Saturday, December 30, 2017

We're Going to be Grandparents!

We are excited to announce that we're going to be grandparents this spring! Our oldest son, Luke, and his wife Jordan are going to bless us with a granddaughter around May 5, and we couldn't be happier!

Jordan is a PA, and Luke is in his final year of pediatric residency at Children's Mercy Hospital in Kansas City, Missouri. We were quarantined during our planned trip to see them at their home. Denisa was a very sad Mom at the thought of missing them, so we managed to make the trip to see them a little later.

We played games and cards, and got to see more of the details of their lives. This rescheduled visit meant we would be there when they had purchased tickets to see "The Nutcracker" at the Kauffman Performing Arts Center.

The Kauffman Center is an iconic clam-shell theater that looks a little like Sydney, Australia's Opera House. We couldn't get far enough away to take a picture of its double shell silhouette, but it is an impressive performing arts center.

It is equally impressive from the inside. Even though Luke and Jordan have lived in Kansas City for over two years, this was their first trip inside the Kauffman Center. They have been enduring the hectic schedule and long hours of a hospital resident, with little time for formal nights out.

We were blessed to be there during a rare time for Luke to be away from the hospital. We were also blessed to snag the last two seats available in the lower orchestra section of this mammoth theater. Our seats were discounted two days before the performance, because they were single seats on opposite sides of the theater. But we had great views of the stage.

At intermission, we switched seats with Luke and Jordan. Their side-by-side seats in the balcony gave a different view of the stage.

Our rescheduled visit also put us there during Luke's lasik eye surgery. He has worn glasses or contacts since middle school. We took this last be-spectacled picture right before we left for the ophthalmologist office for the laser procedure that would give him 20/20 vision. Amazing!

Even though it was delayed, we certainly enjoyed our trip to spend time with Luke and Jordan! Luke will graduate in June, and has already accepted a position with a pediatric clinic in the Kansas City area. With the birth of our first grandchild in May, it looks like we will have many more trips to Kansas City in our future travel plans.

Wednesday, December 27, 2017


We don't always get a flu shot. But this year we got it more to protect others rather than ourselves. We knew we were going to be spending a lot of time with our aging parents, and we certainly wouldn't want to get the flu and expose them to it. So we got the shot, but it didn't protect from the strain of flu that pounced on us. We read later that this year's flu shot is only 10% effective, and we got a good dose of the other 90%. As soon as she felt the symptoms coming on, Denisa quarantined herself upstairs away from Mark's parents. Mark was still feeling fine, so he was cooking and cleaning downstairs, then running food upstairs to Denisa. She had to take a picture, because that's some great room service!

Denisa kept shoo-ing Mark out of her sick room, hoping that he wouldn't catch this flu bug too. But within 24 hours, he started the same symptoms. The good news is that Denisa had some company in this quarantine. The bad news is that we have certainly messed up a lot of plans and inconvenienced a lot of people.

We were supposed to be making our fifth trip (in as many weeks) to Oklahoma City that weekend. We were supposed to pick up our son, Blake, to ride with us to Kansas City to spend several days with our other son and his wife. They had all kinds of fun meals and activities planned for us, and we were all so looking forward to it! Then this flu bug hit, and our plans soon evaporated as our fevers soared. To make matters worse, Blake had booked a flight onward from Kansas City to another destination. So we totally screwed up his travel plans! That made us feel even worse!

Fast forward three days, and we were still hanging out upstairs. It was a strange feeling to be trapped inside, looking at another sunset through an upstairs window. 

We decided this was one of the worst flu bugs we've ever had--headaches, coughing, fever, and all-over aches--even our hair hurt. Mark's temperature soared up to 104 degrees on more than one occasion. His theory is to sleep until he gets well, but it didn't work too well on this flu. On the other hand, Denisa's theory is to stay busy and ignore the fact that she's sick. She put together two intricate puzzles during this quarantine. She must have been craving sweets, because this puzzle was themed in cupcakes, while the other was candy.

