Digital Coffee Mugs and other assorted Christmas reflections

We drove to Pagosa Springs, CO to our daughter’s house for Christmas this year. The return trip home was on Thursday. We stopped in Albuquerque for a late lunch on the way home at a place named Joe’s Pasta House – it was a great lunch – real Italian and perfect marinara sauce despite the rather un-Italian restaurant name. As we left the restaurant Darlene connected to our furnace thermostat at home on her cell phone and turned the temperature up so it would be nice and warm when we got home. We always turn the thermostat way down when away to save a little on the natural gas bill. When we arrived home, the house was warm and welcoming.

Our daughter’s branch of the family which is 10 strong now started drawing names for gift giving at Christmas several years ago. Darlene and I joined in the name drawing. Our oldest grandchild, Sierra, drew my name this year. She had queried Darlene about what I might want starting several months ago. Not many ideas were forthcoming. She got me several do-dads which were put in my stocking and a wonderful box of Enstroms Toffee (if you don’t know what Enstroms Toffee is do some research and get a box before you die – it is heavenly). Then my main present was this coffee mug you see in the photo above. You might be thinking – wow – a coffee mug – ho hum – not very imaginative – in-fact, boring.

This coffee mug, though, is not boring – and is, in fact, pretty exciting. I brew myself a cup of coffee first thing every morning before I start going through the latest Facebook posts, reviewing the bank account online, and reading my emails. Have never been one to gulp down a cup of coffee – I just sip it from time to time while sitting at my desk as the work day starts. So, the coffee always gets cold before I finish. We have a Krups coffee brewer/grinder which allows setting the size of the amount brewed. We set it down to only 5 oz. for the reason the coffee always get gold before either of us finish a cup. So we drink two cups at least getting hot coffee twice during the process. Now enter into my life this digital coffee mug (photo above) which Sierra gave me for Christmas. The mug itself has a rechargeable battery and a heating element built into the cup. It also has a brain built into it which measures the temperature of the liquid within, controls the battery and heating element, and enables a Bluetooth connection to a smart phone. The saucer you see below the mug has an electrical connection, a battery charger and a clever way of making connection to the mug without wires to provide the charging of the battery located in the mug.

An app is downloaded onto my smart phone which shows the exact temperature of the liquid within the mug and allows setting the exact temperature desired for the coffee or beverage that the mug then maintains. I made some spiced tea Christmas night and quickly found out that I’m a 141° man. That’s the perfect temperature for sipping a hot beverage. The mug works wherever you desire placing it. The saucer is only needed when the battery in the mug needs charging. I know a blast in the microwave will heat cold coffee and that they have had heated saucers for years that will keep coffee warm. This digital mug, however, keeps it at the exact temperature I want and doesn’t tie me to a specific spot with a plugged-in saucer. At my desk or in my recliner or out in the garage my coffee is always the perfect temperature. Yay – technology solves another of life’s annoyances. OK, I know you’re reading this and making fun of me – cold coffee is trivial – not so, hot is the way coffee should be – it’s a great gift – thanks, Sierra.

As you might be able to tell from the photo above Christmas this year at Jessica’s was focused a lot on Maverick – our 6 month-old great grandson – his first Christmas. What a great baby he is – we were with him for 3 days and he never cried once. His great-grandma, grandma and aunt were pretty possessive of him – hard to pry him out of their arms. Sierra and Michael live in North Dakota so we only get to be with them from time to time. The next planned visit to spend time with them is at the end of April for the Moab, UT car show weekend.

There you have it – grandma Jessica, aunt Marissa, great-grandma, grandpa Joe and mom, Sierra – do you think Maverick might have gotten spoiled a little this Christmas? We wouldn’t have it any other way. I love Christmas time. The 3 ½ days were full of joy and jesting and laughter and red and green tamales and prime rib and togetherness. We get another dose of Christmas this coming week as we head to Grand Junction, CO to be with our youngest son, 4 grandchildren and a great-granddaughter. Our son, Matthew, works in the oil fields and had to work Christmas. They are opening presents and celebrating on New-Years Day. It will be another great time, God willing. Our great-granddaughter, Maddie, will be celebrating her second Christmas. I’m thinking she might be taking some steps on her own. She was trying to take some steps when we saw them in October for her first birthday.

I’ll download this post out of the cloud onto the blog site and link it to a Facebook post. Alexa, turn off the lamp by my recliner and what’s the temperature outside? I think I’ll turn on the GPS in my watch and go for a walk before lunch.

