Praising Arizona

Arizona Escapade Opener

As most of you know I love adventures. In fact, I love them so much, I can turn practically any mundane situation into one. I find that my life is more interesting when it’s filled with adventure.

Adventures are a lot like roller coaster rides. There are many ups and downs, along with a few dramatic twists and many unexpected turns. These experiences make your heart race and take your emotions to the edge. They also have the ability to make you laugh and cry at the same time. Truly great adventures force you to expand, to grow and to learn something new about yourself.

Sometimes the lessons an adventure gives are easy to take, like that feeling of satisfaction from eating half of a Reese’s Peanut Butter Cup Cheesecake in one setting. Other times, the lessons we need to learn aren’t as easy to swallow.

In the past few years I have been on many wondrous and magical adventures. Each one of them have allowed me to experience things I couldn’t have imagined as I was growing up in Morrilton, Arkansas. Some adventures have been small and thrilling, like helping my friend Judy Murrah start her blogging adventure and realizing halfway through the process that I was helping the legendary Judy Murrah of Jacket Jazz fame. Wow, that was an adventure I will never forget!

Some adventures have been a little grander in scale, like taking a trip with my Peeps to The Texas Quilt Museum to see my quilt hanging there. I can hardly believe it. I had a quilt hanging in a museum. Is this a crazy marvelous world or what? 

Other adventures have amazed me and been cooler than I could have dreamed of, like the recent airing of my Quilt Show episode. I am still having a hard time believing that one. 

Lastly, some adventures have been life altering and made me wonder where I fit in the world and how could this have happened, like my mother’s cancer diagnosis and the loss of my beloved Bill in September.

Navigating through this last adventure has been much harder than eating a cheesecake, because everything I had known for almost 20 years changed over night. My life was exactly the same, except now I had a big hole in it. I couldn’t imagine what life was going to be like or how I was supposed to go on.

That’s where my dear friends Gene and Sharon Schamber came in.

Gene, Sharon and Tom

Gene, Sharon and I at the AQS show in Paducah, KY.

This amazing couple invited me to stay with them for a while after Bill’s passing. I agreed to go at first, then talked myself out of it multiple times. I realized that I needed to get away from me and all that was going on in my head, so off to Payson, AZ, I went.

Sharon and Gene were generous and gracious hosts. They treated me so well during my visit, that it was hard to come home and face my reality. They’d let me ramble on endlessly about nothing and offer a shoulder to cry on when I needed it. They did everything they could think of to set me on a path to heal from the pain of my loss.

Sharon and I spent endless hours talking, sharing tears and laughter. She patiently listened as I worked through the grief. While we stayed busy, Gene would be in and out of the studio checking to see if we needed anything and letting us know what he’d planned for our culinary extravaganza.

Hummingbirds at Feeder

Dozens of hummingbirds feed at the back of Gene and Sharon’s house throughout the day.

Gene is a fabulous cook and his apple pies are legendary. Along with his amazing culinary skills, he is also a wonderful gardener, naturalist and storyteller. He is a Renaissance man to his core and the best tour guide EVER!

The Wizard of AZ at Meteor Crater

The Wizard of AZ, otherwise known as Gene Schamber, at the extraordinary and awe-inspiring Meteor Crater State Park.

I had mentioned to Gene that I had never been to Arizona, so he planned a fabulous day trip to show me the all the amazing natural and historic sights in the area.

Strawberry Schoolhouse in Strawberry Valley Arizona

The Strawberry Schoolhouse is the oldest standing schoolhouse is Arizona.

Gene knows I enjoy sharing photos with you, so he organized an expedition that would give me as many chances to take photos as possible. We went everywhere he could think of and had many fun-filled hours of conversation.

Red Rocks On Road To Sedona

The terrain changes dramatically as you travel from one part of Arizona to another.

Gene has a natural gift for storytelling and he made this adventure one that I will never forget.


An enormous and photogenic Agave plant.

I’d point out a plant and he could tell me the name and something about it.

Cactus That Looks Like Seaweed

The amazing plant is an Ocotillo cactus. Thanks for the plant name Ruth!

I’d see an amazing cactus and we’d stop to take pictures of it.

Purple Cactus

This photo has not been altered. It’s a real purple cactus. Sweet!

