chairs are arranged in nine rows, one for each of the nine floors of the building. They are placed according to the floor on which those killed were working or visiting. Each bronze and stone chair rests on a glass base etched with the name of a victim. If you are interested in reading more about this Memorial, you can enlarge the signs in the pictures in my album, or go to the the Oklahoma City National Memorial website.

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There are hand painted tiles in the area where the day care center was located, and on the walkway in front of the wall of tiles there are large pieces of slate where people can draw and leave messages.

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On Monday, Tuesday, and Wednesday afternoons for a 9 week period, Albert and Tori go to Studio 222. I went with them this Tuesday and Wednesday. Studio 222 works with local school personnel as well as professional artists from the Oklahoma City area in order to provide a positive environment where inner city youth from high-poverty areas can develop a strong, healthy self-esteem and resilience against at-risks behaviors. This after school program provides leadership and character-building programs, visual and performing arts curriculum, and physical fitness activities. They provide a meal for the children, and sometimes, this is the only food they have all day. Many of these children come from less than ideal home situations. I got to meet several of the children, and saw the artwork they created. I also listened to Albert and Tori teach 5 boys how to play a song on the Native American cane flutes that they made.

I was impressed with many of the art projects the children made, including this large mural of a brick wall. The background is a large piece of fabric painted gray. Then pieces of foam were painted a brick color and glued to the background. Then it looks like graffiti and images were painted on the wall. It was really cool.

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We were watching the weather and it looked like Oklahoma City was going to get heavy rains over the weekend, so I left this morning in order to miss the rain. I felt pretty good today, so I put in a long day of driving. I did stop frequently for breaks, gas, snacks, etc. This afternoon, I arrived in Tucumcari, New Mexico, and I stopped in a RV Park that has wifi so I could write the stories of my adventures the past week, and also upload my pictures to photo albums.

Tomorrow, I drive to Albuquerque, where I will be until October 12 or 13. I’m looking forward to attending the Balloon Fiesta, where I will also be crewing on the same balloon as in 2o11 and 2012, and I will be volunteering in the Balloon Discovery Center too. It will be nice to see the volunteers and friends I know from my previous years here. During the actual event, there will be live cam coverage on the Balloon Fiesta website.

Emotional Mojo just sent me the link for the you tube video interview they did with me before I left Florida. Here is a link to the story I wrote when they first contacted me. They have lots of interesting and inspirational videos on their website.

Healthwise, I am doing remarkably well. I am extremely grateful that the pain has been been minimal for the most part. I take my medicine when needed, and it has been controlling the pain. When I drive, I take frequent breaks and stop for gas, snacks, and naps when needed. I’ve been able to drive about 300-325 or so miles a day usually, rather than the 200 miles I anticipated. Because I was ahead of schedule, I was able to spend several days camping and exploring Arkansas which I really enjoyed. Sometimes, I drive for an hour or so and then stop for a short nap, about 30 minutes, then I continue on. It seems to be working just fine. Other times, I can drive with only breaks for gas or snacks, then continue on. I find that by between 2 and 3 p.m. I am pretty much finished with driving for the day, by then my body seems to feel sore and ready to stop.

I am not sure when I will have wifi to update my website again. I’m guessing it will be sometime during the Balloon Fiesta, in early October, when I walk up to their headquarters near the campground so I can use their wifi to upload pictures and write a story.

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Fort Smith National Historic Site, clouds, and camping in Arkansas

After I left Old Post Park, I headed west to Fort Smith, Arkansas. I stopped at the Fort Smith National Historic Site and saw Old Judge Parker’s courthouse, the Gallows, The Hell-on-the-Border Jail, Commissary Building, the Trail of Tears Overlook, and a replica of other jail cells, among other things. You can click on the active link for the Park.

I took lots of pictures throughout the site, including storyboards. I can’t even imagine being in that jail which I imagine would have been really cold in the wintertime. Also very uncomfortable with the slate floor and only a blanket to sleep on. Each of the jail cells held 50 prisoners. Judge Parker’s Courthouse was also very interesting, he seems to have had a sense of fairness about him, and he did his best to make the court system honest and to rehabilitate prisoners. The Trail of Tears is a heartbreaking story to me. I have many Native American friends and it’s sad how the Native Americans were treated and relocated. I know that throughout history many people in many countries were and still are mistreated and killed, it would be great if everyone learned to get along and respect cultural, religious, and other differences.

