Thursday, December 29, 2016


Last month, I had the wonderful opportunity to spend several days in the resort community of Gulf Shores, Alabama, located along that state's coastline with the Gulf of Mexico. 

I was there along with several friends who kayak and hike together, at the invitation of our friend Dee, who owns a home in Gulf Shores.  This photo shows our group as we are coordinating our shuttle arrangements, on the first day of kayaking, at the Highway 98 bridge (Bay Watch Park) beside Weeks Bay.  The shuttle system we used called for everyone going first to the final take-out spot, where a vehicle is left to "receive" the returning kayakers and their kayaks, when they are finished.  Then everyone re-arranges as necessary to all drive to the put-in spot, where one of the vehicles is left.  Then, upon completion of the float, one of the drivers takes the owner of the vehicle left at the put-in point back to her vehicle, so there is "no child left behind".  Sound complicated??--IT IS! 

There were six ladies in our group, and on the first day, the bravest of the ladies, used her paddle board, rather than her kayak.

Our entry point on the first day was a very secluded, and easily overlooked, public access spot, in the small village of Magnolia Springs.

The Magnolia River runs through Magnolia Springs, and their "claim to fame" is that they are the only  town in the continental USA, where residents who live on the river, can have their mail delivered to their dock, rather than their front door! To read more about this unusual and scenic location, visit   .

I was fascinated with this unusual form of postal service, and recalled all the times I have dropped mail, onto the ground, as I was taking it out of my mailbox located on land.  However, dropping mail as you retrieved it from a mailbox on your dock, could lead to some very soggy correspondence!

The wildlife was plentiful along the Magnolia River, and these pelicans did not seem at all disturbed as we passed by them.

Likewise, the pelican on this tree stump seemed to be posing, as Dee drifted past it.

I was eager to give my "Paddling Victory Salute", to show how happy I was, to have made it this far, without rolling over into the river!

Dee, who was our RC---which stands for River Coordinator---located a small tributary to the river, which we paddled into, to disembark for the sack lunches we were carrying with us.  The location was completely lined with magnolia trees, which was very appropriate, since we were floating on the Magnolia River. 

As we paddled into the sprawling, and less protected, Weeks Bay, we saw evidence that the weather has not always been as accommodating on previous days as it was on the day we paddled.  This sailboat was completely marooned on land.

Another sailboat nearby was still at anchor, but almost completely submerged. 

One lady in our group was a retired rural mail carrier for the U.S. Postal service.  She became concerned when she saw one of the mail boxes, full and bulging over with mail, with the lid hanging open.  Concerned that the contents was about to spill out into the water, she used her paddle to gently close the lid, and hence protect the contents.  I realized later that it was a perfect illustration of one of my First Place 4 Health ( ) memory verses that says, "Anyone, then, who knows the good he ought to do and doesn't do it, sins."  (James 4:17)   Her job as a rural mail carrier had been to protect the mail, and that is what she did!

Our second day of kayaking was not on a river, but on the Little Lagoon, within the Gulf Shores city limits.  We put in at a public access near our friend's home, and paddled across the lagoon to have lunch at the very popular restaurant across the lagoon, called The Original Oyster House.  As you can see from their sign, they are famous for their Key Lime Pie!

Our group is raising their hands in delight, that we are having a seafood lunch at this scenic location on the water!  The wonderful waitress we had for our group meal, very kindly agreed to take our photo outside on the porch.  This is a culinary destination I would highly recommend, and when you go to their website ( ), you will see that most diners come to their location via land, as it is conveniently located on Highway 59.

My friends will tell you I was more than a little "spooked" by the alligator stories I read about on the Internet, supposedly occurring in the very rivers we were exploring.  Fortunately, this alligator statue at the restaurant, is the closest thing I saw to the real thing!

This photo shows the sign warning about alligators, in the waterway adjacent to the car parking lot of the restaurant.  However , when we paddled up to this location to get out of our kayaks and go into the restaurant, the sign was not pointing towards the water, where we were stepping out of our kayaks.  I guess our noisy disembarking scared the alligators away!