I was amazed by what he knew. I couldn’t get over the fact that he knew something about everything.

Crater Lake

This is Crater Lake in Coconino County, AZ.

His knowledge of cactus types was only equalled to his understanding of wildlife habitats.

Meteor Crater National Park

Meteor Crater National Park is beyond description.

As our adventure continued, we went from one amazing place to another.

Montezuma Castle

Montezuma Castle is one of the preserved cliff dwelling in North America.

The historic sights were awe-inspiring and the natural beauty of the state left me breathless.

Purple Flowering Bush

This gorgeous lavender bush is called a Texas Sage. Thanks for the plant name Ken!

As we traveled from one area of the state to the next, the terrain would change dramatically.

Cactus outside the Chapel of the Holy Cross in Sedona

This beautiful mystery cactus was outside the Chapel of the Holy Cross.

In some cases it felt like we had moved to another planet. We would go from 60-ft. tall trees and lots of scrub brush, to no trees and dirt, all in a 40-mile span.

Marigolds In Sedona

Another look at the extraordinary mountains surrounding Sedona.

One of the stops on our journey was Sedona. It is a truly magical and mystical place.

Red Rocks In Sedona

Red mountains outside the Chapel of the Holy Cross in Sedona.

The color in the rock is so intense and different from what I’m used to seeing, that it made me think something was wrong with my eyes.

Chapel of the Holy Cross in Sedona

This beautiful structure is the Chapel of the Holy Cross in Sedona.

As we rode around, I could barely grasp all the beauty that lay before me and I will remain forever grateful to Gene and Sharon for taking me on such a magical adventure.

. . . . . . . . .

I hope you’ve enjoyed my trip to Arizona as much as I have sharing it with you. It was fabulous to relive the magic of the experience, even though it brings a bit of sadness along with it.

As I said, adventures change us. They help us grow and learn something new about ourselves. My time with Gene and Sharon did those things and more.

I realized while I was there that I had many more adventures ahead of me and that I needed to learn to embrace each and every one, which brings me to what happens next. Now that I have completed this post and you’ve seen some of the beauty that awaits in Arizona, I am ready to tell you about another adventure I am going on. Because I am a tease and I enjoy your company, you’ll have to come back to find out about it.

As always, I look forward to hearing from you. xxxooo 🙂

. . . . . . . . .

If you would like to see more photos from this healing adventure, then click here.

Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

44 Responses to “Praising Arizona”

  1. Nikki Brackin Says:

    Fabulous – awe inspiring – thank you for sharing it!

    • Tom Russell Says:

      Hey Nikki! Thanks. I am glad you enjoyed the photos. I have been to a variety of amazing places, but this day trip showed me things I had never seen before.

      Awe inspiring is the correct phrase. There was amazing beauty around every corner and it would be so different from the last place we visited. It was an exciting and visually stimulating adventure.

      I hope you have a fabulous day! xxxooo 🙂

  2. Chris Chambers Says:

    Thanks for sharing your Arizona adventure. So glad you were with Gene and Sharon. I met them at a lecture/workshop in Southern California a few years ago and they couldn’t have been sweeter. (How many people do you know who would let 200 women pass her smaller quilts around a room?) Take care….

    • Tom Russell Says:

      Hi Chris, I knew I was lucky to have them as friends for the last 10 or so years, but I didn’t know how big a role they would play in my life when we first met.

      They are an amazing couple and each of them went to great lengths to show me life could go on and that they would be there to support me as I worked through my loss.

      Yes, they are sweet and so much more.

      Thanks for commenting and sharing your story about this remarkable pair. Have a fantastic day!

  3. kathy Says:

    I can’t wait to visit there myself! Love your pictures especially the peeps!

    • Tom Russell Says:

      Hey there! I’m looking forward to my next visit already. Now that I know what’s there, I’m anxious to get back and have more adventures. xxxooo 🙂

  4. Tay Cutchin Satterfield Says:

    So very sorry to hear about your mom’s diagnosis (I’ve been there with both parents) and the loss of your most special friend Bill. But I truly believe God had in his plan FOR YOU to have you get into the world of quilting where you’d have lots of support when the “downs” of the roller coaster became so great. Gene and Sharen were your “saviors” and what a God-send (literally).

