Last Monday started out as a typical day in the office with regular tasks and a meeting with President and Sister Baker. It seemed strange to attend the meeting and know that we would not be in the mission for the upcoming zone conferences and meetings that were on the schedule. In fact, I had to blink hard a few times to keep the tears at bay! Following the meeting we had a birthday/good-bye lunch at the Court House Cafe in Chesapeake. It was a delightful time spent with wonderful people we have grown to love!
Us with Sister Slatter and Sister Goldade - other office missionaries
The full office staff up until April 4 - Us, Sister Slatter, Sister Goldade, and Elder Wright. Wonderful people to spend every day with :)
Us and our lifesavers, Elder and Sister DeBow. They agreed to take on our office duties while still performing their other duties until another couple arrives. It was great to work with the and get to know them better. Sister DeBow and I had a few good laughs at how driven and compulsive out husbands are.....maybe they are twins :-)
Last opportunity for a picture with with the local elders that we saw regularly and really grew to love.
Left to right - Elder Price, Elder Naylor, Elder McClearly, Elder Brown, us.
Sure love these young men and the special enthusiasm and spirit they carry with them.
Lunch time celebration
The office staff and President and Sister Baker at the far end of the table. Note Elder Ashton's empty dessert container.
This is what it looked like before he and Elder DeBow enjoyed the chocolatey goodness ;-)
The Elders invited us to attend a lesson with them on Monday evening and we were glad to have one last opportunity to work with them and feel the spirit as they taught.
When we left the house and I was climbing into the truck I noticed what looked like light green curly leaves on the tree beside the truck door. Upon closer inspection I found this beautiful and unique bloom....then looked around and saw there were a number of these on the tree.
Tuesday we were up early cleaning and packing. It took much longer than I expected to finish that all up and leave the apartment ready for the landlord to inspect.
As I was packing, I noticed that I had worn out my most comfortable pair of shoes while on the mission.
Third time is a charm - Elder Ashton packed the pick-up 3 times, re-arranging each time until we were finally able to get everything in and even close the cover to the bed so we could keep everything dry.
Saying good-bye to our little apartment on the bottom left of the picture.
Leaving the parking lot for the last time. Since the apartment was all clean, we decided it would be better to spend the night in a hotel than to try to sleep on the floor, etc. So we stayed at a local hotel and left at 5 a.m. on Wednesday morning.Wednesday
Driving through North Carolina on Wednesday. I was captivated with this large area of bluebells just to the side of the road.
Headed toward the Smoky Mountains.......getting closer to seeing some long-time friends.
Driving down into the holler where Phil and Jennifer's place sits just off the road.
The wishing well and a big area of pretty yellow buttercups.
Notice all the beautiful trees surrounding their house - sure is a picturesque ad peaceful place!
So great to see these two and enjoy a delicious lunch that Jennifer had prepared - 20 years is a long time but I don't think they have changed much - still the same happy and loving people we knew in St. Johns.
We left Waynesville and Phil and Jennifer and traveled to the next town over to connect up with I-40 again. As we came down the street I was enchanted with the church on the little hill peaking out from between the trees.
Back on I-40 I noticed many of these trees with the lilac colored blooms - looked almost like lilacs but the blooms did not droop at all and the trees seemed to like stony ground.
We passed this area where there had been a rock slide and they were working to put up a wire fence barrier.
Almost at the summit of the Smokey Mountains......they were so pretty.
Made it to Nashville after a long day of driving.....and didn't even have enough energy to think about going to the Grand Old Opry ;-)
Not far out of Nashville we passed this decaying building. We say lots of this type of thing while we were in Virginia and North Carolina, but decaying buildings covered in vines look completely different than this one sitting in the middle of a field with very few trees around.
As we drove further we ran into a severe storm. We knew there had been some tornado warnings in the area the day before and as we drove along the sky got darker and darker with low hanging clouds, pouring rains and bright bolts of lightening. The rain was coming down in torrents and the clouds looked like they might start to form funnels......when we hydroplaned I got pretty nervous and said a quick prayer that the weather would clear. In less than 5 minutes we were driving along with lots of blue sky and only a few clouds. Tender mercies are wonderful!
We made it to Oklahoma City on Thursday night and we could see that there had been some rain but after 10 hours of driving all we wanted was a quick shower and a bed to sleep in.
It was a long flat stretch across I-40 through the rest of Oklahoma, the panhandle of Texas and across northern New Mexico to Albequerque. I started to feel like we were in familiar territory when I looked out the window and noticed the blue sky, puffy white clouds, and the brown flat mesas of the landscape. Elder Ashton and I both commented that it seemed strange to be able to see so far....no green trees with leaves to obstruct the view...just gray green brush and brown hills ;-)
This landscape outside of Albequerque, New Mexico is typical for the high mesas in norther New Mexico and Arizona and I could feel the excitement building as we got closer to home and family!
We stayed in Albequerque on Friday night and when we left on Saturday morning we noticed several hot air balloons. There were only a few so I know it wasn't the week-end for the hot air balloon festival but think they may have been practicing.
Due to our direction of travel, I was only able to capture one of the 10 or so balloons we saw.
Leaving Albequerque - more flat mesas and a long stretch of freeway as far as the eye can see. We observed that there were LOTS of 18 wheelers traveling on I-40.
We stayed with family in St. Johns, Arizona on Saturday night and I was able to snap a few pictures of family members while we were there.
Levi Ashton - our soon to be missionary grandson. He will leave July 6 to begin serving a mission in Birmingham, Alabama. He sure is a handsome and nice young man, if I do say so myself ;-)
Levi with his Mom,Michelle, Dad, Quinn, and sisters Mimi and Brycelyn. I think the parents and sisters will miss Levi a ton while he's gone but everyone is excited for this next adventure in his life. Sure did enjoy the hugs I got from all of them while we were there!
The other St. Johns family (Marcie, Ryan, Lauren, and Sydney) that spoiled me with hugs and smiles - loved spending time with them!
Left St. Johns after attending Sacrament Meeting so we could make it back to Gilbert to meet with our Stake President at 4:45.
Typical dessert landscape as we got closer to Gilbert.
Seems like it is almost a forest of Saguaro and brush - all a gray/green color. I asked Elder Ashton if the drab color was hurting his eyes after all the beautiful green and colored blooms we enjoyed in Virginia and his response was the he was glad he could see a great distance - it seems easier to find our way ;-)
We arrived home at 4:30, ran in our spotlessly cleaned house for just a moment and went on to the Stake Center to meet with the Stake President. He asked us to tell him a little about our mission and I felt pretty emotional as I thought about all the things I had learned and all the great experiences I had while we were on our adventure! I'll cherish the memories forever. When he released us from our mission and asked us to take the missionary badges off, I got even more emotional. It was a good thing we were going straight to our son's home for a family dinner!
I LOVED the welcoming signs and the balloons.....being away from our family has made me love them even more and I didn't think that was possible!
A son, two granddaughters, a grandson in-law and a great grandson. That precious baby smiled at me as soon as I talked to him in a silly voice :)
Left to right - Colby, Addie, Anthony, Grayson, and Kelli
We added a daughter and daughter-in-law to this picture.
Left to right - Felicia, Miranda (cooking away), Colby, and Addie.
As this adventure comes to an end I feel like this time of service benefitted me more than any of those I served. What a great opportunity to go and what a wonderful feeling to be back home with my more than awesome family!
This adventure could not have been any more excellent!