The last weekend in May, we made some memories when we visited the Grand Canyon. For the first part of the trip we drove a U-haul truck to McGehee, Arkansas, had some help loading furniture and other items, and delivered them to my sister-in-law who lives near Fort Worth, Texas. We flew out of DFW Airport to Phoenix, and from there to Flagstaff on a smaller plane. We rented a car, and drove to Williams, Arizona where we spent our third night away from home.
The next morning we rode a vintage restored train to Grand Canyon National Park. The train car was roomy and comfortable with large bathrooms. Memorial Day Weekend is a popular time to visit the Grand Canyon, so the train had lots of cars. As we travelled on the train, a guide gave us some interesting history of the railroad and told us what to expect at our destination.
At the Grand Canyon, we took two different coach (bus) tours which made brief stops at several scenic spots. At our last stop we watched the sun set. The drivers served as guides telling us all about the area. We spent the night at rustic Maswick Lodge, and awoke to below-freezing temperatures. We continued to explore the overlooks and gift shops in the park. The Grand Canyon is an awesome wonder of God's creation. It was difficult to comprehend the enormity and distance of what we saw. Full-size trees at the bottom of the canyon look like specks, and trees that are part way down the canyon look like small shrubs. Much of the canyon that we saw is layers of bare rock that appear to be sculpted into interesting patterns. Pictures of the canyon are pretty and interesting, but cannot convey the full scale of such a large place, and we only saw a small part of it.
We returned to Williams on the same train that took us to the canyon, and drove to Flagstaff where we spent the night in a tiny ancient motel room located on historic Route 66, the Will Rogers Highway.
Early the next morning we arrived at the nearby train station where we took the modern Amtrak train to Albuquerque, New Mexico. We had been told that the train was usually on time, but this day it was over 3 hours late. We had a roomette on the train which consists of two seats facing each other that can fold down to make a bed. Then there is a bunk bed above that can fold down. On board the train we got some sleep to make up for a short night at the motel, and then opened the curtains and enjoyed watching some scenery. We did not like the child-size bathrooms. Maybe there were some larger bathrooms somewhere on the train. Shortly after eating lunch in the dining car, we arrived in Albuquerque. We took a cab to the airport, flew to Dallas, and then back home to Little Rock. It was good to be home after a long day of travel that lasted about 19 hours.
We had not taken a real vacation for a few years, so we made up for it this year. We spent the last week of July on a Gaither Homecoming inspirational cruise to Alaska. For over 20 years, Bill and Gloria Gaither have joined with several other gospel singers to produce “Gaither Homecoming” TV shows, DVDs, and concert tours. We were able to attend six Homecoming concerts on board the cruise ship as well as a few concerts featuring one or more groups that were part of the Homecoming tour. The concerts were held in the cruise ship's relatively small theater / auditorium – so small that the concerts had to be repeated for the other half of the passengers. We had never attended a Gaither Homecoming concert in Little Rock. They have always sold out early, and paying an outrageous price to sit in the nosebleed section at Verizon Arena never appealed to me.
To start our adventure, we flew from Little Rock to Seattle via Phoenix. We took the light rail from SeaTac Airport to the Pioneer Square station in downtown Seattle. Unlike the trolleys in downtown Little Rock and North Little Rock, the train is fast. It travels on a traditional rail bed for a ways, but transitions to the middle of the street through residential and business areas, and then goes underground in the downtown area.
From the Pioneer Square station, we walked a couple of blocks to our hotel where we checked in. A little later, we walked about 4 or 5 blocks down (steep downhill) to the pier where we took the ferry to Bainbridge Island, and enjoyed the view from a high outside deck. We discovered that at least one Bainbridge resident does not appreciate tourists slowing down her rush hour commute home. In retrospect, Bremerton may have been a better and more scenic destination. The next morning we boarded a people-mover that took us on a tour of Seattle. We drove slowly through the fish market not far from where we had boarded the ferry the day before. At one of the later stops we were able to go downstairs where we could look through a big underwater window and view salmon swimming against the current. We saw lots of boats including some house boats and yachts that people live on. We saw a few fishing boats that had not joined the many others that were out fishing. Our tour ended at the Holland America cruise ship where we started our Alaskan adventure with the Gaithers.
The cruise included stops at three ports in Alaska and one in Canada. We took several bus tours. My favorite port was Skagway, Alaska. We took a full day tour which travelled the Klondike Highway through the 3,300 foot high White Pass in a thick fog into Canada - British Columbia and the Yukon Territory. We saw some beautiful lakes and mountains on the way to Caribou Crossing Trading Post where we stopped for lunch and a tour of an amazing wildlife museum. There were all kinds of mounted animals in life-like poses. I was most impressed with the woolly mammoth which was well preserved and dwarfed the other specimens nearby. We got to pet some sled dogs. They were full of energy and seemed anxious to travel. Along the highway we saw hundreds of inuksuit (plural of inuksuk) which are small stacks of rocks in different shapes and sizes. Our guide explained that ancient peoples made these for landmarks or signs, and now people do it for fun. The fog had lifted for our return trip back to the ship.
At Juneau, Alaska we took a bus tour of the city and out to the Mendenhall Glacier visitor's center where there was a nice view of the glacier and a nearby waterfall. At first glance the scene was merely impressive, but then we realized that the tiny things moving around near the base of the waterfall were people. The distance and enormity of what we were seeing was still difficult to grasp. The glacier was even farther away, so again, it was much larger than it looked. We saw many small pieces of ice that had broken off the glacier and were floating toward us. As they got closer, we realized that some of the ice chunks were not so small.
