12mph America At The Speed Of Sanity

23Mar/180

What does 12mph and Speed of Sanity mean?

A 12 m.p.h. sign near the Chief Mountain Trailhead in Colorado.

Life happened the last seven weeks since our last post. A childhood friend passed away on February 7, so Diane drove back to Iowa to be present for her memorial service. This week-long trip also provided time for Diane to spend with Iowa family. Fast forward to March 1 and Steve retired. Then during the weeks leading up to now, we’ve been steeped in researching used pickup trucks, used travel trailers, pickup bed toppers, virtual mailbox services, and travel trailer insurance. We’re gradually going paperless between scanning, shredding, and making sure we receive important account information via email or by logging into accounts. And, we did purchase a used pickup two weeks ago. This week we ordered the pickup bed topper and signed up for Traveling Mailbox (our virtual mailbox). Today brought another donation run to ARC Thrift Store as we continue to downsize our household. The pace has been almost daunting, which brings us to the Speed of Sanity!

People have asked us, “Why 12mph and why Speed of Sanity?” Well, 12mph was the average pace that Steve anticipated for his bicycle ride across the U.S. in 2005. He coined our blog then as “12mph….America at the Speed of Sanity.” With the passage of time and the shifting in lifestyle, we are coining this next journey of our lives as “Life at the Speed of Sanity.” Yes, we will do some bicycle riding, but of course we won’t be driving the truck at 12mph! (To read the entries related to our 2005 summer, go to Categories and 2005 Bike Trip).

The online Oxford dictionary defines sanity as “The ability to think and behave in a normal and rational manner; sound mental health,” and “Reasonable and rational behaviour.” Did you know the term ‘sanity’ is outdated in the field of mental health? Our first step in our own journey to ‘sanity’ is throwing off the expectations of the culture in which we live. For us, sanity is atypical and recognizes that we are not only rational, but relational and emotional humans. We are intentionally shifting to a lifestyle for us with a measurably slower pace, much like the 2005 summer. Likely, many people would agree that the pace at which we live, acquire or receive information, work, transport, shop, and communicate is frequently intense and rapid. A gentleman in our neighborhood mentioned last fall as he visited our yard sale, “Denver is hyper anymore between the traffic, the noise, the exhaust fumes, the rudeness. I’ve been here 20 years and have no intention of retiring here.” We are exhausted at the end of our days.

Yesterday we sat over breakfast to consider what we mean by “Life at the Speed of Sanity.” Slow down. Enjoy the surroundings. Savor time with family and friends. Be open for serendipity to surprise us. Appreciate spontaneity. Be flexible. Push away from a hyper environment. There are opportunities for us all the time and around us everywhere, but we zip right past them due to the pace of the world.

We anticipate witnessing kindness and civility along the way. (These were both experienced in 2005). Over the past 13 years, we’ve shifted our mindset to embrace the relationships in life, not the stuff. While not intent on becoming full-fledged minimalists, we are using the concept to help guide us. Having the stuff out of the way, opens us to possibilities of engaging with others, nature, beauty, and our Creator. After all, what good is the journey if you know the destination?

 

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1Feb/181

The Emotions of Stuff

Stuff….you know…all that “stuff” behind closet doors, in drawers, on shelves, or locked in the yard shed. It crept into our lives one step at a time. With each new stage we added belongings: dorm rooms, apartments, marriage, college graduation, move to Chicago suburbs, son born, first house, daughter born, second BIGGER house, parents’ passing, dismantling parents’ household, farm selling, children launching, children marrying, selling house, and moving to Denver.

Emotions…you know…those feelings that make us jump for joy, burst into tears, flip-flop of the stomach, and everything in between. With many items that we’re gleaning from our household, there are emotions.

I’ve had days! This week I peeked into a cupboard and thought, “What the heck? Why did we keep this?” If I see one more (fill in the blank), I’m going to scream. I couldn’t get it into the donation box fast enough. Or, in contrast, I opened the armoire with many colorful tablecloths and memories popped into mind. A feeling of sadness overcame me as I thought, “Doggone it. I miss those gatherings with our big dining room table surrounded with our children, extended family, friends, or neighbors.” Many delicious meals, beautiful place settings, rowdy games, captivating story-telling, and roaring laughter accompany memories associated with those tablecloths.

Admittedly, I ended up in a bit of a funk earlier this week. I think that the sifting and sorting caught up with me. I’ve downsized quite a few times these last 10 years so why was I feeling a bit crabby? Thankfully, my daughter took me to lunch yesterday, concluding with a walk together. As we chatted, it helped put my emotions into perspective. My take-away is this: I have decided that it is essential to embrace The Emotions of Stuff. It is part of the process of achieving our goal to live more simply and being liberated to roll away in a mobile lifestyle later this year, not impinged by the burden of stuff!