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I’m glad I stopped here to tour this historic site before going to the Springhill Campground which is another Corps of Engineer Park, located on the outskirts of Fort Smith. On the way from the Historic Site to the campground, I saw a Braum’s. I LOVE Braum’s ice cream, they have the absolutely best ice cream and they serve really generous portions. There were several of them near where I lived in Fort Worth and I frequented them often when I lived there. It’s almost a standing saying when I am visiting my friends in Texas. As we get close to a Braum’s, I’m always asked if I want to stop. As I travel, I now see them mostly in Texas, Oklahoma, and west Arkansas.

Well, I arrived at the campground and noticed that another of my hubcaps is missing off of Molly. I check them every time I stop to be sure they look like they are on tight. This makes 2 hubcaps I have lost on this trip. I took another one off that looks like it’s not fitting tight. I guess when I get home from this trip, I will replace the set again. Last year, when I bought new tires we noticed that 2 of the rims were cracked. I was told that buying steel rims didn’t look as good, but that they would wear better in the long run. Safety is the first consideration for me. So, hubcaps are okay. I told Molly that she lost another sock. If that’s all that happens on this trip, I’m really okay with it.

While I was walking through the Fort Smith site, and also around the campground, I noticed the interesting the cloud formations. I don’t remember ever seeing them look so varied. I’m guessing by looking at the clouds that there must be really high winds at some of the different altitudes. In some places the clouds look like lots of cottonballs in the blue sky. Other places, it looks like feathers or paint brush strokes. I was in awe of what God can create looking at the sky. After I got my camper set up, and relaxed a while I ate dinner and read. I’m camped along the river. Then I heard what sounded like raindrops, and I felt some sprinkles dropping on me from the window open above my bed where I was reading. I closed the windows when the rain began to come down pretty heavy.

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Traveling West and camping update

4 Just a quick note to say I am okay and now in Arkansas. I drove a little over 300 miles a day for 3 days. I am most probably going to stop in a Corps of Engineer Park near Russellville. AR, for a few days before going to Oklahoma City since my travel plans are ahead of schedule.

I have been able to drive further each day than I planned. I drive as long as I can and stop for breaks or a nap when needed. I’ve been driving since 8 a.m. today, with several breaks along the way. It is 4 p.m. now and since there isn’t anywhere good for me to stop for another hour or so, I’m stopping in this AR state rest area for the night.

I know some of you are wondering how I am so I’m using my phone to do this update. Thankfully, pain has not been bad and other than heavy rain yesterday and a little fog and traffic this morning driving has been good.

1 Update: September 9th. I am at a Corps of Engineer Campground in Russellville, AR, which is near Dardenelle about an hour west of Little Rock. This campground is along the Arkansas River, and there is a lock and dam close to the campground which I can easily see. I took photos which I will post when I get Internet other than my phone. I saw four deer and a fawn last night. As I was walking through the camping area I saw a historical sign showing that this area is part of the Trail of Tears. The park host said there used to be a town on this site and many of the trees in this campground are over 150 years old and were planted when this was a town. I will be here several days and then I plan on going to another Corps campground near Fort Smith if they have camp sites available. Then by mid next week I plan on being in Oklahoma City visiting Albert, Tori, and Penny. I plan on being in Albuquerque by September 26th and then getting ready for the Balloon Fiesta which starts the 1st Saturday in October.

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While I was camped at Old Post Park in Russellville, Arkansas, I met a group of 5 men who are from south Texas and are on their at least annual excursion together, they take trips periodically. They call themselves the Mild Hogs Arthritis Chapter. They even have t-shirts made for themselves. On Friday about noon they invited me over to share a meal with them. It was nice visiting with them and getting to share our stories. They camp at different locations and then take day trips on their motorcycles. Most of them are retired and I can tell they enjoy taking these trips together. Jack took a picture of me on his motorcycle, no, I didn’t ride with them. We had 2 days of rain. Before the rain the temperature was in the 90’s, after the rain it cooled down into the 60’s.