After we left the restaurant, we paddled to the far side of Little Lagoon, and admired some of the mansions built along the waterfront.  Further down the shore, there are also several high-rise condominiums. 

On our final day of river kayaking, we put in at the public access dock Civil War Park along the Fish River.

The "mascot" for our kayaking group is this rubber duckie, and she sits on the boat of the RC (River Coordinator).  She even has a name---Ms. Kay Aker!!  I took this photo at the sandy beach, where we stopped to have our lunch, along the Fish River.

Since this trip took place in the fall, we were able to see a few of the trees changing color, as evidenced by this tree, which was the same color as my kayak!

Before going on the trip, I had read on the Internet that there was more boat traffic on the Fish River, than on the Magnolia River.  We definitely found this to be true, although none of the boat traffic caused the kayakers to roll over.  However, there was a time when a particularly fast boat, made one of the paddle boarders decide to "take a knee", rather than risk falling in!

When we finished our kayaking on the last day, we made the drive to Aquila Seafood, to get some of their famously fresh seafood  ( ).

I was impressed that the market had a wall rack, complete with a complementary copy of the "Mariners Holy Bible", and gospel tracts written with a nautical theme.  Since the name "Aquila" is used in the New Testament, and it describes a bi-vocational preacher, I theorized that the folks at Aquila Seafood saw themselves as "fishers of men", as well as "fishers of seafood"!

The Aquila fleet is equipped with the special equipment needed to bring in the most popular shrimp (Royal Reds), from the deepest depths, and the boats are moored right at their retail location in Bon Secour, Alabama. 

We had one of those old-fashioned "seafood boils", and it was all delicious!  I have so much gratitude in my heart to Dee for inviting us to her home, and to all the other ladies who played a part in making this such a fantastic experience!

If you would like to learn more about visiting the scenic locations in and around Gulf Shores/Orange Beach, Alabama, just log on to their website at   .    A trip to this location will give you "MILES OF SMILES"!!  Tricia

Friday, December 2, 2016


There was no need for me to be superstitious about this being the "Number 13" year for me to participate in the White River Marathon/5K!  It turned out to be a wonderful experience for me, and the hundreds of others, who turned out to participate in this outstanding event!  The tree/runner logo on the front of the official tee shirt has become iconic, and the fact that the original artwork was done by a friend, (and FBC First Place 4 Health alum, Christy Chaney Dyer) makes me look forward to the ever-changing colors of the shirts provided each year. 

On race day, long before sunrise, participants and volunteers start to gather at the Cotter, Arkansas, High School cafeteria to pick up their race packets, have some hot coffee/tea, and select from a variety of "carbo-loading" snacks that are available. 

The technology involved in organizing an event of this magnitude has grown each year.  This photo shows a participant checking the big screen to be sure that the data entered for their age and event choice, has been correctly recorded. 

Race Director, Paul Gigliotti, has done an outstanding job of over-seeing the year-round promotion of this Boston Marathon qualifier, since it was started in 2003, by another FBC First Place 4 Health alum, Laurie Kasinger.

There are several vendors on hand at the registration area to sell items that are of interest to walkers and runners and volunteers.  For example, even if one is not participating in the competition, they can still purchase a shirt with the White River Marathon (WRM) logo on it. 

The Race Director made several references to the fact that this event could never be as successful as it has been, without the assistance of dozens of volunteers.  THANK YOU VOLUNTEERS!!  The helpfulness of the volunteers is one reason that the WRM continues to draw entries from all across the United States (29 states represented in 2016), including an 80-year-old gentleman from Connecticut!  Likewise, the generosity of the major race sponsors, have enabled the WRM to donate thousands of dollars to provide assistance to the village of Katito, Kenya.  You can check out the website to view the donation accountability reports, and see that in 2015 alone, $21,000 was raised!

The sun was just peeking above the horizon as we gathered at the checkered flag that marked the starting point.  As you can see from the puddle of water, rain had been in the area earlier in the week, but mercifully for all involved, there was no precipitation when the starting whistle blew.

The race is promoted as being "Fast, Flat, and Fun", which is illustrated in this photo.  It can also be "family fun", as there are numerous parent/child and sibling/sibling entries---as well as an occasional grandparent/grandchild pair-up!