~ Diane

 

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26Jan/182

Making Progress in This Downsizing Stage!

Good heavens, it seems like the term “downsizing” has been a part of our lives for nearly 10 years. That’s because it HAS been. It was in 2008 that we decided to embrace a big transition from a large two-story suburban home in Illinois with four-bedrooms, 2 ½ baths, a full basement, a two-car garage with attic, and a garden shed in the backyard. We moved to Colorado in 2010. Our household has been moved SIX times after having been in our former house for 19 years! It’s been pretty crazy. If you want to read more, go to our 12mph.com posts from August 2010.

I have been reading blog posts by people who are “full-timing” in their RVs. Some are retirees who have downsized for the first time from homes filled with belongings. Other folks are millenials, working while "full-timing" and have little accumulation of belongings before hitting the road. Two points of relief that Steve and I share: #1 it's good that we did so much downsizing back in Illinois; and, #2 by the time we're "full-timing" later this year, we will have minimal to handle when we settle again down the road.

We live in a rental home in Denver that is about 900 square feet. It’s a one-level, no basement, no garage, and no attic. It does have a nice storage shed in the backyard. The second bedroom of the house is what we’ve coined “The Archive Room”. Other than a closet for my clothes, the rest of the room holds the family archives that I inherited from my parents and grandparents plus from Steve, me, and our children. The archives have books, photos, slides, scrapbooks, genealogy files, quilts, afghans, blankets, dolls, artwork, china, cookbooks, tools, slide projector, musical instrument and music, old letters and cards, documents, and antique/vintage clothing.

Last summer, knowing that we were shifting gears in 2018, I worked feverishly to identify items for a yard sale, price them, and then have a one-day sale. The hours of pricing and sitting in the heat on sale day was frustrating. In the end, we had a lackluster sale. Everything that was left, we immediately loaded into the car and took a trip to Goodwill. The rule of the day: what wasn’t sold, could not come back into the house, but had to go for donation. Suffering from the 90+ degree heat and late afternoon finish, we didn’t research for the best place to donate. In hindsight, we should have taken items to ARC with its wonderful mission.

The one very positive aspect of last summer’s yard sale was that a latecomer to the sale was introduced to the 100-year old piano (formerly my Grandma Geneva’s) that was FREE for the moving. It was heart-warming to find this lovely grandmother named Marilee in the neighborhood to take my piano. We were pleased knowing that her grand-daughters would enjoy it. Steve and I just had to be realistic. Each move has been hard on this treasure plus expensive to move and/or store.

In late October, a number of items went with me to Iowa to be sold as part of a fundraiser for a medical benefit. It was a wonderful way to help a cause and see some special belongings find a new home.

Before taking a December trip to visit family in Santa Fe, New Mexico, Steve and I went through our coat closet. We had an opportunity to donate coats, jackets, and gloves to youth in Santa Fe. The donations were timely as temperatures were frigid and youth needed staying warm. Youth Shelters & Family Services of Santa Fe is a Santa Fe-based non-profit organization dedicated to helping at-risk and homeless youth in the region find a way home and a path to a productive, happy life.

Earlier this month, we sorted through our Christmas decorations as we took them down to pack away. I took photos of items we no longer wanted and shared them with our children. They let me know if they wanted something. We filled a tub for donation.

I have sorted through my clothes: socks, shoes, purses, sweaters, slacks, dresses/skirts, jackets, tops, shorts, and jeans. From that gleaning, I contacted the Act II Consignment Shop in Littleton, where I’ve purchased numerous items of clothing the past five years. Of the 36 items that I took for preview, they took 20 items that are now on consignment. For the time spent driving to and fro, plus the 40% that I will receive (they are also having a 25% off sale, so it cuts into profit), I’m not going to realize as much as I hoped. I don’t plan to consign again, unless it is furniture or high-end antiques.

Off for Consignment

Today, I took the remaining clothes, Christmas décor, and some bedding to ARC in Denver. ARC is a tax-exempt, non-profit organization dedicated to creating and funding programs that serve those individuals living with intellectual/development disabilities, with complex and evolving needs.

Clothes, Christmas Décor, Bedding

ARC Thrift Shop

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Last week I did a round-up of my “Joy Gang”. I’m a former preschool teacher. Between my children and me, we collected some cute puppets and stuffed animals over the years. I coined them the “Joy Gang” because they brought joy to my preschool students when I used the puppets and stuffed animals to help tell stories or reinforce themes. I researched what organization in Denver may take gently used puppets and stuffed animals. Not too many as it turns out. Near our neighborhood though, I found a perfect place. Firefly Autism is a non-profit and Colorado’s premiere autism therapy and behavioral support program. Featuring Applied Behavior Analysis techniques, in the classroom, and in the home. I explained that the puppets and animals were gently used and have been packed away for nine years. They were pleased to take them. These cute classroom aids will either remain in-house for classes or be used for their home-based program. My heart was full knowing they’d bring love and joy to more children.