    Arizona is quite a beautiful state for sure and I’ve been to Sedona also (YEARS ago!). I just remember there was so much LAND in Arizona that if I was wanted by the law, that’s where I’d go to “hide out”. Especially in those “Indian condominiums”!!!

    • Tom Russell Says:

      Hi Tay, Thank you for your kind words. They mean a lot. My mother’s diagnosis was hard to deal with, but she is doing fine now. She has been in remission for six months and is getting stronger every day. She is a miracle.

      Yes, I believe that God does have a plan and I am anxious to see how it unfolds. I know quilting is going to be a major part of it.

      Gene and Sharon, along with several other friends were my gift from God. They created an unending chain of love and support around me during that very difficult time.

      It has been just over 10 months since Bill passed away and the chain is still as strong as ever. I am blessed.

      Arizona is an amazing place to lose yourself in or hide out is necessary. There is breathtaking beauty around every corner and miles and miles of open country experience.

      I hope God’s plan for me doesn’t require that I hide out in any place beyond my studio or that of a friends. That kind of hiding out, is what I live for.

      Thanks for kind words and support. I hope you will come back and visit again. Have a wonderful day!

  5. Shannon Young Says:

    It was so good to see you at AQG this month! You always bring so much light with you. 🙂 What a wonderful, talented soul you are. The world needs more Tom Russells – have you thought about cloning yourself?

    • Tom Russell Says:

      Hey Shannon! It was great to see you too. Although we didn’t have a chance to talk, it was wonderful to see you doing so well.

      It was especially fun to see you win one of the door prizes. The groans from the crowd were hilarious. You are definitely loved by many in that wonderful guild and it’s easy to see why.

      Thank you for your kind words. I barely know how to respond. All I know is that there is no reason to clone me, when loving people like you surround me.

      You light changes everyone around you and we are all blessed because you are in our lives.

      I will be looking forward to my next visit to AQG and with you. I won’t let another opportunity for us to chat pass me by.

      xxxooo 🙂

  6. müller chris Says:

    Very nice pictures. I have visited Arizona (years ago). I loved your show.

    • Tom Russell Says:

      Hi Chris, Thanks. I had an amazing experience in Arizona and I hope my photos brought back fond memories for you and I am glad you enjoyed my episode of the Quilt Show.

      Thanks for stopping by to comment. It was a joy to hear from you.

      I hope you have an incredible day!

  7. Sharon Kisel Says:

    Sedona is indeed a very special place. We spent several days there and in Arizona in general traveling between Phoenix and Sedona several years ago. (I think I have some of those same pictures!!) I loved it then and still do.

    How comforting that you had wonderful friends in the Schambers that gave of themselves to offer you a healing time. Not everyone can be comforted by the sentiments in the poem “Do not stand at my grave and weep” by Mary Elizabeth Frye (written in 1932), but because I believe that we are only apart temporarily from loved ones as we all remain part of the universe, it has meant a lot to me. It does not take away the pain but it puts the purpose to going on because our individual stories have not finished in the telling.

    Ok, my philosophy major leanings are coming out—and my husband insists that the surest way to get a nap is to open a philosophy book. Thank you again for the wonderful photos and the reminder of a wonderful time I enjoyed in Arizona. We are all waiting to hear the additional exciting news in your life!

    • Tom Russell Says:

      Hi Sharon, I am glad you enjoyed the photos. I had a fabulous time photographing the beauty that surrounded me. I actually thought I took more photos, but I guess I was too spellbound to click the camera button at times.

      Yes, Sharon and Gene offered amazing and encouragement during this very difficult time. I agree. We are only apart temporarily from those we love, but the pain of the initial separation is gut-wrenching. I have endured a variety of emotionally painful things in my life, but nothing compares to the loss of Bill.

      Losing someone adds clarity to life. The shock of it forces you to make decisions about what you want and what you don’t want in your life.

      I know my story isn’t over. There are many chapters left for me to write and I know that Bill is with me as I experience each adventure. I find tremendous comfort in knowing he is with me.

      I have enjoyed the conversation and I am positive that others will enjoy it too, so thank you for sharing your thoughts and the poem.

      I plan to post my news in the next day or two. I have been running around the state of Texas and it’s hard to type and drive at the same time. 🙂

      Thanks again for writing. I will be looking forward to your next visit.