A Millennium Ago

The Southwest has many locations where there are remnants of native peoples who lived a millennium ago. I always wonder when visiting those sites what life would have been like in the environment and circumstances existing then. One of the days while in Flagstaff this last week we drove through and walked around in the Sunset Crater National Monument and Wupatki National Monument. They both are located just to the north of Flagstaff within 20 miles of each other. Sunset Crater is the site of a volcano cone which erupted almost exactly a millennium ago.

The Sunset Monument landscape is full of thousand year old lava flows and eroded cinder hills and arroyos which clearly show the effects of the eruption on the surrounding area. Information on site describes the discovery and excavation of homes of native people who lived in the area which were buried in the lava flow and ash. Twenty miles north from Sunset Crater the landscape descends in elevation, the pine trees disappear and vegetation changes to junipers, sage and brush of the high desert. The Wupatki National Monument located there was established in 1924 to protect the remnants of a number of native pueblo structures in the area.

Those who decide such things believe the pueblo ruins we see today were constructed just following the eruption of Sunset Volcano by those displaced by the eruption. Those looking for a new home found that the layer of ash from the volcano enriched the soil, retained scarce water and made the growing of their crops easier.

Free access is allowed the public to these ruins. There are rules about climbing the walls and removing stones, but otherwise the public can walk in and around up close to the structures to their hearts content.

The picture of the ruins below is the Wupatki pueblo ruins for which the National Monument is named. It is the largest of the ruins within the Monument. Experts believe as many as 100 people lived here within its walls in 1100 AD. The visitor center sits behind the camera. You can see an excavated round kiva used for spiritual ceremonies by the native people in the second photo. The smaller structure and kiva in the second photo adjoin the large structure in the top photo just 50 yards or so away.

The American Southwest is full of wide-open spaces. The climate is so arid in many places that development is essentially impossible. Those who study these ancient peoples believe the population of this area reached a peak in 1100 AD not matched before or since. Possibly several thousand people lived within a day’s walk of this ruin. The people who lived here then are named the Sinaguans by modern scholars. They believe by 1250 AD all of the pueblos in the area were abandoned – the native people moving on because climate change made the land unproductive for their crops.

The photo below was taken near the western boundary of the Wupatki Monument. It looks out toward the northeast across the Monument and across the painted desert beyond – there’s not many tall buildings to be seen, is there? I can’t help but imagine what it might have been like living a millennium ago out in this desolation – my family and several others living in one of these pueblos that we had built. We spend our days caring for simple crops which along with those animals we hunt make possible our existence. We have children – maybe we live long enough to have grandchildren. I’m sure that we love and care for family in the same way we know today. I’m sure we would laugh, and tell stories, maybe sing a few songs, maybe we would dream and plan for better days, we would mourn the passing of loved ones and maybe weep just as we do today. Scholars tell us the native cultures believed in a God. Solomon wrote 3,000 years ago in Ecclesiastes 3 that God “set eternity in the human heart”. I don’t know what their religion taught about life after death, but I can’t help but think they would contemplate it just as we do. Would life have been simpler than today – probably – no Android phones or automobile GPS screens to figure out.

Solomon is often quoted in Ecclesiastes 3,

“There is a time for everything, and a season for every activity under the heavens: a time to be born and a time to die, a time to plant and a time to uproot, …., a time to tear down and a time to build, …., a time to scatter stones and a time to gather them,….”

You remember those words that Pete Seeger put to music in the late 50s and that the Byrds made a pop hit out of at about the time I turned 18 years old. Solomon goes on in Ecclesiastes 3 to make a statement about life that we don’t remember so well. He says,

“I know that there is nothing better for people than to be happy and to do good while they live. That each of them may eat and drink, and find satisfaction in all their toil—this is the gift of God…. Whatever is has already been, and what will be has been before; and God will call the past to account.”

Solomon’s description of the nature of life written three millenniums ago remains amazingly relevant today. Though neither Solomon or the Sinaguans had to deal with an Android phone, their life like ours, was centered on finding satisfaction in all their toil. There is still nothing better for us in a modern world than to be a people who find happiness and do good while we live. We do well when we learn that life is a gift from a God who hopes we learn contentment in simple things – a pueblo built by stacking rocks, food and clothing provided by our toil, time at the end of the day to understand and accept our purpose, and time now and again to reflect on the hope of an eternity that He put in our hearts. A thousand years ago the natives a few miles north of what is now Flagstaff found a reason in life to gather and stack stones – within a couple centuries after they began life there natural forces began the process of scattering those same stones. A thousand years from now people may find traces of our existence. If they are wise, they will still be reading Solomon and they will accept the simplicity and contentment of an understanding that life abides in people “finding satisfaction in all their toil” and accepting that, “whatever is has already been, and what will be has been before”.