Firefly Autism

The Joy Gang

 

Steve and I have gone through some of our books. Books have been a staple in our lives and in the lives of our parents and children. In fact, we visit our Ross-University Hills neighborhood branch of the Denver Public Library at least twice a week. They accept one box of donations per week, so today they received a box filled with books and a handful of DVD movies. Denver Public Library connects people with information, ideas, and experiences to provide enjoyment, enrich lives, and strengthen our community.

Book & DVD Donations

Denver Public Library, Ross-University Hills Branch

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Our Tips:

  • For tax deduction purposes, take photos of donations and create a spreadsheet. (Although, we do not itemize these days, we used this method in 2009 for our major downsize. It was a huge help when completing the tax forms).
  • If you are going to “miss” the item, take a photo to look at later. Sometimes I return to photos just for the fun of it. It’s a good reminder for what “stuff” I do not miss from our big house!
  • Take a photo inventory. If you don’t have time to spare, then later look at the photos to create an “Inventory” list. This is helpful for insurance purposes.
  • Create a numbering system for boxes or tubs. We had something like 200 boxes or tubs in the first move in 2009. It REALLY helped knowing what items were in each of the boxes/tubs!
  • Your time is precious. I’m realizing now that the time I invested into the yard sale last year and into taking items to consignment recently, could be better used elsewhere. Selling items from my household may bring in a few hundred dollars (not thousands for sure), but that doesn’t necessarily help if I/we invest many hours to realize that amount.

We're keeping our sights on a 10-feet by 10-feet storage unit, a travel trailer, and pick-up truck. Stay tuned as to our progress!

~ Diane

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18Jan/180

Determing a Timeline

Several people have inquired as to how we have determined a timeline that will launch us into a full-time mobile lifestyle a.k.a. living on the road in a travel trailer. First of all, our timeline isn't cut in stone. What has been beneficial was the advice of my friend, Judy, to join several Facebook groups related to “full-timing.” Soon after my call with her in early October 2017, I joined these groups. Three such groups include Frugal Full-Time RVers, How to RV for Newbies, RV Tips and Helpful Hints.

As we read the various posts and comments in those groups, we have been taking notes and keeping them in a separate Google document in categories. It helps to foresee some potential concerns as full-timers. The many tips that saged travelers are sharing will hopefully serve us well. Plus, the timing in joining the groups has been perfect, providing us with roughly a year of tips and notes, if we launch in October or November of this year!

   Time!

CATEGORIES

Household
During most weeks since October of last year, household items are earmarked to give to family, sell, or donate. This process also helps in recording an actual inventory for insurance purposes. I take photos. Later, I add items to a Google document inventory list. We label the boxes or tubs with numbers to track their contents. We are setting aside utensils, cookware, towels, and bedding for the trailer. The bulk of our belongings should be gleaned by June, except for some furniture, which may be a bit later. Key points to consider: when was each item last used/worn, would a photo of it suffice for memory's sake, there is a price for storage.

Climate Controlled Storage
Once the number of household belongings have shrunk noticeably, this will give us a better idea of the unit size. Our goal as of now would be a 10’ X 10’. Climate controlled will be needed so as not to freeze or bake our belongings depending on the season. We have used two different storage facilities in the area in between prior moves. We will visit them to see what options and pricing work best. We will move belongings into the unit about one month prior to leaving. Key points to consider: price, security, access, potential water leaks, potential rodent issues.

RV Storage
We anticipate looping back to the Metro Denver area several times a year. During those times, we will need a space to store the trailer unless we camp at one of the state parks in the area.  The best option if we need to store it, is having RV storage at the same facility where our household belongings are stored. Key points to consider: security, access, possible electric hookup to keep the batteries from draining, waste water dumping station, access for filling water tank when leaving.

Diesel Pick-up Truck
We test drove pick-up trucks last November and December. Some factors for determining the tow vehicle: the weight range of the trailer, its tongue weight, estimated weight of contents, and desire to drive on off-the-beaten-path roads. A diesel truck with good torque power is in order. Research is on-going as we have tagged our favorite Ford 250's and Ram 2500's on Car Gurus based on the specifications we need. I had a phone consultation with Alec, a diesel mechanic (he maintains the corporate fleet of trucks for our son-in-law's company), to assure that we had a good understanding of the specifications needed. (Plus, he’s a phone call away to inspect the truck once we find one). It’s fun to watch prices drop on some of these vehicles. We hope to find a truck in March or April. Key points to consider: price, bed liner, tow package, cab comfort (we'll be spending a great deal of time there, our windshield will be our new picture window).

