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Tuesday, September 20, 2011

One More Wrinkle

Well, we had a wonderful time visiting with our son RC in Corpus Christi, Texas.  It was HOT – about 104 degrees and 98 percent humidity – all provided by the Gulf of Mexico, since it hadn’t rained in months.  Poor Texas – a lot of it has burned this spring and summer, and what hasn’t burned is just brown and dead.  And then just east of this area, people are getting flooded out.  What’s that about the testimony of the earth in the last days – the testimony of earthquakes, floods, fires?

Pazzo and Cole now have bunk beds!
RC has been amazing about getting our golden dog Pazzo acclimated to RC’s rules.  No sleeping on the bed. So he put Pazzo on one of our folding futons, and RC’s dog Cole decided he wanted to get on it too, so it’s now partly folded out – bunk beds for the dogs!  Cole gets the bottom bunk and Pazzo gets the top!  But apparently we (and Pazzo) have polluted Cole, who stole some meat off the countertop the other day, for the first time in his life.  Uh-oh.

And Tucker is happy as a clam – he has a doggie door to use whenever he wants to go outside, and two other dogs his size to play with.  Gary, you’re a mensch!  Thanks again for taking Tucker – thank you, thank you, thank you.  Glad to know Tucker’s happy, and I hope you and Christie are too.

Next stop was Denver, spending a weekend with Kai and his new wife Jacilyn.  They seem to be really, really happy together.  At their wedding, Jim and I both commented that we hadn’t seen Kai smiling that much in years – and he still is, as is Jacilyn.  Their schedules are crazy, what with Kai teaching and doing some extra work after school and Jacilyn working at the Best Buy (Geek Squad member!) and going to college part-time, so they don’t see a lot of each other.  Passing ships in the night – reminds me of our early marriage years, when Jim worked three jobs trying to support me and a couple of babies.

Hey, Southern Coloradans - look familiar?
After Denver, we drove north through Wyoming (which looks just like southern Colorado, only even emptier) to Cody, to enter Yellowstone at the East entrance to the park.  That’s when the wrinkle happened. 

We spent the night in a hotel called Cowboy Village, and the rooms were actually little log cabin duplexes.  Very pretty, very quiet rooms, and we slept very well.  But the next morning as we ate our sweet roll breakfast on our own little part of the porch, our neighbor came out to load his car and complained about some animals nosing around the cabin during the night.  We said we hadn’t heard a thing – that maybe what he thought was an animal on the roof was simply the metal roof reacting to the high winds we’d had during the night, and that we hadn’t heard anything near our window, where he thought he’d heard something.  As he drove off, I stood up to check for animal tracks in the mud next to our cabin – couldn’t see anything from the porch, so I stepped off to investigate further, and CRACK!, stepped wrong and broke my right ankle.  Ouch.

So, Jim packed up the stuff from the hotel room, and then we drove to the Urgent Care Center less than half a mile away.  Forty-five minutes later we left, equipped with a copy of the x-rays taken, the painkillers in hand, the computer printout of the doctor’s diagnosis (distal fibula fracture), and a splint and two elastic bandages around my right leg.  I wish all urgent care centers the same degree of care and concern, as well as efficiency, as we experienced in Cody! 

The Pinnacles at the East Entrance to Yellowstone
 The East entrance to Yellowstone is pretty dramatic.  Still familiar-looking to us, but we soon were driving around a new site - Yellowstone Lake is cold enough to cause hypothermia in minutes on its surface, but parts of it have thermal vents along the bottom, and the temperature can vary one hundred degrees! Amazing stuff. 

American Bison (commonly called buffalo) from my side of the car! No zoom needed!

 And then there are the animals.  THE reason for any traffic jam in Yellowstone.  The best one, although I couldn't get a picture, was a Park Ranger in his truck, following an old bison bull who had just decided that the easiest way to get where he wanted to go was along the road.  The ranger simply drove at 5 mph behind the bull, and the rest of us had to go around, when it was safe.  Loved it!

 I insisted on hobbling the ¼ mile (round trip) from the parking area to the Yellowstone River Lower Falls – it was worth the effort.  Got lots of sympathy!    The thunder of the falls rings in your ears long before you see it, and echoes in your head long after you leave the site.  I don't often use the word awesome, but this time it fits.

I hope you know that Yellowstone is a huge supervolcano.  That means the depth of the ground under any given part of the park can change from year to year - or even more often.  There were trees that had fallen into geysers, marking where the crust of the earth had collapsed, and huge bulges in other places showing the pressures at work under the ground.  If you want to be humbled, spend a couple days here.

  The rest of the park I saw from the car, or just outside the car.  I know the roads only scratch the surface of Yellowstone, but we weren’t planning any long hikes even before I injured myself.  And places where I could almost see stuff, Jim got out and walked to take pictures for me.  Did I tell you lately what a good man I married?  Yellowstone is an amazing place – I especially love the geysers and pools, like this one - called the Beryl Pool.

One of the most heartwarming sights was the western section of the Park, which was devasted by a huge wildfire in 1988. National Geographic wrote about the fire, and then a couple years later about how the ecosystem was renewing itself, so I had a little bit of understanding what was going on.  But when I saw this sign, and comprehended that most of the full trees were only 23 years old, I was filled with wonder once again at the variety of creation, and amazed that the Lord had designed a tree that would be reseeded because of the heat of a wildfire!

