Up For The Challenge

Up For The Challenge

“When we least expect it, life sets us a challenge to test our courage and willingness to change; at such a moment, there is no point in pretending that nothing has happened or in saying that we are not yet ready. The challenge will not wait. Life does not look back. A week is more than enough time for us to decide whether or not to accept our destiny.” ― Paulo Coelho, The Devil and Miss Pry

Life is one of those things we all have to live it one day at a time. We never really know when one of those crazy “life events” will occur. For @scottfand me, it has been happening a lot since that New Year’s Eve day this year. You see, I had an Ocular Stroke and everything has completely changed for me. Granted, this was not in the main part of my brain, but it was in my eye and had caused some pretty challenging issues for me. Between all the doctor appointments, the hospital stay, and a few issues stroke victims deal with on a daily basis, my health has impacted us on a major scale. However, we have done our best to make sure that it we still do the things we love to do to help make it all livable.

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We were concerned, at first, about traveling because the strokes are not going to go away, they are something that will be a part of my life for the rest of my life. They have found that I have too many red blood cells and this causes my blood to be thick which puts me at risk for many health issues. Because of this I suffer extreme headaches, dizziness, and just don’t feel well; this situation is what caused the stroke and could cause more of them and heart events. There is plenty of testing going on to figure out why my body is producing so many red blood cells, but until we are able to figure this out there is one procedure that I will be having to have done for quite some time. I will be doing what is called phlebotomy. Basically, it is the medieval practice called “bloodletting.” This is the medical practice of removing blood for therapeutic purposes. It is not bad, as long as there are no leeches involved.

This procedure has to happen every four to six weeks until my red blood cell levels go down to where they should be. It is not a difficult procedure, I just go to the local blood institute and they take the blood as if I were donating it. Unfortunately, until they know exactly what is causing the issue, I am not able to donate the blood. It is not painful except when the first put the needle into the arm; the only issue I seem to have from it is I am exhausted for a couple of days.

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Other than the health issues, we have had some family issues as well. We were living as Texas State Park Hosts and planning to move to our second park when my father contacted with me with some very upsetting news. He had been diagnosed with Pulmonary Fibrosis.

Pulmonary fibrosis is a condition in which the tissue deep in your lungs becomes scarred over time. This tissue gets thick and stiff. That makes it hard for you to catch your breath, and your blood may not get enough oxygen.

From the Medline Plus article “Pulmonary Fibrosis.”

Because he was in the last stages, Mom needed us home to help. We had really not planned to move back to Tulsa, but here we are. My father passed away on March 26, and even though we knew about it, it still hit us all pretty hard. My father taught me many things but the one thing he said that really hit me hard was to not give up on my dreams. He said there were things he wished he would have done and he didn’t want to see me give up on mine. Like many other people, I had a wonderful father and will miss him greatly.

We had decided not travel as hard while my father was here and Mom needed help, but it is time for us start thinking about getting back to the travel life. However, now that we lived in a house, did not have the RV any longer, and have quite a bit more debt we need to make some changes. We have been given a challenge by life, yet again, so it is time to start making plans. One of those was for us to tighten the belt unrealistically and get debt free. Because of this, the dream of cross county across the country travel was looking impossible for quite a while. It was depressing and overwhelming.

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One of the things we have discussed was me finding a “real” fulltime job, but I have had a real issue getting anyone to interview me, much less look at my resume. Because I have been happy to sit at home with the amazing hammock sleeping Cordie and work on nothing but Steem and our website I have not thought twice about working outside of home, but something changed on the afternoon of my father’s memorial. The people Scott works for called him and asked if I would like to give the dispatch job a try. Without thinking about it, he and I decided this would be a good thing to help me be distracted from grief and to bring in a paycheck. I like to think that Daddy walked up to the Big Guy himself and told Him I needed a break.

THIS WAS A HUGE OPPORTUNITY FOR US!

With this position, I will be making enough money that we will be debt free this time next year and hopefully getting money saved up so we can either purchase some land, RV, or school bus. This means Mom and my children will have time to decide what their next move is over the next year. We are finally seeing the light at the end of the long tunnel; our dream is starting to reveal itself again.

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Yes, this will be a challenge for us. Working a fulltime job will be difficult for me because I have not worked one of those in a long time and my health issues will cause a few challenges but my employers are extremely understanding and supportive.