She also read a book, did some sewing, and played the piano every day. Mark--not so much. He is much better at staying still and being sick. But the days were certainly long! After three full days upstairs, Denisa finally made her escape when her temperature returned to normal. Then it was her turn to carry meals upstairs to Mark, who remained in quarantine for two more days.

There's never a good time to get sick, but this flu bug seemed to have especially bad timing. But the worst part is worrying this quarantined bug will sneak downstairs and infect an 89- and 91-year-old that we love.

Sunday, December 24, 2017

Merry Christmas!

For the last 36 years we have mailed a Christmas letter through snail mail. For the last 29 years it has included pictures of our children. They still humor their Mother, and agreed to take a family picture while we were together for Thanksgiving. Our numbers are growing, and we are excited to have two beautiful young ladies to off-set all the grubby beards in this year's picture.

We will spend Christmas Day with our children and special friends, and have been blessed with a full holiday of family time. We send out the warmest Christmas wishes to our blog friends, wishing that you have a blessed day as well!

I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all people. Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; he is Christ the Lord! 

Saturday, December 23, 2017

Hiking Oklahoma Style

We are really missing our daily hikes! So when we visited our good friends, Connie and Steven, we were thrilled that our trip included a stop at Quartz Mountain State Park for some hiking!

Oklahoma State Parks are free and open to the public. Even though we took that for granted all our lives, we now realize that is not the case in most states. We parked their pick-up at the trail head, and took off on the Baldy Mountain trail. We also now realize that most states wouldn't call this quartz hill a "mountain."

We were blessed with beautiful weather, and the blue skies that we love. Our trail got narrower and less defined as we curved around Baldy Mountain. Since we wanted to get to the summit, Mark took off toward the top without a trail. Denisa is used to this, but we're not sure that our hosts appreciate his style so much. No pictures of the hike down, because we were sliding down tiny roll-ders and scrambling across huge boulders. Again, Connie and Steven weren't so impressed with Mark's trail guide skills.

Several years ago we visited this state park's lake, where the drought had shrunk it to a muddy pond. We took another hike on the trail along the water and were glad to see the lake looked healthy and full after a good year of rain.

This is southwestern Oklahoma, where cotton is king. This has been a banner harvest, and it was fun to see all the bales of cotton dotting the horizon. Steven was raised on a cotton farm, so he could answer all our questions about the harvest process that was going on right now. He explained that each one of those bales held enough cotton to make over 6,000 cotton shirts.

He even drove us to the cotton gin in Altus, to explain the process of turning that field cotton into a more purified product that will be transported to the next step to becoming those cotton shirts. It looked like it could be a great factory tour, but Steven pointed out it was a very dusty process.

We enjoyed our time with special friends. We have planned weekend trips to see friends and family while we are in Oklahoma. Besides playing cards, and getting to see their children, we also enjoyed this opportunity to do a little hiking "Oklahoma style" at Quartz Mountain State Park.

Thursday, December 21, 2017

2017 Favorite Places to Hike, Bike and Kayak

For the last couple years, we have reviewed our year of travel to determine our favorites. We have tried to limit it to our top five, but this epic year of travel in the west refuses to be limited. Our lists are longer, but we loved every one of the items listed and would do them all again if we were blessed to return.

Antelope Valley Poppy Preserve, CA
Vernal Falls/John Muir Trail - Yosemite National Park, CA
Hurricane Ridge - Olympic National Park, WA
Bull Pasture Hike - Pipe Organ Cactus National Monument, AZ
Congress Trail - Sequoia National Park, CA
North Grove Loop - Kings Canyon National Park, CA
Stout Grove - Jedidiah Smith State Park, CA
Nisqually Vista Trail - Mount Rainier National Park, WA
Avalanche Lake Trail - Glacier National Park, MT
Hidden Lake - Glacier National Park, MT
Many Pools Trail - Zion National Park, UT
Lava Tubes - Malpais National Monument - NM
Hall of Mosses - Hoh Rainforest - Olympic National Park, WA