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Traveling west to Oklahoma, Albuquerque, and Texas, Choices and Decisions, and living One Day at a Time

This might be the last post for a while. On Saturday, September 6th, I plan on leaving south Florida for another road trip. I am hoping to be away for a few months. I have no control over the tumor that is growing, other than prayer. If I have to return earlier than expected I will… at least I am making the effort and anticipating that I will have an extraordinary time on this trip and I will get to attend the Albuquerque Balloon Fiesta once again, and also see my friends in Albuquerque, Oklahoma City, and Texas. I will write stories along the way as I am able to get Internet and if there is something to write about. I will update the Travel Map 2014 button on my website as often as I can so you will know approximately where I am at any given time. Today the pain is pretty intense, I’m hoping it’s less by tomorrow.

After much thought and prayer, and evaluating my health condition for the past few weeks, I decided to take another trip and drive out west. As I wrote in my previous post, I know there will be some days that are challenging, but that’s what life is about. Living each day fully and learning and growing through the challenges. Some days I feel hesitant to take the trip because I know my pain has been increasing the past few weeks which is probably caused in part because my tumor is growing, I can tell by feeling the size of it. I am also having increasing numbness in my left foot and leg so it must be putting more pressure on the nerves going into my leg. I’m also not able to eat as much at a time, so I try to eat smaller portions more often. I bought a walker with a seat and I’m bringing it on this trip in case it’s needed. I can’t walk or stand for as long a period of time, so the walker will come in handy as a chair when I need to sit, or if the numbness in my foot and leg gets worse.

I thought about the trip I took in May and June to Georgia and South Carolina and when I was thinking about taking that trip I had the same hesitation whether or not to go. If I had decided not to go on that trip I would have missed so much. Reading the stories I wrote and looking at the pictures reminds me of the great time I had and the time I got to spend with the firefighters and their families. I am so glad I didn’t miss those experiences. The good times definitely outweighed the pain and long distance I drove.

I remember when I took my 2011 and 2012 trips around the country where I drove approximately 12,000 and 10,000 miles respectively, there were many days I was in a lot of pain as a result of the 4 operations I had in 2010. There were many days I was in too much pain to drive so I stayed where I was a bit longer than planned, and many days I drove when I had pain. It wasn’t fun, but I accomplished my trip anyway. There were several times I thought about coming back early, but I felt that if I did “it” would win. It is cancer, the tumor, my health condition and complications as a result of my cancer and numerous operations, and the stinking thinking that wants to sabotage my journey. I guess this new trip will be the same. I feel like it will win if I don’t go, and I will not surrender to it easily or willingly. Some days it would be easy to sit back and let it win. I choose to not let self pity take hold in my life. If I find it is starting to, and I can’t change my thinking by myself or if I don’t want to do it by myself, I call my friends and we talk it through and get me back on the right track. I am so grateful to have people in my life that I can talk to about absolutely anything. There is a good possibility that I can make this entire trip and that I will have amazing, incredible, and extraordinary experiences along the way. I choose to think positive. I have not given cancer permission to invade my body, or take up residence, and it seems to not care. It comes back whenever it wants and I have to deal with it however I feel best at the time.

This trip will be about 4,500 miles round trip, versus the 1,800 mile trip in May and June. I will drive through the Florida panhandle up into Alabama, then through Memphis towards Oklahoma City where I will stop for a few days to visit my friend Albert Gray Eagle. After spending a few days with Albert and his family, I will drive to Albuquerque for the Albuquerque International Balloon Fiesta. I am hoping to get to Albuquerque by September 26th, which is my 64th birthday. I can’t believe it!!! I never thought I would live to 30, much less 64. Last year when I celebrated my birthday, my doctor and I never thought I would still be alive for this one… Surprise!!! I’m still here. I’m guessing God still has a plan and purpose for my life and is evidently not ready for me to live in another dimension yet.

I talked with my friend Scott in Albuquerque and he said I can crew on his balloon again or just hang out with them, whatever I feel like doing. I bet I will crew, and perhaps be his official photographer again. The last 2 times I crewed on his balloon, I took about 1,000 photos each year, many of his balloon in various stages of inflating, flying, and packing, and also I got lots of him and his sons and the other crew members. I gave Scott a jump drive each year with all of the pictures I took which he appreciated since he is so busy with all the necessary tasks that he rarely gets pictures of his balloon and crew. In my Photo Gallery, there are several albums of Balloon Fiesta pictures for both 2011 and 2012, and you can go to the Archived stories for October 2011 and 2012 and read the stories I wrote during my time at the Balloon Fiesta.