Travel Trailer
As a child, our family had a 16' Concord Trailer. During their retirement, my parents purchased a 32' trailer when they were snowbirds from Iowa, enjoying warmer weather in the South. Family and friends have trailers. Thus, we have familiarity with them. As we began our research, last fall we visited two RV dealers in Metro Denver. Then earlier this month (January 2018), we attended the Colorado RV Show. We know what floorplan and features we prefer in a 4-season travel trailer. Lance and Northland are the two brands that we are following. Our favorite used models are tagged to track price changes on the RVTrader website. The timing of the purchase will be based on price and location. It may mean driving to another state to purchase it. It could be as soon as June and as late as September. Key points to consider: price, separate seating area besides dinette, insulation R-factor, thermal/double-pane windows, insulated underbelly, heated tanks, higher off-road clearance.

Personal Business Affairs
Getting our personal business affairs in order begins in April or May to give us ample time. We will keep Colorado as our domicile state. Without an apartment or a house, options for one’s address include using a family member’s address or establishing personalized mail service through a business such as a UPS store, where we can use their street address. Everything will need to be updated: drivers’ licenses, vehicle/trailer insurance, health insurance, voting cards, bank accounts, credit card, and cell phone plan. Our will and Durable Power of Attorney for Healthcare were updated in 2016-17, so they are set. Key points to consider: crossing "t's" and dotting "i's" to assure all is in order, mobile access to accounts, tracking renewals that need to be done in person, when to return for our physicals and dental appointments, not burdening family.

Technology and Devices
We love to read books. It may be time to shift to mainly e-books. Our laptops are out-of-date, so we’ll explore options. I edit photos, so I would appreciate a good quality RGB screen. Our scanner will be left it storage and await scanning the photos that don’t get scanned this year. We will not need a printer. We will take advantage of free wi-fi when we get fuel, visit libraries, or stop at coffee shops. If we need to print something, libraries and office stores have them. We will purchase devices across time based on our budget. Key points to consider: budget, being off grid, Google voice.

Leaving Our Rental Abode
Later in 2018 when we see that we’re nearing 30 days from launching, we will give our one month’s notice to our landlord. We’ve already had a conversation with him, so he can anticipate our leaving. Key points to consider: avoid having to pay an additional month's rent if we can comfortably be out sooner.

Because we have experienced several big transitions and many moves during our marriage, we know how we both tick. Communication is key. Stepping away to gain perspective is healthy. While we both are good at organizing, my tendency is to get things moving now. Steve is more methodical. Thank heavens for a healthy balance, right?! Overall, our timeline is flexible and open to being tweaked along the way. Besides, we want to take joy in the journey and be mindful of the shift to a simplified lifestyle, embracing it as a gift!

~Diane

 

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9Jan/182

12mph…Shifting gears in 2018!

It has been years since we've been active on 12mph.com. I guess we needed to shift gears in order to revisit our blog site. We are in the process of a big transition in 2018. Steve will retire. Diane will step back from her businesses. We will downsize our household enough to fill a 10 feet by 10 feet climate-controlled storage unit. Our lifestyle will become mobile as we purchase a pick-up as a tow vehicle and a travel trailer in which to live. By later this year, we anticipate turning in the keys on the house we've been renting and then driving away to explore many miles together over hopefully many years.

In the coming weeks or months, we will reconstruct 12mph.com. It will be fun to spruce up the theme and make it into something where we can easily post along our travels and readers can readily access it on desktop or on mobile devices.

Our son, Jeremy, created 12mph.com for our 2005 summer. He coined the journey as "The Speed of Sanity." Going 12mph on a bike does that to you. In 2005 Steve bicycled across the U.S. from Bandon, Oregon to Yorkton, Virginia. Diane flew some, but drove a good chunk that summer, even having daughter, Stephanie, joining her for some of it. We also used 12mph.com for our 2010 shift from living in Illinois, traveling in Europe that summer, and settling into life in Denver, Colorado. These blog posts can readily be accessed on this website, so feel free to peek into our past!

But, "The Speed of Sanity" is also a mindset! Thus, this next chapter of life will be grounded in this theme.

~Diane

August 15, 2005. Steve finished his ride across the U.S. He dipped his tire in the salt waters of Chesapeake Bay in Yorktown, Virginia with Diane there to cheer him on!

This map of the U.S. was for our 2005 summer, Steve's blue biking route; Diane's pink (flying and driving); and, their joint green route with a mix of biking together, flying to Oregon, and driving home from Virginia.

It's 13 years later! Steve and Diane went to the Colorado RV Show on January 5, 2018. Ready to explore travel trailer options!