 

Flagstaff – A December Visit

We had a few timeshare points left to use for 2018 – enough to get a nice 1-bedroom unit for 3 nights in Flagstaff, AZ. We’ve been visiting Flagstaff since the early 1990s. It’s a small town, but one with a lot of energy – it’s the home of Northern Arizona University and draws a lot of tourists because of its proximity to the Grand Canyon and Sedona. We return here again and again and always have a good time. It sits at 7,000 ft. elevation with the San Francisco Peaks looming over town and is located in a forest of Ponderosa Pines near the Mogollon Rim. It is not at all the normal Arizona desert that you think of – we arrived this visit to a fresh layer of snow on the ground from a storm that went through over the weekend.

We got up early Tuesday morning and had breakfast just up the street from the timeshare at the Toasted Owl. Then we headed for Sedona – down the steep, twisty, famous Oak Creek Canyon to a Jeep trail I had picked out. Sedona is red rock country and in the descent of 2,500 feet from Flagstaff the terrain turns from Ponderosa forest to Pinyon Pine, Cedars and brush. It was 15 degrees warmer in Sedona and none of the snow from the storm remained on the ground.

We’ve had the Jeep Renegade for a couple months. It’s a tiny thing with a 4-cylinder engine. It does have a sophisticated Jeep 4-wheel drive system with a low range and even a hill descent function. I know it is built in Italy which is blasphemy for a Jeep, and it is not a Wrangler, and doesn’t have a lift kit, and it doesn’t articulate much. But we have had it on twisty mountain roads in snow storms with slick roads twice already and selecting 4 wheel-drive on the fly has made it rock steady. So, I wanted a chance to put it in 4-wheel low and crawl over some rocks and see how it did. I had chosen a trail just outside of Sedona to the Van Deren cabin ruins. It’s a trail of 3 miles, rocky from beginning to end. Most of the trail is low 4-wheel drive and a slow go. It doesn’t require big clearance or areas where wheel articulation is necessary, but the last ¼ mile is particularly steep and required accurate wheel placement on rocks in several places. The picture above is in a dry creek bed with some steps just before the final difficult section. If you look close you can see Darlene behind the steering wheel. I was out taking pictures and guiding her for wheel placement to ease up that little rock ledge. The skid plates scraped a couple of places on the trail, but never hung up. We had a good time and the Jeep was just great. It will get us through snow storms and up trails we haven’t been able to negotiate since trading away the Jeep Commander when we moved to South Carolina.

The Van Deren cabin shown above was built in 1924 – not sure when it was abandoned. We saw a coyote crossing the dry creek bed. Between the cabin and where the Jeep was parked a couple of Javelina crossed just ahead of us. Look closely in the center of the picture below and you can see one of them.

Javelina look like pigs but are not in the pig family. They are about 4 feet long and weigh 50 to 75 pounds. They are not related to the razorbacks which are plentiful in parts of the Southeast. We see them occasionally when in and around Sedona.

We decided to go back to Flagstaff up Snebly Hill Road rather than back up Oak Creek Canyon. It was another slow go often in 4 wheel low – a rocky dirt road 17 miles long – steep in places – it tops the Mogollon Rim after 11 miles and then through the forest connects to I-17 which is the freeway from Flagstaff to Phoenix. It has many spectacular views looking back down on the red rocks of Sedona.

Over the last 30 years we’ve been fortunate to take several short trips each year throughout the West and were also able to see a lot of the East while living in South Carolina. There is so much to see and enjoy within just a day or two of driving. This trip was typical – a few days away – some sightseeing – a break from the routine – some good food in new restaurants. Politicians talk about good times and bad times – ½ of them are always telling us times are good and the other ½ want us to believe we need change because times are bad. What we experience over my lifetime is that nothing much changes regardless of the agenda of those in political power. Life goes on for most regular people in America, and when we think about it, we have been incredibly blessed with mostly good times for all of my lifetime. These little trips we take full of beautiful scenery, and with family sometimes, and with small adventures on days like today prove that we are fortunate to live in this great country. We should vote and care about and discuss the issues some and work hard to do our part, but the nastiness and vitriol doesn’t help. A drive or a walk on a red rock trail – the grandeur of creation – getting a picture of a javelina irritated that his walk was interrupted – all these things give a perspective that allows living with a smile, with contentment and with hope.

We finished the day sharing a great Italian sandwich with some spinach dip and a gooey, ice creamy, fresh baked, hot, macadamia nut/chocolate cookie. Maybe things are too good – might have to watch what I eat for a few days when we get home to get a couple pounds back off.