I was not able to attend the 2013 Balloon Fiesta so I went on their website and watched some of the live webcam coverage. The special shape balloons are always a big hit. It’s always fun to watch for new balloons each year. Balloon pilots also have cards sort of like baseball cards, only these have a picture of the balloon on one side and where it’s from, and the back of the card has statistics, size, the pilots name, and other info. There is usually a line at each balloon to get a card, especially at the special shape balloons.

This morning, Wednesday, September 4th, I went to get my camper, named Molly, so I could pack it for the trip. As I was driving to my mom’s to get Molly at about 7:30 a.m., it rained a little, then the sun came out and there was a full arc rainbow across the sky. It was spectacular to see. I thanked God for the rainbow and I knew that this trip is the right thing for me to do. I will take my trip One Day at a Time. Some days I will be able to drive a longer distance than other days. If at some point I can’t continue on, I will modify my trip, or return home. The point is that I am going to start on this journey and see what happens. It will be an exploration, an expedition, an adventure, and I will have experiences however it turns out. It might even play out like I’m hoping, and it could be like other trips where it’s better than I even imagined. It’s the journey that counts, not the destination.

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After I leave Albuquerque on October 12th or 13th, I will head to Fort Worth, Texas, to visit with my friends there for about a week, then on to Homestead Heritage in Waco to see other friends. I love being there, especially the month or so before the fair when everyone is busy with fair preparations. In 2011 and 2012, I worked at the Gristmill, the Cheese Shop, and also I have helped make spiced pecans, baked goods, jellies and candy, and much more. In my Photo Gallery, there are albums with pictures I took during my time there helping make cheese, and also of booths during the fair. I may stay there through Thanksgiving so I can be there for their annual Homestead Fair. I love going back home to Texas. It has changed quite a bit since I left there in 1998, but it’s still home to me.

When I travel, I usually don’t have Internet service unless I stop at a wifi place or library. I will probably have cell phone coverage most of the time, so I can check my email on my phone. I will try to update the Travel Map 2014 to reflect where I am within a day or so. Stories may not be posted as often. During the 2 weeks I am in Albuquerque at the Balloon Fiesta, I can walk about 1/4 mile to the Balloon Fiesta office and use their wifi. If I am able to do that again this year I will. Otherwise, a story and photos will have to wait until I can find wifi.

If you have been reading my stories for a while, you will know how often I write about living each day to the fullest and that none of us know when our time will be up. I was on the Camping World and Good Sam Club websites looking up things for my trip and I saw this memorial. “In Memory Of… David Garvin, the founder of Camping World, passed away unexpectedly on Saturday, August 30th as a result of an accidental fall.” I found another story which said he was working on the roof of his house and he slipped after getting too close to the edge. David was 71 years of age.

A friend I was talking with last week told me that his 12 year old daughter has brain cancer. She had the tumor removed and is currently going through radiation treatments. I know many people who have unexpected events and health challenges present themselves. We have to deal with them as they present themselves.

We found out the other day that my 28 year old niece has a very advanced stage of lymphoma. Her kidneys are working about about 50%. She has been married for a little over 4 years and they have a 10 month old son. Please pray for our family, especially my niece Amy. They will be deciding what treatment will be the best for her.

I was thinking about choices. We all have to make them. Over a period of about 45 years I have had over 15 major operations and over 150 surgical procedures and biopsies. After the 4 operations in 2010, I knew that if anything else happened in my abdomen or with my Illeostomy I would pretty much be inoperable. There is so much scar tissue and so many adhesions in my abdomen which would make any operation much more complicated. The risks of complications during surgery would be significant, and might even have an outcome of me having nerve or muscle damage because the 3″ tumor I have now is entangled with muscles, organs, tissues, nerves, scar tissue, etc.

When this new tumor was discovered in September 2012, I knew I did not want to be cut open any more due to the high risk of complications. Radiation would not be very successful. So, my choice and decision was to let it take it’s natural course and have a good quality of life for as long as I can. Rather than risk having surgery or treatment methods that would most probably not allow me to have the quality of life I have now. Of course, I’m guessing. I have no idea of the actual outcome that would have happened, but based on the knowledge and facts at that time, it was the best guess my doctor and I could make. I do not regret this decision. I know I made the best one for me.