 

 

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19Oct/120

Did you know? It is National Day on Writing!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I love the whole idea of a National Day on Writing, which is today, October 19, 2012. Writing has a big-time presence in my life as I launch my personal historian business where I am capturing stories and legacies. Admittedly, I am going to reveal my era! As I look back to my childhood, some of the first memories I have of writing will forever be etched in my mind. The thick leaded pencil with its forest green exterior and topped with a hardy pink eraser was paired with a red Big Chief tablet of ruled paper in preparing me to learn the craft of writing. As a kindergartener, I toted these trusty items in my brown zippered portfolio (no I did not have a pocket protector as a teen) and clamored aboard the big yellow school bus, taking these writing tools to and from school with me. Admittedly, they frequently came out on the school bus, where I would doodle with a neighbor girl to create some pretty silly pictures by the time I dismounted the bus. Fast-forward to 2012 and in contrast, I carefully zip my personal computer laptop into its protective padded fabric “skin” and then slip it into my canvas briefcase to accompany me to a nearby coffee shop for a writing session. On long road trips, I have the appropriate adapter that keeps my laptop powered to 100% so that I may write or even edit photos while in the passenger seat.

In retrospect, I received so much satisfaction in carefully printing my name across the top of a sheet of paper. It was indeed a proud achievement, and especially when Miss Foster, my kindergarten teacher, would display it along with my classmates’ work, on the cinder block walls of Longfellow Elementary School in time for parent visits. As time passed, words and sentences accompanied colorful Crayola-created illustrations, which helped to enrich my story or thoughts. It would be a generation later that I would also see my children do so in similar fashion until they approached 2nd-5th grades. It was at this pivotal time that our world moved to computer technology in the schools. While their messages were there, instead of the typical lead-pencil renditions, perfectly printed letters in thick font captured the story. Then the stories were printed off on the classroom printer through the magic of software. Today, my grown children and I often stay in touch via text messages, Facebook posts, or emails. These are nearly instantaneous forms of letter-writing and communication, but of course without the pencil and paper method. Instead of illustrations to accompany their messages, I look forward to Instagrams or forwarded images saved from memory disks.

On this National Day on Writing, I would like to express my gratitude for those who trained me in the gift of writing as a way to communicate with others. My parents and elementary teachers, who helped me carefully master the capital and lower-case alphabet letters in my name. My junior high teacher, Miss Abel, who patiently reviewed the important structures of a sentence through laborious sentence diagrams. My college professors, who instilled the desire to write as a form of expression, whether sharing my opinion or my research. And, lastly, to my memoir writing instructor in Denver, who encouraged a thoughtful approach for capturing life stories.

Alas, here is to the gift of writing! Writing as with reading can take one on adventures to places near or far, to scenes simple or involved, and to spaces in our minds or in our hearts.

As you look back over your life, feel free to share recollections of learning to write. I'd love to learn your story!

Happy writing!

Diane

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16Jun/120

Travels with Crayolas: Recalling Scotland 2010

 

Today I came across the notes from a travel writing class that I took last June. Feeling a need to regain some sanity in the mix of the hustle-bustle of late, I decided to spend the day writing a few more stories for my memoir and using some of the tips that my writing instructor shared. I continually add to my memoir by writing short-stories of 500-1500 words that are based on my experiences or observations. This one happens to be of our day on the Isle of Skye back in June 2010. If you ever get an urge to travel, I would highly encourage you to consider Scotland. Here goes my story, Travels with Crayolas. I've included a few photos to accompany this story. Enjoy!

Crossing to the Isle of Skye from Rosshire seemed like we were entering a magical, fairy-tale world. During my childhood, I had relished tales of Scotland from my Grandpa Horace McLennan. While he never journeyed to Scotland, his father, Lachlan, immigrated from Lochcarron in 1869. Thus, Grandpa heard many a tale from his father, including what likely were heavily embellished stories and quite characteristic of good Scottish storytelling. As I gazed through the windshield, the colors of the day’s journey reminded me of my Crayola crayons that accompanied me to grade school each fall.  In fact I close my eyes now and think back to June 29, 2010, with the range of colors that Steve and I discovered on the Isle of Skye.

First to greet us was the Highland bagpiper with his tartan of blues and reds. He played mournful tunes near the mainland side of the Skye Bridge. We pulled off to admire the songs with their full sound emanating from the bagpipes. In response to my presence, the piper shared a friendly smile between tunes, but offered no conversation. I quickly realized that this gentle soul was blind. Adhering to a customary and respectful gesture, we left some coins in the plaid hat at his feet as a thank you prior to requesting a photo. Behind this gifted musician, the purple heather and spikes of Scottish thistles grew in clusters and clumps. Tarrying no longer, Steve and I continued our journey over the sleek toll-free bridge as it crossed the deep blue Kyle of Lochalsh.