My almost-a-ski-boot
Anyway!  We called our friends the Herds from Yellowstone, and they set up an appointment for us with a doctor in Salt Lake City, who put me in a big plastic immobilizing boot, and set up a schedule of follow-up visits.  I’m looking forward to the smaller plastic brace, which is more like an inflatable bobby sock, because this boot is really heavy!

So we are in Salt Lake City for a couple of weeks.  Nice to be parked somewhere, instead of living in the car every day.  And it’s a good thing we still have a couple of weeks; the visa rules for Tonga just arrived, and we have a few more hoops to jump through.  Tonga had some riots in 2006, in which a lot of the capital city of Nufu’aloka was burned.  My guess is the strict visa rules that are in force now grew out of that sad experience – you have to have two letters of reference (like a job interview reference letter, but just saying you’re worth letting into the country) AND a letter of good conduct from your local police department, on police stationery and with a notary’s seal! 

But now that we’re here, and I’m semi-mobile, we’ll visit some family and friends, including the man who baptized Jim Szoka some 33 years ago – time to pay it forward.  And the Herds?  Brother Herd was the mission president in Pusan, South Korea when we lived there, and he will be able to be part of the “circle” of those who lay their hands on our heads on October 2, to set us apart as full-time missionaries.  Full circle missionaries, yathink?

Sunday, September 4, 2011

The In-Betweeners

Mission checklist:

Recover from our eldest son Kai's wedding:  check.
Receive official letter calling us on a mission: check.
Sell and close on the house: check.
Say goodbye to friends and relatives in the San Luis Valley: check.
Pack up the house and drive it 1000 miles to storage near #2 son RC's home:  check.
Find good (temporary) homes for both dogs: check.
Buy enough missionary clothing and supplies: check.
Buy a HUGE fourth suitcase, to fit everything we're taking:  check.
Enter MTC: wait, wait, wait!  Not until October 3rd.
Begin Operation In-Between: check.


Goodbye, house.  You were a good little house.
Okay, we're kind of ready.  There's a few more things we still need to buy, but mostly we're ready.  I've got one bag packed that I've promised myself I'm not opening until we arrive in Tonga, another bag packed for the MTC (Missionary Training Center in Provo, Utah), and a third bag packed with clothes I'll use until I enter the MTC.  The amount of stuff we've decided to take is nothing short of ridiculous - it's a good thing these suitcases have wheels, because I'd end up in the hospital trying to carry them.  My advice to the young - don't get old!  You end up with too many pills, too many "have to have" items in order to make it through the week!

The wedding went beautifully.  Friends from all over the country flew in and helped out. Jim catered the food (one and only time from a hotel suite), and the reception went off without a hitch.  The temple ceremony was simple, sweet, and earnest - just like it should have been.  And Kai and Jacilyn held a short ring ceremony at the beginning of the reception, to welcome those who did not attend the temple ceremony.  It was a wonderful time, and after changing clothes, the bride and groom broke with tradition and stayed to help with the reception cleanup!  I can't speak for the bride's parents, but the groom's parents took about 5 days to recover!

We received the "mission call" letter on August 19th, the Friday before our stake conference.  The folks at the missionary department in Salt Lake City wanted to know if we would gather family members around to open the letter.  Even if we'd had family nearby, I don't think Jim could have waited.  He walked in from the mailbox, laid down the rest of the mail, and tore open the big envelope marked "Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints", just to make sure we had been called to the same mission we had been arranging all those weeks!  Yes, we got called to Tonga - no surprises, no foreign mission in Kentucky or something.  We've been on the telephone with our coordinator in New Zealand, and we've been in touch with former International Teacher Education Program missionaries via email, so we're getting some hints as to what our days will look like.  We'll find out most of the details when we get there. 

We loaded up the U-Haul truck Tuesday night, with the help of many friends.  Jim's former high school football team even came over - you can empty a house in a very short time when you have 25 teenagers filing through the hallways!  Some adult friends from church were also there, and packed the truck so very well and so very tightly that absolutely nothing shifted in the more than 1000 miles between our house and the controlled-climate storage site in Corpus Christi, near RC's home.  We didn't quite fit everything in the 20-foot truck, so we went back the next day and got a 12-foot trailer, and I drove that one while Jim drove the truck. On Thursday, August 25, we waved goodbye to the San Luis Valley, and Mount Blanca, above, and started a long trip - three full days, at 55-60 mph, rather than the 75-80 that everyone else was doing!

Got to Corpus Christi and found one more reason to like RC's girlfriend: she has a very compassionate dad.  His name is Gary, and he has two little dogs already, but he has agreed to take our little Tucker for two years.  We are grateful beyond words - I had already threatened not to go on this mission if I couldn't find a home for Tucker (RC is taking Pazzo, but Tucker doesn't get along with RC's big dog, Cole).  Now the last obstacle has been cleared, and we can go with clear consciences, and serve without worry.  For those of you without pets, who don't understand how a four-legged creature can become as precious as a child - just wait.  You'll get it when you adopt a pet.  Anyway, thanks, Gary.  You are going out of your way to help someone, and I am confident you will be blessed for it.  I will remind the Lord frequently!

Okay, now the rest of the month looks like this:  stay here in Corpus for a few more days, drive north, spend some time with Kai and Jacilyn in Denver, then drive farther north to visit Yellowstone, before heading west to Salt Lake City.  Friends there are willing to host us for a couple of weeks before we finally enter the MTC.  Operation In-Between has begun!