Lake Colchuck and Lake Stuart - Leavenworth, WA
Grinnell Glacier - Glacier National Park, MT
Cascade Canyon - Teton National Park, WY
The Wave - Coyote Buttes North Wilderness, AZ
Trail of Ten Falls - Silver Falls State Park, OR
Trail from the Summit - Chiracahua National Monument, AZ
Balconies Cliff Cave/High Peaks - Pinnacles National Park, CA
Multnomah Falls Loop - Columbia Falls River Gorge, OR
Mount Si - Snoqualmie, WA
Highline Trail - Glacier National Park, MT
Iceberg Lake/Ptarmigan Tunnel - Glacier National Park, MT
Our Lake - Chouteau, MT
Navajo Knobs - Capitol Reef National Park, UT
North Kaibab - North Rim Grand Canyon National Park, AZ
Gooseberry Springs to Mt. Taylor Summit - Grants, NM
Lost Coast Trail - Shelter Cove, CA

Deep Lake - Coulee City, WA
Sea Caves - LaJolla, CA
Willapa River, Raymond, WA
Salish Sea off Fidalgo Island, WA
Icicle River/Wenatchie River - Leavenworth, WA
Gates of the Mountains on Missouri River - Helena, MT
Wade and Cliff Lakes - MT
Madison River - Ennis, MT
Ririe Reservoir - Ririe, ID
Elk Horn Slough - Monterey Bay, CA

Golden Gate Bridge to Fisherman's Wharf - San Francisco, CA
Valley View Trail - Yosemite National Park, CA
Mission Beach - San Diego, CA
Monterey Bay Coast Trail - Monterey, CA
Newton B. Drury Parkway - Redwood National Park, CA
Discovery Trail - Cape Disappointment State Park, WA
Apple Capitol Recreation Loop - Wenatachee, WA
Lewis and Clark Bike Trail - Great Falls, MT
Centennial Bike Trail - Spokane, WA

Monday, December 11, 2017

Map of Our 2017 Travels

We think that 2017 has been one of our favorite travel years ever! We took a grand loop of the western United States, taking in some of the best of God's wonders found anywhere in the world. We visited 18 National Parks and 41 National Monuments, National Wildlife Refuges, and National Historic Sites during the last eleven months. What a great year of wandering!

It's always fun to see a map of where we have been. Mark plotted each point we camped in the motor home during 2017. There were 78 different camp sites in this loop. The print is small, but he included the campground, city and state of each. By clicking on the map, you can enlarge it in a new window to see the stops more clearly. From those campgrounds, we drove the car to explore the area around us.

We started the year at the southern tip of Texas. We spent over a month at the RV resort where Denisa's Mother has wintered for over 30 years. In mid-January we headed west until we hit the ocean. That took us across Texas and through southern New Mexico, Arizona, and California until we landed in San Diego for a week in March.

We discovered that California is a huge state, and we spent two months traversing its length from south to north. We arrived in Oregon in May, and found that this state's coast line is stunning! We crept our way north up the coast, spending time at the beach every day of the month we were in Oregon.

We sped up on our trip through Washington, since we were meeting our son and his girl friend at the airport in Seattle. We made a fast three-day trip around the Olympic Peninsula, and we've already decided that we need to return to spend more time. We loved the San Juan Islands just north of Seattle. It was hard to pull ourselves away from the ocean and the mountains to turn our motor home eastward to continue our loop across the State of Washington.

We flew back to Oklahoma for a month-long visit in June, leaving the motor home in storage in Washington. When we returned, we continued our loop across Washington, through the Idaho panhandle, and into Montana. We learned about forest fires, and spent the month of August dodging the worst of the smoke. We were lucky to get to spend 20 days around Glacier National Park before some of the entrances were closed because of the fires. We had another visitor, Patti, during this special time in one of our favorite national parks. It was in Glacier National Park that we had some of our best wildlife sightings.

Our loop turned south through Montana into the tip of Wyoming to visit Yellowstone and Grand Teton National Parks. Now our moves were determined by snow storms in the mountains that were nipping on our heels. We traveled through the tip of Idaho before we made our way through Utah during much of the month of October. We enjoyed more glorious national parks and autumn leaves as we entered Arizona. One of the year's highlights has to be winning the lottery for two of the ten spaces to hike to "The Wave"!