Stark white dots moving along the green pastures were recognizable as the all-too-familiar grazing sheep. Countless times during our 10 days in the Scottish Highlands, we frequently waited for these fleecy creatures to clear the road in front of our compact rental car. Admittedly, I couldn’t help but feel pensive by their presence for they were a sad reminder of the Highland Clearances that prevailed in the 1800s, where the land lords found they could reap more money from raising sheep than their poor tenant crofters could make for them. Many a Highland crofter and his family were forced from their meager means to flee to larger cities for work or to seek a new life in a foreign land, such as my McLennan ancestors did. As we made our way on the gray, winding and narrow road, we came within feet of the sheep, with their bellowing BLEATS.

I continued to mentally select crayons from the Crayola box of my childhood as we drove through the rocky hills of the Isle.  In Elgol Along the Sea, I stood on the rocky shore with its smooth yellow-green seaweed covered rocks. The fresh sea breeze swept my black bangs from my forehead, letting the gold sunlight warm my skin. Light-blue seal watching tour boats with red trim created V-ripples behind them in the teal salt water as they approached the small weathered pier. On the horizon, the Cuillin Hills stood grandly with their deep shadows and forest green hues enhanced by the overhead clouds. In the cold water at my feet, the Cuillins’ shimmering reflections joined those of the brilliant sky blue heavens and meandering white clouds, causing me to pause in awe.

Stepping carefully from one slippery damp stone to another and avoiding several colorful purple and rust jelly fish, I peered into the clear tidal pools to see tiny red-orange crabs feeling their way with crustacean pincers through the tan granules of sand. Were they in search of dinner?  White and gray cawing sea gulls certainly were. Though they playfully swooped in wide circles above Steve and me as the incoming wind currents urged them upward toward the azul sky over the little village. Looking at the hillside community that laced back and forth across the hill, I could see a few cozy cottages of white-washed stone. Even in late June, dark gray curls of smoke wafted from one of the blackened stone chimneys, likely from a peat fire used to remove the chill of its stone interior for the family. Along the pier was a dozen neatly stacked lobster traps with bright orange netting, dull silver linked chains, black and white buoys, and a few stray strands of silky green seaweed clinging to the buoys. The traps were ready for the next day’s trip to harvest lobsters from the sandy sea floor. Surely, coast side eateries would quickly serve them up to diners for a hefty price.

Making our way from sea level up the inclined 25%-grade road, we lingered for a moment so I could capture a rather humorous snapshot. Looking as if it stopped in its tracks with a final load, an old blue Land Rover pick-up truck with dimpled dents was parked along the road side. The black tires had thick heavy-duty treads ready to handle a nasty winter storm or a rugged Highland road. The back wheels rested in a pile of chalky gravel, perhaps truly its final load after years of toil. Poor “Old Blue” as I would have named him. Along the nearby ditch, a stony-gray fence about 3 feet high and created from the rocks cleared from the pastured fields followed the road.

Heading inland and in a remote place between villages, we approached a bright red telephone booth along the roadside complete with a gravel pull-out. There was nary a home, business, or soul nearby, simply this pause in the landscape to offer a quick phone call to a passing motorist. It seemed such an oddity to encounter this funny sight, but it was one that was repeated throughout the Highlands. We were reminded of the comforts of home to which we’d grown accustomed in a country filled with infrastructure and ease of communication.

Desiring a hike on the Isle of Skye, we read about the custom of being free to walk or hike wherever one would like. The only stipulations are that the hikers not disrupt the livestock or the vegetation. My berry red camera case in hand, I wound through the passage gate and followed Steve on the rugged footpath. The Cullihin Hills still in the distance served as our horizon marker. Certainly we could walk for the nearly 10 miles and reach them! However, being ones who like to stop for flora and views (or perhaps I should clarify that my shutterbug tendency creates the need to stop), we managed to walk a mere 2 miles due to a lack of time. Two outstanding highlights were experienced by Steve and me, and needed to be photographed: delicate purple heather juxtaposed against angled rocks and the light brown strand of an inlet where a white seaside home stood below us.

Upon completing our short trek and with stomachs growling from hunger pangs, Steve and I drove winding A87 to an equally picturesque location on the Isle, that of Sligachan. The Sligachan Inn sported Seumas’ Bar. Perfect for wayfarers, it was brimming with laughter, music, warmth from a fireplace, and the amazing scent of food. Steve and I ordered what served as a perfect late lunch. One large battered fillet was served, gold and crispy, and definitely delicate to the palate. Scooped along-side the fish was a generous helping of bright green peas, cooked to perfection, which means not mushy in my book. The thick golden chips had the same nice texture on the outside as the fillet. Sprinkled with a little dark vinegar, our lunch was one that we continue to recall to this day!