  8. Sherry Branham Says:

    So, when are we moving? We…you are taking us all along, aren’t you?

    • Tom Russell Says:

      Hey Sherry, We’re not moving yet, but you are all welcome to come on the adventure with me. The more Peeps on an adventure, the better.

      Thanks for dropping by to comment. It’s great hearing from you! xxxooo 🙂

  9. grapeskystudio Says:

    Great photos! I was in Arizona last January at the Grand Canyon. I met my son there who now lives in San Francisco. We had a wonderful time and truly enjoyed the amazing views there. Your photos bring back fond memories!

    • Tom Russell Says:

      Hey there, I’m glad you enjoyed the photos and am thrilled to hear they brought back wonderful memories of time spent with your son.

      We didn’t make it to the Grand Canyon on this trip, but I hope to get there one day. I know my Magic Camera is going to love that majestic place.

      Thanks for stopping by and commenting. I hope you will come back again soon. Have a wonderful day!

  10. Bruce Eastman Says:

    Sharon and Gene are wonderful people. They are so welcoming and make you feel like you are part of their family.

    Gene’s apple pies and apple crisps are out of this world. Gene is wonderful story teller and like Sharon, loves to teach and share everything he can with everyone. I love his title “The Wizard of AZ”, that is classic. I’ve told him he should run for Mayor of Payson, don’t you think he’d be great?

    And from the short time I’ve been reading your blog, I’ve come to see (or read) what a story teller you are. You have a wonderful way of spinning your story and grabbing your readers attention. You are truly a gifted person.

    I hope I have the chance to meet you in person, maybe in Payson?

    • Tom Russell Says:

      Hi Bruce, Thanks for corroborating my story about Gene’s apple pies. I haven’t had his apple crisps yet, but I will be asking about them the next time I call. He said the apple trees are doing well this year, so I am expecting delicious results.

      HA! I’m glad you like the “Wizard” title. I thought it suited him to a tee. I agree. He would be a great mayor for Payson. If not mayor, they should appoint him Ambassador of Payson. He knows everyone and would be a perfect spokesperson for this wonderful town.

      Thank you for the kind words about my blog. They are wonderful to hear. I enjoy sharing my experiences and it thrills me to no end to know that my stories are enjoyed by others.

      Thanks for taking the time to comment. I will be looking forward to our meeting, in person, in Payson.

  11. Wanda Nesloney Says:

    Tom, I am so glad you enjoyed your trip to Sedona. I was there a year ago April and saw many of the same sites as you. Did you explore any of the Vortexes? You were actually at one while at the church. I took a vortex tour while there and experienced many wonderful things. So glad you were able to explore Sedona.

    • Tom Russell Says:

      Hi Wanda, I did enjoy my trip to Sedona. It was magical in so many ways. We were only in Sedona for a few hours, so I didn’t go on any of the vortex tours, but the energy surrounding the area left me feeling unbalanced and slightly dizzy from time to time.

      The church was wonderful and surreal. If it sits on a vortex, that explains a lot about how I was feeling. Being there sometimes felt like you were moving while standing still. Lots of people held onto things for balance. It was a magical experience.

      It was a fabulously fun adventure and I will be looking forward to my next visit.

      Thanks for sharing your experience in Sedona with me and my readers. I hope you have a magical day!

  12. Donna Chapman Says:

    Thanks for sharing your pics…. I pray you will continue to heal and grow after you get back home.

    • Tom Russell Says:

      Hi Donna, Thank you for your prayers and support. Bill passed away in September and I just couldn’t find a way to post the photos until now without it dragging me down.

      No one ever heals from this experience, the pain is just less raw. I am doing much better now and can look at the beauty I captured and enjoy the moment for what it was, an amazing, loving and healing experience.

      Thanks for taking the time to comment. I really appreciate it. I hope you have a joyous day!

  13. Ruth Dassen Says:

    Glad you enjoyed MY home (I’m one of the rare, old natives!) and that you got to see some of its natural beauty. By the way, the cactus you forgot the name of is an ocotillo. They’re one of my favorites.

    All the best as you go through the grief process. Come back and visit some time!

    • Tom Russell Says:

      Hi Ruth, YOU have an amazing home. It was a joy to be there and I will be looking forward to my next visit.

      Thanks for identifying the cactus. I will add it to my caption. It was extraordinary to look at and very photogenic. My Magic Camera loved it!

