A Leg Up in Big D

From the lakes of Minnesota

To the hills of Tennessee

Across the plains of Texas

From sea to shining sea.

– Lee Greenwood, God Bless the USA

“As we express our gratitude, we must never forget that the highest appreciation is not to utter words, but to live by them.”               

– John F. Kennedy

October 15-18, 2015

One of the coolest things most parents get to do is watch their children grow up, and hopefully leave the nest, find a soul mate, and decide on a profession about which they are passionate. As full-time RVers, one of the coolest things we get to do is stalk our children at will, rolling into their towns to get caught up on their lives and make sure they are showering. While there is something to be said for extended families that all live in the same town, there is also something special about the time spent with family and friends that we don’t see every day. We tend to really appreciate those moments and not take them for granted.

It was time to visit our eldest son, Jason, and his lovely wife, Rachel, and that meant a trip to the Big DDallas, Texas. This year we literally have gone from the lakes of Minnesota to the hills of Tennessee. It seemed inevitable that we’d eventually cross the plains of Texas. Texas has a bit of an attitude that I love. We were stationed in San Antonio for a few years in the mid-90s and came to appreciate Texans’ fiercely independent nature and love of guns, their state flag, rodeos, and beef barbecue. They also love their 5-time Super Bowl winning Dallas Cowboys, as do I. Things are bigger in Texas and you certainly don’t want to mess with them. We tend to see and do things in Texas that we haven’t seen or done in other states. For example, you can go to Austin, sit on the banks near the Congress Avenue Bridge, and watch 1.5 million Mexican free-tailed bats come out every night. It’s the largest urban bat colony in North America and cool doesn’t begin to describe their nightly exodus. Just as impressive…you can pull into a gas station and order Sonic while pumping gas. Leave it to Texas to solve the age-old problem of having to pump gas and then go inside to eat.

Seriously? It's come to this?
Seriously? It’s come to this?

These days, our favorite thing about Texas is the people, starting with Jason and Rachel. Visiting family or friends with cats is always a bit unpredictable for us, as Lil Jan is highly allergic to them. Sometimes her eyes water, her face gets puffy, and she begins scratching at furniture. Throw in menopausal hot flashes and she becomes, well, a carnival attraction. Fortunately, the cats weren’t too much of a problem and we were thrilled to be able to visit Jason and Rachel and see them fully nested in their cute east-Dallas apartment.

Love the Headsets!
Love the Headsets!

They took us to downtown Dallas for a tour of the Sixth Floor Museum at Dealey Plaza. As a high school student, I wrote a book report on a book highly critical of the Warren Commission and its findings on Kennedy’s assassination. Ever since then, I have been fascinated with the subject, and have visited the sites where Lincoln, Kennedy, and Martin Luther King, Jr., were assassinated. I’m not necessarily a conspiracy theorist, but I do enjoy studying the history, motives, weaponry, logistics, and contexts for these tragic events. We did a lot of historical tours and museums during our journey down the Great River Road. Some are better than others and each has its strengths. The Sixth Floor Museum’s strength was in the amount of information and insights presented via an audio tour. We took an elevator to the 6th floor of the former Texas School Book Depository and began the self-guided tour using nifty audio headsets. Even with a big crowd, the headsets allow you to go at your own pace and not have to strain to hear a tour guide. We learned about JFK’s life, the major challenges and achievements of his presidency, Cold War history, and the events surrounding that fateful day in Dallas.

A Killer's Point of View
A Killer’s Point of View
Dealey Plaza
Dealey Plaza

The tour winds its way around the floor and eventually takes you to the stack of boxes where Lee Harvey Oswald positioned himself near the window and fired the fatal bullets at the presidential motorcade as it passed by. I looked out the window and tried to imagine the throngs of people lining Dealey Plaza, so excited to see their young energetic president and his wife pass by. In an instant, in an act of cowardice and evil, he was gone. He once challenged the nation to “ask now what your country can do for you; ask what you can do for your country.” With today’s emphasis on self over service and handouts over hard work, his words still ring true.