Alas, it was time to bid farewell to this magical Isle. After crossing the Skye Bridge and driving through Plockton, we were halted by a small herd of massive Highland cattle with their long mangy burnt-orange fur and wide-spanning horns. Like the annoying sheep, we couldn’t budge until they lumbered from the road and into the ditch. Our route took us around the gentle curve of Loch Carron. A monochromatic scheme of blues seem to fill all of the spaces between the water, the landscape, the mountains, and the sky.

Twenty minutes later Steve pulled into the parking space at the Old Manse Inn in Slumbay along the shores of Loch Carron. The tide was gradually advancing. The evening began to cast its hushed and lower light resulting in a pastel palette that broke free from the range of blues. Hand in hand, we stood and watched as pink, peach, periwinkle, and violet crept into the sky above us. Then the twinkle of lights in cottage windows through the village of Lochcarron became evident, one by one.

At that moment, I felt like I was carefully placing each one of my crayons back into my school bus gold and hunter green cardboard box with the word Crayola stamped on front, back, and top. With their waxy tips pointed up and placed in a neat row, I whispered a thank you for the many colors of the day. Then as I’ve done a multitude of times, I tucked the flap inside, closing the top. I set my Crayola box aside until I could break them free once again to cast their brilliant hues across the Highland landscape as we continued our color-filled journey.

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11Jun/120

We have a Graduate!

Steve Graduates with his Master of Arts

This past Friday, busting with admiration and filled with thanksgiving, I watched my husband, Steve, graduate with his Master of Art degree in Conflict Resolution. Do you ever feel like you need to be pinched in order to double-check reality? The need for pinching really began when Steve slipped on his black commencement regalia with the folds draping to mid-calf and then added his colorful academic collar, its crimson and gold satins representing the University of Denver and the soft white fabric edge designating the Josef Korbel School of International Studies.

From our rented bungalow last Friday, we walked to campus hand-in-hand together down Asbury as we have done countless times over the past 22 months. This time I was plodding along in uncomfortable shoes and at a much slower pace than usual, feeling the need to be pinched back to reality. Dressed in a long-sleeve shirt and dress slacks, Steve was baking in the abundant sunshine with perspiration beading on his forehead, carrying his regalia draped over one arm. Our conversation was hit and miss, likely because we were both focused on this moment, which always seemed to be embedded in the future, but was now 60 minutes away. For me, my tears of pride and relief seemed to hide just behind my eyelids, though could easily streak down my face with very little prompting.

Once on campus and in the shade of a young tree, Steve donned his regalia, posed for the requisite photo from this endearing fan, gave me a quick kiss, and walked toward the graduates' entrance. Walking alone to nab seven seats for our family, I saw other excited graduates heading for their entrance. Along with me were parents, grandparents, and likely other spouses and children filing into Magness Arena hoping to find prime seating. Feeling overwhelmed by the number of people already in seats, my quick reaction was to simply stop and ask a kind usher where I would find a good spot for myself and six others to watch my husband graduate. He pointed to a section that seemed to repel people for very few guests were seated there. Most people were packing into the auditorium directly behind where the graduates would be seated. I slipped through the crowd, walked to the sixth row of the sparsely populated section, and easily grabbed enough seats for our family.

Through the wonders of texting, the rest of the family joined me as if on cue. The usual pomp and circumstance filled the arena that was thick with black robes, colorful academic collars, and great anticipation. The graduate candidates filed into the arena while families shouted and cheered from the surrounding sides of the arena. Those of us with cameras behaved more like the paparazzi as flashes flickered repeatedly. Amazingly, Steve's college was seated in front of our section, so we could not have planned our seating arrangements better. The big screens that hung from the arena's ceiling were a perfect way to see the graduates who one by one stepped forward to be congratulated with handshakes. When the name "Steven Felt" was called out, our entourage of seven gave a shout out to him. His smile reached from ear to ear as he moved the 2012 tassel from one side of his black mortarboard to the other, signifying the rite of passage from Master's Candidate to Master's Graduate. In a blink of the eye, he was off the stage, back at his seat, and waving to us.

Celebrations go hand-in-hand with graduations. We attended a recognition reception last Thursday and a morning breakfast on Friday. The open house that we hosted on Friday evening directly following graduation was a fantastic time to say thank you to family and friends who gathered to help us rejoice with Steve on his wonderful accomplishment. We are especially grateful for our family for their support: our son, Jeremy; daughter-in-law, Michelle; daughter, Stephanie; son-in-law, Shane; and, Steve's Mom, Lois.

Now, with great joy and gratitude, Steve and I find the corner of the final page of this chapter of our book, carefully bringing it to the left to join the preceding pages. Time to pause, reflect, and begin our next chapter.

Blessings,

Diane

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12Apr/120

Finally….I met Mary!