 

Maddie’s First Birthday

It was a quick trip to Grand Junction several weeks ago – left at 2:00 PM on Friday and spent the night in Durango – then up early Saturday morning, arriving at Matthew’s in Grand Junction a little before noon. Maddie’s birthday party started at 2:00. Then we were up early Sunday morning and drove back to Belen. I’m so glad we went. Maddie is just starting to try to take steps. She has those big bright eyes and the red hair from her mom. There is so much to take in to the mind watching a one-year old. She has grown and changed so much since birth – Maddie seems so healthy and it is a delight to just watch her take in and respond to a barrage of things going on all around her. It was a joy being there that Saturday afternoon.

Matthew had gotten up at 4:00 AM and put 2 pork butts in his Traeger Grill to slow cook – taking them out just before the party goers arrived. He let me help pull and shred the pork for sandwiches – had a little trouble keeping from eating too much of the bark that was so good. It was a good size group of people who came to be with Maddie on this first birthday – I didn’t count but am sure there were 20 or more. It was a happy afternoon – everyone in good spirits.

One-year old’s often struggle with their 1st birthday party. Lots of people and noise and carrying on wear them out and crankiness sets in. Maddie held up to it all so well. There was a huge stack of presents – she sat with her mom and helped open them – and was happy the whole time – her mom is strong – I think Maddie takes after her in that.

We had to have the 1st birthday cake ritual of course – poor kid – lol.

Maddie won’t remember much about her 1st birthday. Her great-grandfather will, though – the images are stuck in my head – along with memories of those first years of our eight grandchildren and there are still memories there of the first years of our own children also. God inserts hope into our minds as we watch these little ones – in a world where horror stories and angry tweets get so much attention a 1-year-old birthday party of a great-grandchild is a welcome diversion. Somewhere along the way as 70 years go by inside a head full of memories you come to realize that it is these simple memories of the children that are the best memories of all.

White Sands National Monument

I woke up Friday morning in the mood for a road trip of some kind. White Sands National Monument is a part of New Mexico we had not seen yet. So, after working a little in the morning we headed south about 1:00 PM for White Sands, a distance of 180 miles. It just happened that the Buckhorn Tavern was on the way about 50 miles south of us, so we stopped in for a green chile cheeseburger – they are world famous at the Buckhorn and the one we shared was great. We reached Alamogordo about 5:00 PM – checked into a cheap motel – then headed 15 miles west of there to the Monument. I was hoping for some pictures at sunset.

White Sands is a 275 square mile area in southern New Mexico formed from erosion of a huge gypsum deposit. Over the last several thousand years the soil has eroded away and the gypsum flaked from the affects of the winds forming gypsum sand which blows around in dunes much like we think of the sand in the Sahara desert. Much of the area is just pure white, smooth, gypsum flakes of sand blown into dunes with some sparse vegetation interspersed in-between. Other parts have more significant vegetation growing on dunes which are held more permanently in place by the vegetation.

We hiked a while and took some pictures until sunset on Friday evening, walking a little further than needed back to the parking lot because we were lost among the sand dunes – lol. The cell phone can normally find the car, but there’s no cell service in this little section of the world.

It’s a beautiful place at sunset – maybe a little eerie – like on a far-off planet somewhere. Saturday morning, we were up early – at the Monument gates when they opened hoping to get some sunrise shots. We stopped at a spot with some more vegetation on the dunes for the morning walk. There is scrub brush, yucca and cactus somehow surviving in the gypsum sand.

The geology of the high desert presents new things to see whatever direction we want to take. There are many adventures to be taken. There are so many National Parks and Monuments preserved for us in the West. We’ve visited many of them over the years. I happily pay taxes to man them with Rangers and maintain the roads and administer rules that keep them nice for me, my children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren. Hopefully those grandchildren and great-grandchildren will be able to wake up on a Friday morning 40 years from now with an itch for a road trip and be able to head to White Sands and walk around on dunes that have been freely blowing in the wind all those in-between years. God blessed us with an incredible earth. Genesis tells us that God took Adam and placed him in the Garden to work it and take care of it. May we treat this incredible earth we have been given with great respect. It is strong and resilient but not beyond being damaged if in disregard we only take and do not give back. May we heed the instructions given to Adam long ago – work it and take care of it.