      Thanks for commenting and I hope you will come back again soon.

      Have a fabulous day!

  14. KathyE Says:

    Are you moving to Arizona?
    Beautiful pictures from a beautiful state.
    You can really tell a story and keep the suspense.

    • Tom Russell Says:

      Hi Kathy, Nope. I’m not moving to Arizona, but I considered it after revisiting the photos from this magical place.

      I am glad you enjoyed the photos. Most people, myself included, only think of Phoenix and the heat when you think of Arizona, but it is so much more than that. The areas we visited felt and looked much more like Colorado than they did desert area.

      I am glad you enjoyed the story. My news is right around the corner, so stay tuned. Have a glorious day!

  15. Helen Seidel Says:

    Greetings from Buna, TX! Awesome pictures! Sedona is one of my favorite places. You are awsome too! Hugs and Love!

    • Tom Russell Says:

      Hi Helen and thank you for the Buna welcome. I have never heard of Buna, so I checked it out. You are near Jasper. How cool is that?

      I was in Jasper a few weeks ago visiting the Golden Needle Quilt Shop. It’s a fabulous store and surrounded by beautiful countryside. I am looking forward to getting back there soon.

      I am glad you enjoyed the photos. That’s always wonderful to hear.

      I think you are amazingly awesome too. Hugs and love, right back at you. Have a fabulous day!

  16. jayardi Says:

    • • • Sounds like a wonderful adventure. You sure do get around. 😉 Thank you for taking us along and sharing the beautiful sites.

    • Tom Russell Says:

      Hey Jayardi, It was a wonderful adventure and it was my pleasure to share it with you.

      One of these days, we’ll go on an adventure together and you’ll not have to wait to see it in pictures. I’m looking forward to that adventure—oh yes, indeed. That will be an adventure and a half and I am sure I’ll need to rest after it is over.

      Thanks for dropping by to comment. It is always a treat to hear from you. xxxooo 🙂

  17. Delia Lopez Says:

    We each have to deal with grief in our own way and special people in our lives do more than they know!! I met you in front of your quilt at the Texas Quilt Museum and I think it was fate.

    As I mentioned to you before, I lost my twin sister 10 years ago this month, I lost my Dad last September, and my husband was diagnosed with idopath pulmonary fibrosis last December. Your pictures and your adventures are such a lift and they help me to remember we can only take it one day and one moment at a time. Thank you for sharing your adventure.

    • Tom Russell Says:

      Hi Delia, How could I forget you? I remember that special day, as if it were yesterday. It was a magical experience for me and I will be looking forward to seeing you again.

      I remember you mentioning the loss of your sister and dad, but had no idea about your husband’s diagnosis. It hurts my heart to hear that you are going through so much.

      It is a difficult path you are on, but you are strong and will see it through. I am glad you find comfort and joy from reading my blog. Your words help me clarify the importance of maintaining it.

      I knew I loved working on it for my enjoyment and to share what I am doing, but I didn’t realize how it provides a much needed distraction on those days that are almost too emotionally overwhelming to handle.

      If you can find a joyful moment each day, then you are doing great. Find ways to celebrate every moment that is good and savor it for the miracle and gift that it is. Be like me, find adventure and joy in everything you can.

      Reality can suck at times, but we make our own reality and although times will be tough, you can find adventure and miracles daily, if you start looking for them.

      Thank you for sharing your stories with me. I am blessed to have met you on that glorious day and I will be looking forward to seeing you again. On that special day, I will anxiously sit and listen as you regale me with tales of the many adventures you have been on.

      I hope you have a day filled with miracles and magic. xxxooo 🙂

  18. Cyn Strang Says:

    What a lovely trip filled with healing and rejuvenation. It’s always a blessing to have such wonderful friends who care for your heart, too. Would love to taste Gene’s cooking and meet Sharon. They sound like wonderful friends to have.

    Loved the photos from their neighborhood. Would love to see Arizona sometime. It’s truly a beautiful desert! Thank you for sharing your experience during one of the most incredibly difficult times of your life. So thankful you had Sharon and Gene to be by your side.

    Much love to you from hot, humid and sticky Tennessee!