This morning when praying for my niece and the choices and decisions they would have to make about her cancer, I thought about my choice and that it was the right one for me, but other people in my situation might have chosen differently. Perhaps they would have tried anything, no matter the risk, to give themselves more time. Even if their quality of life would be affected. The end of September I will be 64 years old. When I celebrated my 63rd birthday last year, I didn’t expect to see this one and yet, it is rapidly approaching. I don’t know God’s plan for any of us. We have to do the best we can and live the life we think God wants us to. Just for Today. That’s all we have. Cherish it, even if it brings opportunities for growth, change, and challenges. They are what make us stronger and reach out to others so that our lives continue to be enriched and fuller.

Once again, this reminds me to live for today. Don’t keep putting off things you want to do, or things you want to say to someone. Last October, I wrote a post called Seriously, Really, you would rather be an ostrich. It talks about the importance of having legal and medical documents prepared in case they are needed unexpectedly.

Living “One Day at a Time” is a slogan I try to live by. I heard someone say that if we worry about what will happen in the future, we will be suffering in advance because what we think may happen often doesn’t, or perhaps it doesn’t happen like I think it will. This slogan also helps me when planning for trips and living each day. In preparing for my trips, I do everything I can to be prepared. I get my vehicle checked, take what I think I need for the trip, and really I take more than I need of everything. I try to make sure I have canned food for when there are not grocery stores close by. However, things happen as I travel. I’ve learned I can stop at mechanics when needed, buy an item I forgot or realize I need, etc.

One of the many books I like to read for inspiration and guidance has a chapter about living One Day at a Time. I want to share some of what it says here. Perhaps, it might help you like it does me. “Many of us have tried tackling projects by peering into the future and trying to anticipate and resolve every glitch we think we might encounter, making decisions based upon information we do not really possess because the future has not yet happened… In most cases, we cannot anticipate every possible turn of events, so no matter how diligently we have prepared, we are eventually caught off guard. Meanwhile, we have expended so much time and energy trying to predict future events, soothe future hurts, and prevent future consequences, that we have missed out on today’s opportunities. And the magnitude of the task we have set for ourselves has left us drained, overwhelmed, and distraught.

A much more practical approach to our challenges and fears is to take them “One Day at a Time.” We can’t do anything about the future because the future is not within our grasp today. Worrying about it, trying to manipulate it, anticipating it, all these activities simply remove us from this moment. We can’t change the future, but by making the most of this day, we prepare ourselves to be able to handle whatever comes tomorrow… But wasting today worrying about tomorrow will not make us any better prepared for difficulties that may present themselves. If they do manifest, those painful problems will not hurt any less tomorrow, whether we have stewed about them or set them aside today. All of our preparation will not have spared us a single ounce of pain. In fact, it will have lengthened our suffering, since we’ll have added all that extra worrying time.

So if there is no advantage to trying to live in the future, it only makes sense to stay here in the present and make the very best of every precious moment we are given. Another advantage in living “One Day at a Time” is that we break huge, overwhelming tasks into smaller, more attainable goals. Worrying about going hungry tomorrow won’t put more food on the table, it will only make us forget to appreciate the food we have today. This day is ripe with opportunities for joy, for sorrow, for experiencing the full range of human emotion and experience. Isn’t it time we took advantage of it?”

So, in part, because of what I expressed above in this post, even though I know that I have increased pain, and that my condition feels like it’s getting worse, I am still going to make this trip out west. If I can get the entire way, great. If I have to turn back early, it will be okay too. Last year I had a longer trip planned,I started out from south Florida at the end of March, and in May when I got as far as Knoxville, Tennessee, I knew from my symptoms that I was getting worse. I called and spoke with my doctor and we decided that I needed to return and not complete my trip. When I went to see her when I got back, we didn’t think I would live to the end of September, definitely not the end of December. Here it is the following September and I’m still here and doing pretty well, all considered.

I don’t want to sit here in my apartment for another year or so just reading books and doing jigsaw puzzles waiting to die. Yes, I have made an impact the past year with my donations to volunteer fire departments and other charitable organizations, but I want to do more. I want to cram as much into life as I can. I feel so blessed that I have this opportunity. On the days I need to rest I will.   Other days I will have to make myself get up and move forward. The point is that I want to continue to live my life the best I can on any given day.

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