We drove through the Navajo Reservation that makes up the entire northeast corner of Arizona. Then we made our way across the state of New Mexico visiting more Indian sites. We entered the Texas Panhandle in November, with fewer and shorter stops as we got closer to our old stomping grounds in the Oklahoma Panhandle.

The grand western loop has been an epic year of travel with new states and some of our favorite stops ever! We have truly been blessed as we wandered through an entire year of God's wonders!

Wednesday, December 6, 2017

We're putting miles on our car--instead of our legs

We have been spending much of our time with Mark's parents, who still live on the ranch where Mark was raised. Mark's Father is 91, and his Mother turns 90 in February. They live by themselves with lots of support from a son and daughter that are close by. Right now they are needing some extra support, so our visit was timed well. 

We are trying to not over-stay our welcome at their house, so every weekend we are taking road trips to visit other relatives across the state. That means we are getting to spend time with Denisa's sisters that live in the Oklahoma City area. After the first four days at the ranch, we made the four-hour drive to stay with Denisa's sister Connie and husband Joe. We were too busy to take pictures of the baking day we had with our niece Beth. Every Christmas our grandparents made German miniature cookies called "peppernuts." We are trying to keep up this tasty family tradition, with hours of cutting and baking these little morsels.

We always enjoy "borrowing" our sibling's grandchildren. This day we were playing with the same toys that our boys once enjoyed. It had been a while since we raced marbles down mazes we built with marbleworks. It's nice to see that little boys still like to do the same things today as they did twenty years ago.

One thing about wandering around the country, Mark doesn't get to wrassle with little guys like he does back home in Oklahoma.

We also played lots of basketball on some unseasonably warm autumn days. The area set a new record high of 82 degrees one of the days we were visiting Oklahoma City.

After a record high temperature day, we were met with a blustery cold day for the first annual Pecan Festival in Luther, Oklahoma. We are bundled up to see the car show and walk among the arts and crafts. We braved the cold to buy some roasted cinnamon pecans, pecan pralines, and puppy chow pecans at the pecan festival.

We made the long drive back to the Panhandle, getting back to help with the pre-Thanksgiving cooking. After four busy days with the holiday crowds at the ranch, we headed back to Oklahoma City for another family get-together. This trip included wedding gown shopping, and we stayed with Denisa's other sister, Debra. She hosted a taco dinner where we got to see all her grandchildren, and most of her children. We were obviously too busy having fun to take pictures. But we have been blessed with lots of family time. Since we are a family that enjoys playing games, we also played lots of games on this trip to Oklahoma City.

The city is getting decked out for Christmas, and it's fun to spend time with people we love among the holiday lights.

We made a third trip to Oklahoma City the following weekend. But we had a very special stop-over in Weatherford. This is the town where we raised our children and retired, and we have many dear friends that still live here. We always feel welcome at Patti's house, and we thoroughly enjoy her cooking while she pampers us on our visits. Our priority was a Sunday morning visit to Pine Acres Church to see as many church friends as possible. We had a great time catching up with so many people! We were blessed to share  lunch when an impromptu pizza party was organized after church.

We made a trip into Oklahoma City for a doctor's appointment, happy to get a clean bill of health. Denisa is typing this as we are making that long 4-hour drive back to the Panhandle for the third time in as many weeks. We are heading back to take Mark's parents to two different doctor's appointments. We aren't hiking among the wonders of national parks right now. We are putting lots of miles on the car, but few on our legs. We are missing our good quality hikes, but we are very much enjoying being immersed in some good quality family and friends time instead.

Friday, December 1, 2017

Our Youngest Son is Engaged!

Months ago while we were visiting Teton National Park, we got a phone call from our youngest son, Blake. Earlier he had told us all about the planned wedding proposal, but this call was to let us know that Claire said, "Yes!"

