Tuesday, November 29, 2016

Happy Thanksgiving!

Happy Thanksgiving!! We hope that everyone was blessed with a nice holiday and a chance to spend some time contemplating all that we have to be thankful for.

The reason we made this circle back to Oklahoma was to spend some family time with people we love during the holidays. We started our time in Edmond, Oklahoma, where we left the motor home at Denisa's sister and brother-in-law's house. After spending the last year in the east with very little wind, Mark was reminded how hard it is to drive a tall motor home in a 30 mph side wind on the ride to Edmond. The ten-day forecast called for warm autumn temperatures and lows above freezing. So we decided not to winterize the motor home after all. 

We were happy that Connie and Joe invited their children and grandchildren over the day we were visiting so we got to catch up on their lives. We even got to snap a picture of them with their five precious grandchildren.

Next stop was Yukon, Oklahoma, where Denisa's other sister also invited her children and grandchildren over. Once again, we seemed to take pictures only of the grandchildren. Below is a picture of two cute guys sitting by the fireplace, rocking their plaid shirts.

Just like Denisa likes baby dogs and cats, she is also crazy about baby humans. She got to spend some good quality time with the newest addition to the family, with his two big sisters and Grandma Debra making sure Aunt Denisa was holding him right.

We got to drive through our old home town of Weatherford, Oklahoma, where Mark's former IT department at SWOSU was celebrating the short work week with a pot luck lunch. Denisa also got to do laps with Patti, her former walking partner, and we visited with old friends in the Administration building on campus. We can say that in the last two years we have never missed our jobs, but we certainly miss the people we worked with.

Next stop was Beaver, Oklahoma, where Mark's parents still live. We enjoyed Thanksgiving dinner here with all of Mark's siblings and many of our nieces and nephews and families. We had 25 people for dinner, and then spent the next two days playing games and snacking. We taught the youngest generation how to play spike ball on a beautiful Thanksgiving afternoon.

We don't have any babies on this side of the family, so we guess the newest family member would be our son's puppy. He's a golden doodle (golden retriever and standard poodle mix) and this was his first trip to the ranch. Everyone seemed to love him, except for the ranch's resident German Shepherd.

The youngest family members (and the youngest at heart) made the traditional trip out to the hay bales for some racing and chasing.

It was good to see that our sons still like to play tackle football on the hay bales after all these years.

We were particularly excited that our children could be here for some good family time. Our son Luke is in the second year of his Pediatric residency, and he doesn't have much flexibility in his schedule. After working another all-nighter at the hospital, he and his wife, Jordan, drove the six hours to join us for Thanksgiving in the panhandle of Oklahoma.

Our son Blake is an engineer, and we have been blessed that his schedule allows for more family time. He and his girl friend, Claire, made the four hour drive from Oklahoma City too.

It was absolutely beautiful weather over the Thanksgiving holiday, and we spent much of it outside playing games.

Since this is one of the few times our immediate family has been together in 2016, it was a great time to take a Christmas card picture. This isn't the one we chose for our card, but Denisa really liked the golden leaf background along the creek.

Instead of beautiful scenery, this blog contains many pictures of beautiful children and family members. It seems fitting that we would include these pictures as they are God's wonders, and some of the things we are most thankful for. We wish you a Happy Thanksgiving as we enjoyed a beautiful sunrise from the panhandle of Oklahoma!

Sunday, November 27, 2016

The Blue Whale and Port of Catoosa

We spent most of our time relaxing at the ranch, but we did a little sightseeing in eastern Oklahoma too. Route 66 runs through this area, and some of the iconic sites are still open. Denisa had heard about the infamous blue whale, but we had never seen it in person. As we drove past, Denisa yelled, "Turn in here!" and Lucky skidded into the parking lot.

Considering it is almost 50 years old, the old blue whale is in pretty good shape. It was built in the early 1970's by Hugh Davis, who made it as a surprise anniversary gift for his wife. It became a local favorite swimming hole, and also one of the most recognizable attractions on Route 66.

When Mr. Davis died, the pond and whale fell in to disrepair for a decade. But a local fundraising effort brought the blue whale back to life. The last two years have been busy for the whale, as it has been the back drop for several events. It was featured in episodes of "The Great Food Truck Race," and "American Pickers." Most recently, on November 11 it was chosen as the third location of the Spectacle's launch by Snapchat.

We were actually in town to visit the Port of Catoosa. Who would know that land-locked Oklahoma would host one of the largest ports in the United States?! They have already seen more than 1,000 barges this year. Fertilizer from China is shipped upstream, while wheat and soy beans are shipped back downstream to New Orleans. There it will be loaded on ships to cross the ocean. The Charley Border tugboat is now retired, but it was the first of its kind at the Port of Catoosa.