There are many challenges ahead for us, but Life does not stop or slow down for anyone. We have to be willing to decide to accept our destiny.”

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Collecting a Few State Parks

Collecting a Few State Parks

Posing in front of Gorman Falls at Colorado Bend State Park
Photo is mine – taken with a cellphone.

While we were on our way to Austin for the Global Block Builders Conference, we decided to have a little fun and treat the time en route as a mini vacation. We decided to head towards southwestern Oklahoma and visit two of the Oklahoma State Parks we still had to get: Fort Cobb State Park and Great Plains State Park. This only left five Oklahoma State Parks to visit!.

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Traditional state park sign at Fort Cobb to to make the collection official
Photo is mine – taken with cellphone.

Fort Cobb State Park in Oklahoma was what we have found to be true for all the major state parks in the state. They have a lake for fishing, boating, and other water sports, there is plenty of camping for RVers and tents, and there is a golf course. The golf courses usually are to help encourage more than just fisherman and they are huge in the Oklahoma State Park system. The park was nice and would be a great get away.

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Traditional state park sign at Great Plains to to make the collection official
Photo is mine – taken with cellphone.

Great Plains State Park was also a park focused on the man made lake, but it was not much more than a place for camping and fishing. It was pretty enough with the nice facilities campers enjoy, but for us there was more reason for us to visit in the future. This place is beautifully situated in a very good spot so we can eventually explore the counties in that area like Quartz Mountain, the Wichita Mountains National Wildlife Refuse, and a lot of old west history.

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View of Quartz Mountain over the lake, the photo does not show how big this is, but it was huge.
Photo is mine – taken with cellphone.

@scottf and I love state parks. They show the best about an area of a state and they almost always have the nicest and knowledgeable people working for them. We started collected Texas State Parks in the fall of 2014 and only had 34 parks left to visit all 98 of them.

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Traditional state park sign at Colorado Bend to make the collection official
Photo is mine – taken with cellphone.

There are two Texas State Parks that Scott wants to visit in a major way and they are both supposed to be very rough to camp in if you are used to the normal state park. No hook ups, not plumbing, and extremely dark skies. That would be Colorado Bend State Park and Devil’s River. I have been avoiding these two parks due to my knee and the reputation being a park not for the glamour. However, Colorado Bend State Park was the only park near Austin that we had not visited that had camping so we were Colorado Bend bound.

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The view of the Colorado River from our walk in camp site.
Photo is mine – taken with cellphone.

Colorado Bend State Park is beautiful and has the largest waterfall in the state at 70 feet tall. There are a lot of trails to hike and plenty of space for riding and fishing the river. The night sky was amazing and it was totally worth the stay. This is one place I would love to come back to and explore some more.

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Getting to see the Grand George Farm Boy doing some tractor work.
Photo taken by @andiekins.

On our way home from Austin we encountered traffic in the Dallas area which was causing us to reroute the drive and we would be about an hour from our daughter @andiekins so we decided to take the night and enjoy the two Grand George’s there. The next morning we headed out and collected two more Oklahoma State Parks: Raymond Gary State Park and Clayton Lake State Park.

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Traditional state park sign at Raymond Gary to make the collection official
Photo is mine – taken with cellphone.

When we drove through Raymond Gary State Park we found campsites and cabins sitting nicely along the banks of the lake. I was impressed with the mini docks beside each camping area as well. It made a very inviting place for those who came to fish and kayak. It is an extremly small park, but perfect for the weekend camper.

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Traditional state park sign at Clayton Lake to make the collection official
Photo is mine – taken with cellphone.

Every so often Scott and I come across a state park that just makes us want to live close by or come for another dozen visits. This park was definitely one of those for us. It is nestled in the Kiamichi Mountain Range in Oklahoma and it is a CCC built park. The drive through was lined with pine trees that were filled with many birds and butterflies. While standing over the spillway, it looked as if nature had placed the boulders in just the right spot. This will be one of those parks we will definitely find an excuse to visit.

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Because of recent rains the grass was starting to grow in and the mixture of browns with it just thrilled me so much I had to get a photo.
Photo is mine – taken with cellphone.

<div class=”text-justify>We love being able to visit a lot of state parks in a single trip. This enables us to see some of the amazing places in each state. This trip was originally was going to give us three new state parks, but because of a closed highway, we were able to pick up another two state parks. This means we only have three parks left in Oklahoma and 33 left for Texas. I think I see a road trip to Oklahoma Red Carpet Country soon. 