 

Red Mountain Pass

Our granddaughter Ashley put on a 1-year old birthday party for our first great-grandchild, Maddie, two weekends ago. We were really busy with working on tax return extensions and had just taken a week off to travel to Steamboat Springs a couple of weeks earlier – but, how can you miss the first birthday party of your oldest great-grandchild. I worked Friday morning and early afternoon then we got in the Jeep and drove to Durango to spend the night. We got up early the next morning and were at the Durango Diner to open them at 6:30 Saturday morning. You can’t be near Durango in the morning and miss having a green chile omelet at the Durango Diner. We headed north after breakfast over the passes on Highway 550. There are 3 passes each over 10,000 feet on Highway 550 between Durango and Ouray, CO. It is a magnificent drive that we have made many, many times over the years. I always look forward to it and never tire of the windy road and incredible views. The Aspen leaves had mostly dropped up higher on the mountains, but closer down at the road some golden leaves remained. We drove over Coal Bank and Molas and Red Mountain passes with only light traffic which the Jeep took care of handily. Just over the top of Red Mountain we pulled off the highway and drove down a little trail to a grove of Aspens with views of Red Mountain.

In years past the side of Red Mountain was the site of Yankee Boy Mine, a good sized silver mining operation in the first half of the twentieth century. You can still drive dirt roads up on the side where several weathered mining buildings remain. In the middle of the picture you can see mill tailings that remain from the operations. If you’ve never seen Red Mountain you owe it to yourself to drive over the pass someday. It’s an experience with the views that will remain in your head for a lifetime.

Steamboat

Steamboat Springs is a town in North Central Colorado known primarily as one of Colorado’s prime ski resorts. Historically the town dates to the year 1900 established as a community with its roots in cattle ranching. It sits at an elevation of 6,700 feet with the Yampa River running through downtown. Commercially the town is divided with the historic downtown remaining and flourishing, and also a commercial area with the ski resort of Mt Werner at its center just several miles to the south. Below is a photo taken in the middle of the historic downtown which is 12 or so blocks long – it is full of shops and restaurants catering to visitors.

A photo taken from downtown Steamboat looking across the river at the historic Howelsen Hill which is the oldest operating ski area in North America – operating since 1915 – named after Carl Howelsen, a Norwegian immigrant who established it. At the right of the photo is the famous historic ski jump area which has been the training ground for many American Olympians in that sport. The Mount Werner ski area sits on the other side of the river and to the east and is the primary ski area for wintertime ski visitors.

The photo below was taken at Fish Creek Falls near Steamboat of our family gathered there during the week of September 17, 2018. From left to right is Aria, Christine, Aaron, Dave, Darlene, Sierra, Maverick, Joe, Jessica, Noah, Ashley, Matt and Maddie. Maddie is in a backpack at the right strapped to Matt – you can’t see her but she is there for sure. The only missing family is Micheal who is taking the photo and our son Matthew who had to leave earlier that morning.

Below a photo of grand daughter Ashley, great-granddaughter Maddie and father Matt taken on our walk down to the base of Fish Creek Falls. Ashley is our second oldest grandchild and Maddie is about to turn one year old. I don’t really know how to describe the feelings watching these great-grandchildren and remembering back not so long ago holding their mothers in my arms when they were born, and watching them grow up as toddlers and children.

Below a photo of Maverick – 2 ½ months old along with his mother, Sierra – our granddaughter and a proud, happy great-grandfather. Sierra is our oldest grandchild – I remember well holding her the very morning she was born just over 22 years ago.

We spent 4 nights in Steamboat at the Wyndham timeshare resort. There were 15 of us total sharing a 3 bedroom, a 2 bedroom and a 1 bedroom unit all located next to each other. We had good meals together at various local restaurants and enjoyed a day of golf and the visit to Fish Creek Falls and other things, but the most enjoyable part of the 4 days for me were the evenings that we just spent together laughing and talking and spending time that we don’t get often because we live so far apart.

James in chapter 4 of his letter describes life as “a mist that appears for a little while and then vanishes”. As we get old enough to have great-grand children the truth of that description begins to get very real – we begin to comprehend our own mortality. There are not enough times like the few days in Steamboat. But still God has also told us that though this mist of mortal life as we live it out that vanishes in a little while is dear and important it really is only a beginning. Life is not a birth and then a few years and a death – life is birth that continues in eternity. Ecclesiastes has this to say about it,

Ecclesiastes 3:11–14, 11 He has made everything beautiful in its time. He has also set eternity in the human heart; yet no one can fathom what God has done from beginning to end. 12 I know that there is nothing better for people than to be happy and to do good while they live. 13 That each of them may eat and drink, and find satisfaction in all their toil—this is the gift of God. 14 I know that everything God does will endure forever; nothing can be added to it and nothing taken from it. God does it so that people will fear him.

We enjoy these times as we should – they are a gift of joy – a product of our toil. Although at the age with great-grand children we feel the body diminishing day by day God is faithful setting eternity in our hearts. Though this life is a mist that vanishes, times like these few days in Steamboat are a gift that endures.