The channel has to be nine feet deep in order to float the barges and tugboats that come through. It was interesting to see the rudders and propellers that are usually under the water.

We got a personal tour of the visitor center from the port's education director. She is used to school children's questions, so she did a good job answering everything we asked. After watching the barges go up and down the Mississippi and Arkansas Rivers, we had lots of silly questions. It was good to finally have an authority to answer them. They had a large map of the entire inland waterway system on a carpet that covered much of the visitor center floor.

After the blue whale and the port, the next stop was our favorite. We went to visit a nephew and his family. Interestingly enough, we don't have any pictures of Michael and Heather, but we have lots of pictures of their three daughters. We got a personal dance recital. After watching one dance, Denisa got to join them for the rest of the performance. No pictures of her dancing, because they were all blurry from so much movement.

Denisa got to do another favorite activity--playing piano duets. The girls had Christmas duets ready for recital, and they were lots of fun to play. Denisa and the girls get along famously because they all like to do the same things--dancing and piano-playing.

We loved our time in eastern Oklahoma. We were further entertained by the super moon. We couldn't see it until it made its way over the tops of the pecan trees that surrounded us. But with no other light pollution, we could see it clearly.

The last day we were camping at the ranch, we walked down to the creek. Another good activity for the grandchildren is fishing for the Mississippi white catfish that congregate in this pool on the creek.

They keep the bank we were standing on mowed and cleared for the fishermen. Lucky and Lizzie had also planned for a bench under two young shade trees on the bank. But the resident beaver had chewed down both trees since their last visit. All that was left of their shade trees were two pointy stubs now.

We didn't get a picture of these beavers, but it was fun to see other wildlife on the ranch. We went armadillo hunting after we saw evidence of the damage they were causing. Lucky and Lizzie have several game cameras, and it is interesting to see the animals that show up. This picture of two tom turkeys looked like they were posing for the game camera.

With all this fun, we'll back to the barn to visit Lucky and Lizzie again when we're in the neighborhood!

The sunset over the pecan orchard was beautiful the last evening we were there. But it's once again time to head on down the road!

Friday, November 25, 2016

The Cutest Kid at Sequoyah State Park

We realize that most of Oklahoma's state parks seem to be concentrated on the east side of the state. Since we were spending several days in the area, we made the trip to the one closest to us--Sequoyah State Park, on the banks of Fort Gibson Lake.

Situated on a peninsula formed by the lake, we could ride our bikes on to the point with water on both sides.

A paved trail reaches from the visitor's center all the way to the peninsula. Much of the ride was in the woods, but all of it seemed to be uphill. Mark shifted gears while riding hard up-hill and his bike chain jammed. So our ride was shortened, as he walked his bike back to the car.

We also took a loop hike on a trail inside the park. Not well sign-posted, our loop turned into a game of trying to find our car left at the trail head. A few of the trees are turning golden, but the predominate leaf colors seem to be green or brown.

We think the best part of Sequoyah State Park was our visit to their Nature Center. It was ran by a delightful ranger named Amy, who gave us a personal tour on this weekday afternoon. We enjoyed seeing the two gray foxes. 

Amy explained that these two brothers were raised by humans, and don't have the skills to live on their own.

There is also a coyote named Wylie, who was hard to photograph because he was always moving. He looked longingly at the goats in the neighboring pen, as he seemed to plot ways to get to them.

But our favorite nature center animal has to be its newest resident--Willow, the baby kid. Just five days old, Willow was the cutest kid at Sequoyah State Park. Pictured here with her dwarf goat mother, she was tiny.

We were thoroughly entertained by Willow's antics as she butted the feed trough with her tiny head. Then she lost her balance, and slipped head first into the tub with her legs flailing in the air.

When we were having a hard time getting a clear picture through the fence, Amy offered to bring Willow out for us to see better.

Then she let each of us hold Willow. Denisa loves kittens and puppies, and she is now a big fan of baby goats as well.

Willow's hooves are still soft, and her coat was downy soft. We love that sweet little face!

After lots of time with Willow, it was 3:00--time for the daily critter feeding. We got to watch as Amy explained the food sources for each of her animals. She sorts through expired food donated from local grocery stores to find the best meals for the animals. Not the glamorous job that most young women envision, but she obviously loves her job.

The bald eagle is here because he lost a wing in a power line accident. So this noble fellow is permanently grounded.

He is limited to hopping to pick up the baby chicks that are in his diet. If he should lose a feather, Amy must register it with the proper authorities because it is illegal to possess an American Eagle feather. There is a process for getting these eagle feathers to Native American tribes to use for ceremonial gear.

The eagle's roommate is this owl, who rotated his head 180 degrees to see us when we first walked up.

The owl's lunch is mice, which Amy holds up by the tail. We tried to get a picture of the owl swooping in for the meal, but he was moving too fast.

We noticed that there was a beaver habitat also, but we didn't see any movement there. Knowing that beavers are nocturnal, we assumed that he was sleeping in the afternoon. But he quickly became mobile and scampered out of the water when Amy entered the enclosure with lunch.

He seemed to be happier to see Amy than the food bowl she placed on the ground in front of him.

We had never seen a beaver so up-close before, and it was fun to watch him eating his apples and carrot sticks. Amy exclaimed that we were certainly getting a good show, as he isn't usually this visible.

So we had a great afternoon at Sequoyah State Park, and were properly entertained and educated by a wonderful young ranger at the nature center. We appreciate the enthusiasm that you shared with us, Amy Nickel, and wish you and your animals a great holiday season. We end with the last parting picture of the cutest kids at Sequoyah State Park.

Tuesday, November 22, 2016

Camping at the Pecan Ranch

We spent an extra night at Aux Arc Campground because it was so comfortable there. With our big storage tanks, we can stay more than a week in a campground without sewer hook-ups, so we can take advantage of many of the government parks without full hook-ups. We would recommend any full-timers to choose a rig with sizable storage tanks so they can take advantage of great campgrounds like Aux Arc.

It's also one of those parks with an unusually late check-out time. That allows weekenders to stay until 3:00 on a Sunday afternoon, instead of having to pack up by noon. We took advantage of that late time so we could attend church in Ozark, and still visit with neighbors from the campground. But we rolled out right at 3:00 with the sun already low in the sky. Back on I-40, it wasn't long before we crossed the Oklahoma border. The state line pictures are blurry because the sun was right behind the sign, and was reflecting off the windshield.

We have driven the car back to Oklahoma a couple times, but this is the first time the motor home has been here since we left right after Thanksgiving a year ago. The last few miles of our journey was on a dirt road, with dust swirling around us. As we looked in the rear camera, we could barely make out the outline of the car shrouded in dust.

We began wishing that we had left the campground earlier when we realized we would be arriving at our destination after dark. Parking and hooking up the motor home was a little harder in the dark, and we had to wait until the next morning to take our first pictures of our new camping site.

We are so excited to spend the next few days at Mark's brother's place in eastern Oklahoma. When Lucky and Lizzie were building the house, they had a first-rate cement camping site added with full hook-ups. They parked a travel trailer here to oversee some of the building. Before they poured the concrete, they asked the length of our motor home to make sure it would fit us too. So we have everything we need to stay very comfortably here.

Lucky and Lizzie have made this into a fun place for their grandchildren. In the summer there is a slip-n-slide, bouncy toy, play house, and stock tank swimming pool. There are also riding toys. Denisa got to take the new go-cart out for a test spin. This is a great place to drive around the trees and over the bridges!

There is a disc golf course and a swing set. It's like a resort for grandchildren! We hope the kids don't mind that we are currently parked on the basketball court. We also got to ride the zipline. Denisa was getting flight instructions from the king of the zipline--Lucky.

Then she zipped down from her perch.

They assured us that there was no weight limit on the zipline, so Mark took it for a ride as well.

There is an old pecan orchard on this property, and they have done a lot of work to get the trees trimmed and the area groomed up. It looks great now, and was a beautiful place to take a morning walk.

As Mark was snapping pictures, it looks like Denisa is reverently walking through the trees with her head bowed. Actually, she's reverently looking on the ground for pecans. There are over 200 pecan trees on the property, and we did some easter-egg-like hunting to find a few pecans. 

It was another tough year for growing nuts, so they were few and far between. Because the pecans are so small, it might be a test of patience getting them out of the shells.

The trees are still predominately green here, with just a touch of light red from a vine that was crawling up this tree. When we discovered that this vine was poison ivy, we suddenly didn't think it was nearly as attractive. That's what they had to chop out of many of their pecan trees. If you look carefully, you can see a thick vine attached firmly to the trunk. Before this, we thought that poison ivy only grew on short plants close to the ground. Mark will have to rethink his tree climbing hobby now that he knows he has to watch for poison ivy up there as well.

We have had lots of fun playing with the toys and hiking the pecan grove. But the best part of visiting the ranch here was that Lucky and Lizzie were visiting as well. We enjoyed spending time with them for a couple of nice days on the pecan ranch.