Thanks so much for traveling with us today!

It’s Wildflower Season in Texas

It’s Wildflower Season in Texas

One of the things I liked best about living in Texas was the wildflower season. Texas is big and contains a variety of habitats, but in nearly all of them, you can find an explosion of wildflowers every Spring. Since it is Spring now I thought I’d take a few moments and share some of the wildflower photos that I’ve taken over the last few years.

Bluebonnets and Plains Coreopsis

If you have ever been in Texas in the springtime, you know it just isn’t Spring without Bluebonnets, and I find that I am really missing them since we have moved. We are heading to Texas next week, so with luck, Ren and I can get our Bluebonnet fix. You will often find cars lined up on the side of the road with full families running about amidst fields of these Texas flowers (Bluebonnets are the state flower) taking pictures. It is not Spring in Texas if you don’t get Bluebonnet photos of your kids. The video above was our 2017 Spring “photo”.

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Milfoil (Achillea millefolium)

As we travel each spring I always try and capture some of the wildflowers we run across. It’s part of what makes it feel like Spring to me. There is something about the colors, the reds, blues, purples, yellows, and other colors that attract the birds, bees, and other insects to help pollinate the wildflowers all around.

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Prickly Pear Cactus (Opunita)

We were surprised that even the cactus blooms in Spring. This prickly pear bloom was found along the Abilene State Park’s lake. Within a matter of weeks, there will be a dark red fruit showing up on these cacti and the deer will be feasting upon them.

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Praire Verbena

No doubt there are plenty of places to see wildflowers here in Oklahoma, but we haven’t found them yet. Perhaps it’s still a bit early in the season. Ren is often looking for the places we normally see wildflowers in Texas along the highways, but she never sees any. Lady Bird Johnson (President Johnson’s First Lady) said, “Ugliness is so grim. A little beauty, something that is lovely, I think, can help create harmony which will lessen tensions.” It was that time period when Texas began spreading Bluebonnet seeds along the Texas highways.

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Texas Thistle

I’m not a botanist, so I can’t really tell you what most of these flowers are if you know you are welcome to say something in the comments. More than likely while my wife does the formatting of this post, she will label all of the flowers. Ren is good like that. (This is Ren, the website I get the names of the Texas wildflowers is http://www.texaswildflowerpictures.com. Don’t tell @scottf my secret, he thinks I’m the smartest woman in the world.)

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Flowers are from left top to right bottom: Winecup (Callirhoe sp.), Texas Bluebonnet (Lupinus texensis), Texas Paintbrush (Castilleja indivisa), Texas Sunflower (Helianthus praecox), Golden-wave (Coreopsis basalis), and Antelope horns (Asclepias asperula)

If you are heading to Austin for the conference, see if you can make time to visit the Texas Hill Country (https://texashillcountry.com/) and see some of the wildflowers. It’s supposed to be a good year for them and I am so excited to be heading towards them.

Thanks for spending time with us.

A Day At Osage Hills State Park

A Day At Osage Hills State Park

My father passed away on Tuesday, March 26, 2019, and the past few days have been hellish. Thursday was the viewing and my stress level was ridiculous. @scottf and I have found that when we are hit with extremely difficult times getting outside helps us keep our heads on straight and enables us to recharge and be able to focus on the important things. We decided to take our Grand George @akacarl with us and help him get away from the constant talk about my father’s passing.

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Heading out to Osage Hills State Park.

One of the things that Scott and I do at every state and national park is taking a photo of us in front of a park sign. We have been encouraging our Grand Georges to take the same type of sign photos so when they are older they will have a photo to remember this memory by. Sometimes this is a rather difficult thing, but not at Osage Hills State Park. The sign is on a natural sandstone platform and shows the type of geology you will find all over the park. The park is at the most southern end of the area called the Osage Hills, but are also called the Flint Hills in Kansas. The Osage/Flint Hills reaches from Oklahoma and into the middle of Kansas (you can find more information HERE).

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Enjoying the view.

We took Carl for a hike, hoping the sun and fresh air would do him some good. The Overlook Hiking Trail we started on is approximately three miles, but we only went a half mile in. Begging to go play in the river, we knew we had to get to the boy to the nature trail that runs along the river. So we turned and headed towards lower ground where the trail is much easier. That is a good thing for me!