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Our next stop was Klyde Warren Park, the 5.2-acre downtown park which is a gathering place for residents and visitors. As we ate lunch from a food truck, we watched the children play and dogs being walked in the park. We then boarded a train and headed to UT Southwestern Medical Center, where Jason is pursuing a graduate degree in Prosthetics-Orthotics at their School of Health Professions. Those of you who know Jason know that he has a big brain and an even bigger heart. It’s not surprising, then, that he would pursue a career designing, constructing, and fitting artificial limbs to help people literally get back on their feet again. I’ve been in some places where people have lost limbs. At the Egyptian field hospital at Bagram Air Base, Afghanistan, I’ve stood at the bedside and prayed for children who have lost legs and arms from landmine explosions. I always walked away sad that I couldn’t do more for them and actually make them whole again. So, you could say I’m more than a little proud of Jason for choosing a career focused on helping and healing others. He also knows how to give a good tour, as he actually has a part-time job giving tours at his school. He showed us around the campus, pointed out some of his classrooms and labs, and answered our many questions.

Mario & Koop Troopa
Mario & Koopa Troopa
Hangin' with the Gentrys!
Hangin’ with the Gentrys!

That night we were invited to dinner at the home of Lonnie & Lynne Gentry, long-time friends from our assignments in Georgia and Texas…along with their daughter, Megan, and her husband and daughter. Lonnie is a former preacher who is now pursuing a doctorate in Philosophy and Medical Ethics. He is a deep thinker, and it didn’t take us long to get into a good discussion about the nature of the soul and the afterlife. Lynne, among many talents and interests, is a published author and a great friend and mentor to Lil Jan. It was great catching up with them and learning about their latest projects and pursuits in Dallas. The next morning, we enjoyed worship at Jason & Rachel’s congregation, the Prestoncrest Church of Christ. After lunch, they took us to a nearby, drought-stricken Par 3 nine-hole golf course for an afternoon of fun and exercise.

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Jason and Rachel are off to a great start in their marriage and careers. Here are some of their initial impressions on married life and other topics…

What do you like least and best about living in Dallas?

J: Least- It seems like it takes at least 30 minutes to get anywhere, assuming there are no wrecks. Best- The variety of things to do… I’ve never lived in a big city where they have almost anything I could want to do.

R: Least- Everyone is so spread out, it’s hard to feel like a part of a community. Even our church friends all live super far away from each other. Best- Living so close to my parents. It’s awesome to be able to meet up for dinner or see each other on weekends so easily.

2. Jas, why did you chose a Prosthetics/Orthotics career and how is school going so far? Do you want to specialize?

J: I didn’t choose PO school, PO school chose me. But actually, I’d say I’ve always wanted to help people, and I really love learning about the body and anatomy and all the science-y stuff. Honestly I’d say that when PT didn’t work out, I felt like God just kinda dumped this in my lap. I didn’t know much about it before that, but it allows me to combine the enjoyment of science with really impacting people’s lives for the better, and being able to be creative as well with building prosthetics. I really love school, and I actually enjoy learning the information that I have to learn which makes the long days much more bearable. I don’t plan on specializing because the only real specialty you can do is with breasts and, well, I’m not about that life. I might like to work in pediatrics but I’m not sure where God will lead us.

Best Tour Guide Ever!
Best Tour Guide Ever!

3. Having done the married thing for 15 months, what have you learned? Advice for others?

R: I’d say that a big thing for me is that we can’t create a healthy marriage, we need God to do that. When we have a problem come up, we can’t expect to resolve it on our own… When we try it always seems to fail, and sometimes even make things worse. Praying for our marriage and each other is huge in having a successful relationship.

J: I was sort of going to say something along the same lines. Basically, the example of marriage that we have is of Jesus and the church. For me as the male, to be the perfect husband I basically have to be Jesus… I don’t come anywhere close to that, but I try to keep that as a reminder when I’m upset or frustrated or tired, and also in the good times too because Jesus celebrates joy with his church as well. For advice, I would say that honesty is super important, not just with your spouse but with yourself as well. It’s the only way to have a healthy relationship because when you’re honest with yourself and then with each other you can really trust one another. I would also say to spend as much time together as you can, whether you’re doing stuff together or just sitting and reading or doing two totally different things. Just being together helps make you more like a unit, a pair, not just two individuals who live together.