The fact that it is flat, has even made it suitable for this lady in a wheel chair to participate in the Half Marathon (that's over 13 miles, folks!).  A link to her inspiring story is on the White River Marathon website at  . 

I also gained inspiration from this lady (intentionally blurred out) for her determination to complete the race, even if it meant doing so with the assistance of a rolling walker for balance!

A gigantic inflatable arch, with the unmistakable and welcome "FINISH" sign, funneled returnees to the proper position to read the computer chip, that was attached to their shoe, and thus record the accurate finishing time for each person. 

Their finish time was flashed onto the screen, while those manning the official computers, made sure the technology was working correctly. 

I am very thankful to have been a part of this group picture that represents the members of the North Central Arkansas Master Naturalists who participated in the 5K.  If you look at the WRM website, you will read that the lady wearing the number 868, has a special distinction in this year's results. 

The photo backdrop is a good place to show a new feature of the 2016  5K  Race---EVERY finisher received a medal---just like in the Marathon and Half-Marathon.  I was thankful that by the "skin of my teeth", I was able to get a third-place medal in my age division, as well as the 5K Finisher Medal.  I am using this photo as a motivation to do what my FBC First Place 4 Health ( ) memory verse is advocating in 1 Timothy 4:15 that says, "Be diligent in these matters; give yourself wholly to them, so that everyone may see your progress."  Being diligent in taking care of this "earth suit" that God has provided for me, continues to give me "MILES OF SMILES"!!  Tricia 


I recently had the opportunity to attend my first Baylor Bears football game, where the colors of green and gold were everywhere!  Even though I am a Baptist, and live in an adjoining state, this was my first visit to the campus of Baylor University, chartered in 1845 by the last Congress of the Republic of Texas.  It is among the largest Baptist Universities in the world, with a 1,000-acre campus next to Interstate-35, between DFW and Austin. 

For me, the REAL reason to go to the game was to see granddaughter, Kaitlyn, on the sidelines, in her new roll as one of the freshmen Baylor cheerleaders.  She is shown here with her mom, who also was a cheerleader throughout high school.

As soon as we arrived on campus on the Saturday morning of the game, we hustled over to the part of campus where the "Bear Walk" is staged.  That is when the football players and their entourage, make their walk from their arrival bus to the stadium.  If you look closely, you can see that Kaitlyn is one of the (privileged) few, who stand on the side of the yellow rope that marks the path for the players and coaches.  Us family members are on the other side of the yellow line, but that does not keep us from posing for a group photo together!

Since an actual bear might be hard to control for the traditional "Bear Walk", the costumed mascot (known as Bruiser) makes the stroll instead.

Bruiser is a common sight at the Baylor home games, and a crowd favorite!  You can learn more about Bruiser, and all the Baylor traditions/teams/trivia at their website,   .

Many folks are familiar with the practice of tailgating before a sporting event, but the stadium at Baylor University offers the unique opportunity of "sailgating"!  Fans can pull their boats into the harbor beside the stadium, and enjoy some "boat-rockin' good times and good food" before the game starts!

After the Bear Walk festivities were over, we went back to tour the Bear Habitat across the street from my granddaughter's dormitory.

I had been aware of the live bear area for decades, because one of my classmates from elementary/ junior high/senior high school, died in a tragic accident, while a student at Baylor University.  His parents had the first Bear Plaza built in his honor.

It saddens my heart to remember his life being cut short, yet I can smile, because I know I will see him again in heaven. 

Behind the chain-link fence is where the two live bears live.  They are named Judge Joy and Judge Lady.  The title of "Judge" is a reference to the namesake of Baylor University, Judge R.E.B. Baylor.

This photo shows McClane Stadium, built at a cost of $260 million.  It opened in 2014, and sits on 97 acres, adjacent to the Brazos River.  This state-of-the-art athletic venue is an appropriate addition to the oldest continuously operating university in Texas.  (Incidentally, it is interesting to note that famous revolutionary war leader and hero Sam Houston gave the first $5,000 donation to start Baylor University.  Then, in 1854, Houston was baptized in the Brazos River, by a reverend, who would later become a President of Baylor University.)