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I guess he gets his love for cliff edges from me!

Sand Creek meanders through Osage Hills State Park showing the limestone and sandstone floor. Here you will find round river rocks that are perfect for throwing and skipping. Carl and I spent an hour throwing many rocks against the large limestone wall directly across from us. This was a very therapeutic activity for us both. I was feeling angry with myself for not being there more often to see my dad more often, while my little man was frustrated and angry as well. It was a moment we both needed and it helped us both, I do believe.

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@akacarl loves the water and is willing to share it with anyone in his way.

March is not always the best time to play in the water when you live in Oklahoma. But this boy loves to play in the water, this day was no different than any other. The wonder and surprise to find such a beautiful place could be seen in his face as he surveyed the small falls. His questions were mixed with laughter as he slid on the slick limestone. “Do you know how deep this place gets?” “Can I play on the rope swing over there?” “Where are all the snakes?” I just thought my ears were going to fall off.

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Taking time to get a photo of us three together.

By the time we made it to Carl’s home we were all exhausted, but we were feeling a little stronger and better to deal with the path we have the coming days. Grief does not heal quickly, but days like this help to heal the soul.

Early Morning at Lake Keystone

Early Morning at Lake Keystone

The view from my front porch.

One of the things I looked forward to when we moved out to the lake was the opportunity to do more photography. I’ve done a fair amount of landscape photography, but the weather has not been cooperating for night photography.

This last Saturday morning I got my chance. It wasn’t ideal, but it was good enough. The Moon was a few days shy of full, but was going to set a little after 4 AM. With the time change that gave me a bit over 2 hours before twilight. Being mid-March the core of the Milky Way would be rising about the time the Moon was setting.

I’ve talked before about the need for dark skies when doing astrophotography. How dark you need depends on what you are trying to do. We are only a few miles from Tulsa, and we certainly have plenty of light pollution, but there are still lots of possibilities in these conditions.

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The Moon Setting over Lake Keystone

I got up about 3 Am and bundled up. The temperature was about 31 degrees. The key to being comfortable in cold weather is to wear lots of layers. One tip I’ve learned when photographing in cold weather is to pick up some hand warmers from HotHands. I cannot work my camera with gloves on, and having frozen fingers seriously diminishes my enjoyment. Toss a pair in your shoes and they keep your toes warm as well.

The Moon was still up, so I headed a few miles down the road to a small Corps of Engineers park named Cowskin Bay to get a photo of the moon setting over the lake.

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Highway 412 Bridge and Keystone Dam

We live on a peninsula in between two branches of the lake where the Arkansas and Cimarron Rivers enter the lake. A few miles east there is a bridge over the lake.

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Highway 412 Bridge and Keystone Dam

From the bridge, you can see across the lake to Keystone Dam. Just above the road is a tall ridge, and ever since we moved out here I knew I wanted to get a picture from that ridge of the bridge, lake, and dam. It was more difficult to get to than I expected, I was carrying a camera and tripod, and the grass was covered in frost, making it a little slippery, but I made it to the top without falling.

If you look closely you can just make out the Milky Way rising over the bridge, but it’s mostly lost in the light pollution.

The light trails from the traffic add a nice touch.

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The Milky Way Rising in my Front Yard

It was getting close to twilight, but there was one more photo I wanted. A few days before when I was heading out the door to go to work, I noticed that the Milky Way was rising right outside my door. I didn’t have time to do anything about it then, but I wanted to see if I could get a good photo that morning.

This was going to be a challenging shot. There is a lot of light outside our trailer, and it was going to be difficult to get enough light to image the Milky Way without overexposing the lights in the yard. Fortunaly there are tools to help with this.

I took a total of six photos exposed to avoid overexposing the landscape. Then I loaded them into some free Windows software called Sequator. If you are going to do astrophotography, then you want Sequator. I told it which parts were sky and which were land, then set it to align the stars in the sky, to reduce light pollution, and automatically adjust light levels. Essentially it stacked all six photos, giving me an effective exposure of about 2 minutes for the sky, but only added enough of the landscape to reach the proper exposure. It also reduced noise in the photos to produce a much sharper image. By stacking photos and aligning the stars, Sequator lets you do much longer exposures using an ordinary tripod than you could without it. And it’s Free.

Thank you for taking the time to read this. We really appreciate it.