R: I definitely agree with what Jason said, those are huge. Another one I would say is to consciously make sure that love is your goal in all of your interactions with your spouse. When I started asking myself what my goal was in my interactions with Jason, oftentimes I would catch myself being more concerned with being understood, communicating effectively, being happy, etc., and acting unloving in the process. Even though communication, being understood, happiness, and more are fine, when they come before love they don’t mean much, especially in a marriage.

4. Rach, how are you using your Speech Pathology degree?

R: I am working as an independent contractor Speech Pathology Assistant for a home health speech company called Preferred Therapy Services. Basically, I go home to home to provide speech therapy for all the kiddos in my caseload. I see kids from ages 3-16 with a variety of speech-language disorders. It’s a cool opportunity to get to know not only the kids but also the families, and to make a lasting impact in their lives. Working in homes makes my job much more personal and allows me to have an impact in more areas than just speech. It also helps me care more deeply for my kids and their families because I see into their lives and really get to know them.

5. How will your experience raising cats help you to be better parents?

R: Seeing as we don’t have any children, I’d say that raising cats has had absolutely no impact on how good of a parent I am.

J: I agree with Rachel, I think I’m just as good of a parent as I was before we had cats. But someday when we have kids, it’s purrfectly acceptable to let them drink out of the toilet when they’re thirsty. It’s not my fault if they choose that over their water bowl.

R: I need to teach them to bury their poop at a young age, before bad habits form.

J: No need for baths, they can lick themselves clean.

R: Wet food is technically better for them, but kibbles are so much easier. Not sure if that makes me a better parent or not but it sure is gonna make my life simpler.

J: I’ve learned that they’ll sleep better in a cardboard box lined with tissue paper than any nice bed you provide.

R: Always raise the blinds before you leave for work so that they can sit on the windowsill. They like that.

J: We’ve learned a lot about proper punishment techniques. No yelling, no smacks, just pick them up by the scruff of their neck and throw them in the bathroom for a while. Make sure you leave the light off. It works every time.

6. Do you have any future plans after school?

J: I will have to do two residencies, one for prosthetics and one for orthotics. We want to have children and are especially interested in adopting. We are interested in moving somewhere in the northern U.S. but are open to living wherever God wants us to go, including overseas. We can make all the plans we want but we know they will likely change many more times so we are trying not to get too set on anything.

7. Funniest or most memorable thing that’s happened in Dallas?

R: One day while I was home alone, just relaxing in a recliner next to the window, I heard “I’m gonna –beep-ing kill you!!” from outside. I looked out the window and saw two cops running across our courtyard, guns drawn, yelling, “Drop to your knees! You better hit your knees!” A few minutes later (when clearly whoever it was had not hit his knees), a search helicopter starting flying over our apartment complex. Jason was on his way home from school at this time, and said that there were police cars lining the roads around our complex. Later, when telling this story to a friend from church who was a Dallas police officer, we found out that our apartment complex is its own police patrol zone. Good news is, our monthly rent is way cheaper than all of our friends.

J: I decided to take Rachel on a hike for her birthday. I found a list of top hikes in Dallas online, and number 2 was right down the road from us and looked really pretty, so we went for it. The hike was supposed to be four miles long, winding through the woods and ending up at the dart station where my car was parked. Unfortunately, the blog I read was from 2010, which we decided was probably the last time the trail had been used. After roughing it for most of the hike, but being determined to finish, we found that the last half-mile of the trail was completely under water, and had to backtrack and take a different route. Four and a half hours after we began the hike, we emerged in our matching rain jackets, wet from the rain, covered in scrapes, leaves, and mud, still unsure of whether or not we had ever found the trail. To top it all off, once we got my car to a gas station, it wouldn’t start again… We spent about an hour sitting there, finally got the car started, and then had to drive it around for half an hour to charge up the battery. We were starving, so we drove home and Rachel ran inside to make us food, then we sat in the parking lot and ate our hotdogs with the car running. Rachel said it was her favorite birthday hike ever.

We thoroughly enjoyed our time in the Big D and are happy to see Jas and Rach off to a great start in their marriage.  As for us, it was almost time to pack our bags for the Bahamas!  More on that next time.

Big Steve

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