McClane Stadium seats 45,000 spectators, and was designed by the same architects that produced the New York Yankees Stadium.  The distinct band of yellow you see in the lower level represents the "Baylor Line".  It is a made up of new Baylor students who wear special yellow football jerseys, which has a name on the front, and their intended graduation date on the back. 

The "Baylor Line" is a tradition that started in 1970, with the yellow-jersey-clad freshmen rushing the field before the home football games.  It was quite the sight to see, and seemed to produce an endless line of leaping/running/skipping enthusiastic freshmen!

Granddaughter Kaitlyn also ran onto the field (shown as the front cheerleader in this photo), but wearing her cheer uniform, rather than her freshman yellow jersey. 

Since just weeks earlier, I had been at the Huntsville, Alabama Space and Rocket Center, where I learned a great deal about the International Space Station, I was absolutely amazed when a broadcast from the International Space Station appeared on the score board!  It was the astronaut Robert Kimbrough,  giving a greeting to all of the fans at the game (including his daughter, who is a Baylor student, as well!).  He had a Baylor University official logo behind him inside the space station, and he was wearing his Baylor green shirt.  At the end of his remarks, he did a 360 degree "flip" for Baylor!  (Of course, it is considerably easier for him to do a flip in a no-gravity space capsule, than for Kaitlyn, and the other Baylor cheerleaders to perform their amazing flips here on earth!)

Kaitlyn is shown in this photo with the hand in the "open palm position", which is part of the traditional "Sic 'em Bears" rallying cheer.

When the game was over, and we exited the stadium, I was intrigued by the spectacular green lighting of the bridge, as it reflected over the Brazos River in Waco. 

My next Baylor Bear Expedition took me to ATT Stadium, in Arlington, Texas.  This photo shows grandson Jacob, in front of the goal posts, as we entered the famous athletic venue, minutes after the doors opened up.  Several years ago, I toured the facility when it was still called "Cowboys Stadium", and wrote about it on this blog in a post called "Superbowl Expedition".  Tours are still available, and you can go to their website ( ) to find out more information.  I was there this time with my family to see granddaughter Kaitlyn cheer for the Baylor Bears, in their match with rival Texas Tech University. 

When I took the tour over five years ago, I learned that the scoreboard, which goes from one twenty-yard line to the other twenty-yard line, was the largest high definition video screen ever erected.  So I was SO EXCITED to see that the roaming cameraman put Jenny and I up on the big screen long enough for her husband to get a photo of us!

watching that roaming cameraman, we were able to anticipate when he was going to put the Baylor cheerleaders on the big screen, as well!  Seeing Kaitlyn there in this stadium that is famous for its cheerleaders, as well as its football players, made me extremely happy for her getting to have this opportunity!

When the
game was over, and we were leaving the ATT Stadium, I had a very thankful heart, for the wonderful experience of being part of this "Bear Expedition"!  It occurred to me that I had a wonderful visual cue for one of my First Place 4 Health ( ) memory verses.  Colossians 3:13 tells us, "BEAR with each other and forgive whatever grievances you may have against one another.  Forgive as the Lord forgave you."  Perhaps there is no better place to see folks "Bear with each other" than a group of Baylor Bear fans!  Being a part of that experience has given me "MILES OF SMILES"!

Author's Addendum: After I returned home from my visit to Baylor University in Waco, and the Steve Hudson Memorial Bear Plaza, I had a new appreciation for the ceramic angels Steve Hudson gave me when I was about ten years old, and we sat  next to each other in our Fourth Grade class, in Central Elementary School, in Harrison, Arkansas.  I distinctly remember when Steve walked into my parents' store (Home School Supply) carrying a gift-wrapped package for me, I ran and hid in the back, where he could not see me.  (I was very timid back then!)  After he left the premises, I came out of hiding, and opened the gift, which contained these angels.  Now, he is WITH the angels in heaven, and these figurines are a reminder of a time long, long, long ago.  Perhaps childhood "puppy love" never completely leaves your consciousness.  I know this one will not.....