Diane and her friend, Mary

Finally....I met Mary! She’s the sweet lady who I wrote about in my February blog (we met due to my former neighbors’ Christmas display of a cross and manger and the photo that I took of this moving display). An idea soon bubbled up, which my daughter Stephanie felt I should act upon. I gave Mary a call and asked her if I may stop and see her while traveling through Kansas City. Typically, our driving route across the Great Plains is done quickly on I-80. This time, though, my intention was to avoid I-80 with its zooming traffic, and instead opt to take I-70, which provides a much calmer drive across Kansas. I was thinking along the lines of taking Mary to dinner. Though once I shared my idea with Mary, I not only had an invitation to stop, but a welcome to spend the night and to speak at her “Wildwood House of Prayer” ministry the morning following my stay with her.

Upon arriving at Mary’s, it hit me that I was only familiar with her voice, having just enjoyed phone conversations up to this point. As the door to her lovely estate home swung open, there stood an attractive woman with a big smile on her face and snow-white hair. We exchanged hugs and smiles, standing in disbelief that finally were seeing each other. The evening flew by quickly as we seemed to converse almost non-stop. Mary took me to one of her favorite dining spots, which offered good home-style cooking. As I left early that morning from Salina with several stops in Kansas City en route to Mary’s, I didn’t allow time for a proper breakfast and only taking time for a handful of walnuts and almonds to go along with a cereal bar for lunch.

The next morning I was up before dawn to finalize the talk that I would give later than morning at the Wildwood House of Prayer. The House of Prayer is Mary’s ministry to people in the Parkville, Missouri area. Mary offers Bible studies and provides guest speakers. As their Wednesday guest speaker, I decided to share my faith journey and passion for photography with the ladies. Despite having been with Mary for less than 20 hours, I left filled with such respect and admiration for her. She is quite a lady, who is passionate about her faith. I am delighted that I finally met Mary!

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1Feb/128

Friendship Inspired through a Photo

This morning I received a call from Mary, an 83 year old woman, who I have never met face to face and who lives in Parkville, Missouri. For roughly 45 minutes, we talked about our faith, Steve and my possible endeavors on the horizon, and a couple of stories from her life (for instance, she picked cotton in Mississippi as a girl).  In today's call, she mentioned that she was re-reading our Christmas letter and was so touched by the last paragraph, which Steve penned. Could she please use it as a message to share with others in her House of Prayer Ministry? Steve was quick to say yes, trusting my friendship with Mary.

How is it that I've never had the pleasure of meeting Mary in person? She's not on Facebook and doesn't use a computer, so it isn't as if we met through electronic media. Well, we met through a photo! In 2007 I took a photo of a cross and manger scene that graced the front yard of our Batavia friends, Bob and Lois. The December snowfall quietly came down that evening with streetlight and floodlight providing the "light" needed to bring the cross and manger its warm welcoming glow. I had been sitting at my desk on the second floor of our Batavia house, when I glanced out the window to be instantly wooed by the scene across the street. I grabbed my Nikon D-80, tripod, and remote, quickly donned my winter coat, and called Bob and Lois, "Could I please take some photos of your cross and manger scene?" I asked.

From the resulting image, I ordered a 5X7 for them as a thank you for providing this beautiful scene. In fact, they enjoyed the photo so much that they asked to use it for their 2008 Christmas card. Then in October 2009, Mary, a friend of Bob and Lois' who received their Christmas card in 2008 contacted them for my phone number. Mary wanted permission to use my photo for her Christmas card, which I granted and provided her with the digital file. She sent out the card along with a poem that she was inspired to write about the powerful image and dozens of people now have it. As the result of her initial call back in 2009, I've had numerous and lovely phone calls with her.

In November 2011 she called me after an absence in contact of 18 months. Fortunately, she had my cell phone number as Steve and I had moved to Denver since our last conversation. Mary wanted to order an 8X10 and a 5X7 of the photo for her House of Prayer Ministry in Parkville. This is a ministry that she runs out of her former home on an acreage, which when rented years before sustained thousands of dollars of damage due to the tenants' intentional vandalism before vacating. Despite her son's initial reaction to tear the house down and start over, she and her family renovated it from the "ashes" (the tenants even went so far as to set the wood flooring on fire) and created a ministry. She found inspiration from God that she should do something special with the home. Thus, she began the House of Prayer, which provides a weekly program, a refuge for those out of work or for visiting missionaries, a library of inspirational books, and a special place for hospitality.

I thank God for inspiring me to take the photo back in 2007, for Bob and Lois in sending a card to Mary, and the building friendship that I've enjoyed with Mary over the last two years. She is such an inspiration as well. I may just drive through Missouri on the way back from Steph and Shane's wedding in March. I believe it is time to meet Mary!

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