    • Tom Russell Says:

      Hi Cyn, It was a lovely adventure indeed. Much like the one I took with you and Jeff. The only difference was I was in much better emotional shape when I visited with you too. Gene and Sharon dealt with me during the worst of my grief. I don’t know if I would be here today, if it weren’t for their caring and unending support.

      Oh yes, you would love his cooking. Gene has a fabulous green thumb and their property is filled with fruit trees, flowers and vegetables. It’s amazing how much he can grow in a small space. Their property isn’t tiny, but the sheer number of plants is fabulous to behold.

      Since you and Jeff love adventures too, I highly recommend a trip to Arizona. It will be a trip you will remember for the rest of your lives.

      Much love to you and Jeff. xxxooo 🙂

  19. Ken Casey Says:

    Hey Tom. Just started reading your blog, but picked up you lost your partner. So sorry for your loss.

    As an AZ native (and fellow quilter!) your purple mystery bush is called a Texas sage. They are great landscaping plants here in the Phoenix area as they don’t require much water. Our front yard has several, many that have self-started from seeds the others have dropped. They bloom with the beautiful purple flowers after it rains.

    All the best.

    • Tom Russell Says:

      Hi Ken, Thank you for reading my blog and your kind words. I appreciate both more than you can imagine.

      Wow, that is a Texas bush? How funny is that. I’ll be changing my caption as soon as I finish replying to you.

      The silvery gray leaves are a fabulous compliment to the lavender flowers. Its beauty leaves me breathless. A truly glorious plant. I think a trip to the nursery might be in order. 🙂

      Thanks again for your generous words of support and your insight into the mysterious bush. I am grateful for both.

      I hope you have a fabulous day!

  20. Lisa Horstman Says:

    Hi Tom! I hadn’t heard about Bill until now. I am SO sorry. Bill was a great guy, as are you. I think the West offers up healing powers, and I’m glad you went out there when you needed it most. Many hugs, my friend.

    • Tom Russell Says:

      Hi Lisa, It’s soooo good to hear from you. What a pleasant surprise this is. Thank you for your kind words about Bill. It means a great deal to me.

      The Universe has blessed me with healing support from every direction. I have received love and support from places I have never been to and from people I have never met. The loss of Bill is/was a painful experience, but I now realize how truly blessed my life is after having gone through it.

      One of those blessings appeared today with your heartfelt words.

      Thank you for taking the time to write. It was a beautiful gift to see.

      Much love to you.

  21. Jackie Says:

    I love your pictures, someday I plan on going to Sedona and after seeing you photos I want to go even more. You are blessed to have such dear friends to have helped you through the most trying period in your life.

    I love reading about your adventures and can’t wait to hear what’s next, though it is cruel making us wait. haha

    • Tom Russell Says:

      Hi Jackie, I’m glad you enjoyed the photos and reading about my adventures. It’s the best part of having BFFs. The sharing makes each adventure more special.

      I highly recommend a trip to Sedona. It is a magical place and surrounded by breathtaking beauty. You will remember the time you spend there for years to come. If a trip to Arizona is on your To-Do list, then I recommend you move it closer to the top. You’ll be happy you did.

      My news is coming, so just sit tight and have your To-Do list handy. 🙂

  22. Pat Says:

    Hi Tom. I met you at the CVQG a few years ago and again at the CVQG Best Little Quilt Show In Texas ……when I suggested a “coffee table book” of your quilt pictures from shows. Don’t know when I will see you again as we were one of the homes lost in the Bastrop wildfires, but we now live in Melissa, TX, so maybe in Dallas or around there one of these days? We lived in NM 43 years before moving to Bastrop, and traveled the areas you speak of in Arizona many times during those years…mostly with our antique car club. The pictures brought back many good memories. Thanks for sharing. I hope you feel all the many good vibes going your way as we all sorrow and celebrate with you. Life happens, good and bad, and it is how we move with it and count our blessings that counts. You are one of those blessings to all of us. Thank you!

  23. Carla Says:

    Those pictures were just gorgeous. Great job. I’m glad you have such awesome friends who came to your side to help you through some of those dark days. I hope you continue to heal and grow thru all your adventures. You live your life to the fullest and I’m love it when you share.
    I do hope you’re not moving. I have never been to Arizona but have always wanted. I need to add it to my Bucket List.
    God Bless my friend.

Comments are closed.

%d bloggers like this: