Something interesting happened during our stop in Alamogordo, NM Tuesday night. As 8 of us pulled into the restaurant parking lot, Trevor called to say that he had nearly stepped on a rattlesnake when he was hooking up the water at the campground. Here’s how the trip to Alamogordo went:

Passing by Geronimo's surrender site North of Douglas, AZ- caught this windswept beauty.

Can you see the bus, about a half mile (or more) down the highway? It took that long to stop from full speed after spotting this snake on the highway. Trevor, Ethan and I ran back and inspected the already dead specimen, which was not a rattler.

We left Belle’s ranch and headed Northeast, to I-10 and Las Cruces. Spectacular sunset in the rearview mirror that I felt guilty about not sharing with the rest of the family... All of our 67 feet rolled slowly through Las Cruces at dusk (we didn’t stop) - there were signs rejuvenated from their younger days in the 50’s and 60’s that made a sign guy feel warm all over- I might go back just to see the signs. North from Las Cruces we slipped through White Sands and some important sights under cover of darkness, finally pulling into our camping spot at Boot Hill RV around 730 and found a clean, comfortable place to stay for the night. Alamogordo was on our itinerary thanks to that listed the Eagle Ranch Pistachio farm, and we do love the free tours. We’ll never look at a pistachio nut the same again! The tour guide alleged that pistachio means Happy Nut in Chinese- although with our limited awareness of Chinese we can’t see any Chinese word construction roots…

Boys with the male tree, girls with the shorter female tree. It was windy this year, so all of the male tree didn't get to the female trees, and the yield was about half.

At a pistachio farm down the street from the Eagle Ranch (free tours there), we found the big nut, and found that their atomic chili brittle is pretty tasty.

There are male and female trees, each tree produces about 18 pounds of nuts in a good year, and the garlic/green chili flavored pistachio will take your breath away briefly when you take your first bite. We moved to an adjacent RV park that was more in our budget range and were surprised by the guy that owned the place, who guided us to our spot on his golf cart, who delivered brochures to us at our site, who treated us like we were his only guests and even invited us to the Thanksgiving dinner at the campground (he’s providing the turkey). After he nice folks at Boot Hill, then our pleasant visit to the Eagle Ranch, and now John at the Edgington RV Park- Alamogordo was getting all A’s for service! We explored the RV park for a while- pecans and almond trees were ripe for picking (Kelly does love the U-Pick, remember), Ethan tried his fishing hand at the private pond and we finally got the motivation to head out for a few things and dinner. John had recommended 2 places in town that he liked personally, so we set out for Peppers Grill. [Life lesson coming up]

Remember that Trevor called- whom we had left behind at the bus at his request for a couple hours of quiet- with the task of hooking up the water supply from the campground. He was excited when he called, but 15 years old cool as usual (he’s not actually 15 until the 29th). Trevor’s predictable, and will start a conversation with something unimportant and unrelated to what he really wants to tell you, every time he has something good- so when he told the story about hooking up the water I knew that he was telling the truth. Leaned down to hook the hose up to the water spigot and the rattle started up. He moved back and watched the killer snake head back under the neighbors RV. Finished the water hook up with me on the phone and went back into safety. We’ve been surrounded with shovels all of my life and guess what? We don’t have a shovel on the bus. We’re checking into getting a shovel- for digging, moving dirt, killing rattlesnakes, and stuff like that… But that snake business is old news right? We introduced ourselves to snakes back in Douglas last week. This was not the life lesson- read on.

Peppers was a comfortable family restaurant about a third full, quick to seat and everyone found something easily to eat from the menu. Everyone kept busy, chatty, fun lively conversation- although I think we were quiet enough. Honestly, it’s always interesting going anywhere with our bunch. We have something for almost anyone to walk up and start a conversation if they like! I always look for some common ground when I meet someone new, and we offer just that to others- large family, Chinese kids, teenagers, cute matching 6 year olds without arms (that one catches most people off guard), stepping out of a really big bus, etc etc etc. So we’re used to talking with people we don’t know, and it usually starts with an observation they make about our family. Sometimes it feels like we’re in a bubble and everyone is staring for whatever reason .. and then it’s easy to focus on our family and not see anything outside of our group…. So last night, we are in our own world in the restaurant having those conversations- there are people at the adjacent tables, but we hadn’t spoken to anyone.

Henry was beside himself, that this huge chocolate cake was all his! (He did end up sharing it).

At the end of the meal, the waitress showed up with a huge platter of dessert and said we should pick something, that it was on the house. Weird, we didn’t know anyone, or hadn’t really talked to anyone here and I couldn’t figure it out, so we went with it. Bad thing was that we were already so full… we don’t ever really get dessert when we eat out- 9 people for dessert, ha! We suffered through dessert with glee, but the mystery still hung over the table of why? The check came, and I discovered another chapter of the Alamogordo experience. There was a business card from the man that had apparently been sitting next to us- it was a table of 2 men and a lady that we didn’t really even say hello to. On the card, he had written ‘Merry Christmas’, then signed his name. I read it to the family, and everyone sat there quiet for a minute. It was interesting seeing the kids trying to evaluate why this happened to our family?

Unknowingly for their whole lives, our kids have been immersed in a life experience of Kelly and I trying to set an example of giving- whether it’s been through family sacrifices for me to give hours and hours to the volunteer fire department, Kelly’s multi week trips to China to do cleft surgeries, our ‘family’ events at the theater that preempted family activities for community events; all of those events have taught our family that giving to others is part of daily life. We hope that they will always embrace giving to others as part of their lives in some way. Last week at Belle’s ranch they each stepped up and gave heartily to a ranch in need and proved to us that the formula is working… So, it’s a new situation when something like this happens, and inevitably you ask why? It was good for some conversation, and graciously we tipped our waitress and headed back out onto the Alamogordo streets, having made another local friend. The restaurant staff spilled the beans that the man was a regular customer and local builder that was generous to the community, this act didn’t surprise them but had a positive impact on our family. Thanks Jim, of French Brothers Construction for dinner, and providing this valuable family life lesson.

That was it. A business card with a simple message that left us wondering and appreciative that strangers can affect your life, no matter who you are or what you do. It doesn't have to be dinner, but do something that you don't have to do for someone else, and help us spread this kind gesture to others. We will, too.

**Interestingly, the next morning on the way to the White Sands Monument, we came across 2 billboards- the first one was for the city of Alamogordo- with the tagline: "The friendliest place on earth", and the next billboard was for French Brothers construction. How appropriate.