We slipped the engagement news into the blog that day, as it was such a nice way to end our beautiful day in the Tetons. But now that we are back in Oklahoma, it was time to really celebrate their engagement. Blake has also purchased his first house this fall. Since we were traveling at the time, we got a face-time tour as he walked his phone through each room for us. But we finally got to see it in person.

We spent a day doing little projects around the 93-year-old house. This location is great for being close to the trendy areas of downtown Oklahoma City. It is also just a block away from a nice big park where we got to enjoy the great fall weather that Oklahoma has been enjoying.

Our time with them also included harvesting some fresh vegetables out of the little garden that the previous owners had planted.

Then, along with Claire's parents, we hosted almost 50 people at an engagement party to celebrate their up-coming wedding in June.

We are really excited about Claire joining our family. Because of our extended stay in Oklahoma, we are getting to participate in some of the wedding planning process. We went to church with them where the ceremony will be held. You can see the dome of the church in the picture below.

It's taken from the rooftop of the restaurant across the street where the reception will be held. We'll see views of the Oklahoma City skyline at sunset after the wedding in June.

Another fun trip during our stay was to shop for Claire's wedding gown. Denisa was invited to join the squad of women trusted with this important decision.

Claire surprised herself and the rest of the squad by finding the perfect gown at the first bridal shop. As you can tell from the picture below, the Mother of the bride and the Mother of the groom are both smiling because it was such a pleasant shopping experience. Claire is smiling just because that's what she does.

We love our life of traveling across this beautiful country, exploring some of the wonders of the world. But we have to say that spending this holiday season in Oklahoma with people we love is the place we want to be right now. We are excited to celebrate the upcoming addition to our family.

Tuesday, November 28, 2017

Happy Thanksgiving!

Eleven months ago when we left on our big westerly loop of the United States, the only thing scheduled for sure was that we would be back in Oklahoma for Thanksgiving. We are blessed that our entire family got to be together for the holiday. We had beautiful weather, allowing us to snap some pictures outside. One of those snaps should be part of a Christmas letter.

Thanksgiving is a great holiday to spend in Beaver, Oklahoma, where many of the Engelmans gather at the ranch where Mark was raised.

Mark's 89-year-old Mother spear-headed the Thanksgiving feast that 33 of us enjoyed together. That evening we enjoyed a 3-hour family sing-a-long led by some of the most talented musicians we know.

It's a goose-bump experience to be in the circle of Engelmans when the Doxology is sung as the prayer before a meal! We love spending this family time with people we don't get to see often since we are on the road. Another family tradition is spending some time playing in the hay. We climbed to the top of the square bales stacked under the hay shed.

But the real fun is climbing onto the round bales. That's Mark and our youngest son, Blake, on the right of the picture below. The picture also includes parts of three generations climbing on the bales today.

This year the round bales were placed with spaces between the rows. Some members of the family didn't seem to have any problem jumping over that space.

Even though Denisa is pretty brave around mountains and ledges, she isn't good with jumping over chasms. She's older and wiser than some of the bale-jumpers, and it is taking some coaching and coaxing to get her to jump over this abyss.

She finally made the jump. But you might notice that her foot barely made it onto the bale. It wasn't pretty, but she got lots of encouragement.

Most of the group was racing along the rows and leaping over those giant gaps in a raucous game of tag. You might notice that Denisa is standing on the right, refereeing the game because she clearly is not agile enough to participate in this wild game. On the other hand, Mark and Blake are in the middle of it.

Clearly, the safest place to watch this game is from the ground. After falling off the bales in a wild chase, Mark's brother is watching from the four-wheeler. Also watching is Mark's Mother--the fourth generation enjoying the beautiful weather out at the bales.

Another fun activity is feeding the two bottle-calves living in the pens close to the barn. One was orphaned when her mother died, but the other calf was a twin. We found that cows aren't good at raising two calves, so one of the twins has to be raised at the barn.

We are thankful for this time to enjoy our family. We have many blessings, and we are glad for a day to be reminded of how good it is to have quality family time. We have wandered into another version of God's wonders!