One morning the ship visited another glacier. Waterfalls from melting snow in the mountains and a large melting glacier pour water into Endicott Arm. Fortunately there was not too much ice, and our ship got fairly close to the glacier, turned sideways, and slowly drifted away from the glacier for several minutes before turning and leaving. Later I looked at this location on Google Earth and was able to see how this glacier (and others) are formed by streams of ice coming down between the mountains and merging into one large ice river. We stopped at Ketchican where we toured the Saxman Native Village, watched a video about the natives, saw a performance by a group of natives of all ages, saw several totem poles, and even saw a totem pole being made. It is usually rainy in Ketchican, and the man who was working on making the totem pole admitted that his heart was not in his work that day – he would rather be taking advantage of the nice sunny weather to go fishing.
One of the things that I enjoyed was not on the cruise schedule. Several people got together in one of the piano bars (the bar was closed) and sang gospel songs and hymns accompanied by various people on the piano. One of the pianists was an 86 year old lady who was a former church pianist.
On the final cruise day we debarked early in the morning, took a shuttle bus to the airport and returned to Little Rock via Saint Louis.
The weekend of Labor Day, we visited with several relatives on my mother's side of the family at a family reunion in Mulberry, Arkansas. My brother and his wife came from Van Buren, Arkansas.
I attended many Vilonia High School football games last season. Our granddaughter performed in the band during half time. Two of those were in Northwest Arkansas – one in Springdale and the other in Huntsville. We spent the night in Springdale both times. The Springdale game was the same weekend as "Bikes and Barbeque", so we saw lots of motorcycles that weekend. I was surprised that many of the bikers were my age and older – at least I thought they looked older than me. While we were in Springdale we visited with a friend from our college days, Mary Louise Stokes. During the time that my wife and I were students at the U of A in Fayetteville, Mary worked as a librarian and was the faculty sponsor for Chi Alpha, the Assemblies of God student association.
The second week of December we took a trip to Disney World near Orlando, Florida where we joined my sister-in-law and her family including 5 young grandchildren. We visited several of the Disney attractions including the Magic Kingdom, Epcot Center, Animal Kingdom, and Hollywood Studios where we saw the spectacular Christmas lights provided by the late Jennings Osborne of Little Rock. It seemed that everyone was taking pictures of the lights, and families were dancing to the music. It is wonderful that the Osborne family continues to bring happiness to people even after they have lost so much.
In this age of Christmas parties being replaced by "holiday parties", and retailers shunning the word "Christmas", I have been wishing people a Merry Christmas in hopes of receiving the same wish back. At first I was somewhat discouraged that people would not return the greeting, but actually several people have wished me a Merry Christmas in return.
Prior to our travels I purchased my first DSLR (Digital Single Lens Reflex) camera, and enjoyed taking lots of pictures with it. For most of my adult life I have had something better than a pocket camera, and now I have graduated to a level that my younger siblings and some of their children had achieved a long time ago. My father had been a photographer in the Army Air Corp, and passed his love of photography on to his children.
We are still slowly making some improvements to our house. The big change this year was having the dark paneling removed from the den and replacing it with sheetrock. We had a closet built in the den as part of the project. I served as one of the volunteer choir directors at church until the choir disbanded in mid-summer. The choir sang at some nursing homes last Christmas and sang at the Salem Camp Meeting in June. I still play the accordion or violin at church. Also at church, I put together a computer-based system to record the audio of our church services. The editing software adds some features that would be lacking in a system that records directly to CD. My experience recording church audio goes back to my childhood when I helped my father do that, and it evolved to recording and producing music as a hobby. For more history and a sampling of some of the church songs that I have recorded, see my life story.
When I explain to people that the call I am ignoring on my cell phone is actually a call to my home phone and that my wife will answer it, some have told me that I am not normal, and others have said that I am a geek. I prefer to think of it as telephone magic -- being able to make free phone calls without using cell minutes on an Android phone, or being able to choose which phone I want to take a call on. All that may sound expensive, but it is not really. I have been accused of having never grown up, and in some ways feel like a teenager in an aging body. Next summer my wife and I will have been married for 40 years. I have worked for the same company for over 37 years, but I would not say that I have had the same job all that time. I am glad to say that the work that I do and the way that I do it has constantly been changing. I get to work with lots of different people in a support role – mainly maintaining equipment. I probably would not want to do some of the things I used to do such as working 18 hour days setting up for and broadcasting football and basketball games, or driving the satellite truck with too little sleep. However, I do cherish the memories.
My mother carried on her family's tradition of writing a family Christmas letter, and I am doing the same. When I was growing up, Mom's annual letter always included a photo of the children. Several decades later I have heard from some relatives that they still remember those pictures, and felt that they knew our family in spite of living half a country away and never having seen the Young children. My second cousin, Idabel Stenberg Farr who is 10 years older than me wrote “This is how I first knew of the children — seeing pictures of those five beautiful Swedish children as they were growing up.” My mother is half Swede, we children had light blond hair, so I guess we are Swedish – same as Idabel.
Recently several people have told me that they are looking forward to my annual family Christmas letter. I hope that you enjoyed reading this longer-than-usual newsy letter which is quite similar to the printed version that we sent with our Christmas cards. Just a few years ago, co-worker Jason Pederson asked me if my Christmas letters are an accurate reflection of my family, or rather a Norman Rockwell style representation. I must admit that it is the latter. Just because I focus on the positive does not mean that we are anything close to being the ideal or perfect family. We will be perfected when we get to Heaven.
May we always remember that Jesus Christ is the reason for the Christmas season. May God bless you and yours in this Christmas season and throughout the New Year.