Friday, February 17, 2017

Florida's Treasure Coast

On August 20, 2015 a group of divers from 1715 Fleet--Queens Jewels, LLC made headlines when they recovered Spanish gold coins valued at $4.5 million off the coast of Florida near Vero Beach.  The find is presumed to be just a small portion of the lost holdings of the Spanish fleet of 1715.

On our day off from the Fellsmere, FL, Habitat for Humanity build, Tim and I found gold, too, when we visited McMurty Treasure Museum, a small museum supported by Florida State Parks.  But it wasn't shiny coins we found.  Instead, we learned the intriguing story of the Lost Fleet of 1715.

For almost three centuries after Spain discovered the New World, the silver and gold dug from the mountains of Mexico and South America were transported by ships back to Spain.  However, the War of Spanish Succession (1702-1715) drained Spain's coffers.  King Philip V was desperate to replenish his treasury.  And not only that!  His queen, Isabel de Farnesio, the former Duchess of Palma, refused to consummate their marriage until he paid in full the marriage settlement, preferably in jewels and gold.

Meeting those demands, however, received a severe blow in 1715 when a hurricane sank that year's fleet on the shoals between Sebastian and Fort Pierce, an area now called Florida's Treasure Coast.  Twelve Spanish galleons filled with gold, silver and jewels had begun the next leg of their voyage after a stop in Havana, Cuba.  All save one ship were wrecked by the storm.  A thousand sailors and passengers drowned, but another 700 survivors struggled to shore.  To this day coins and jewels are still found in the shallow waters off the coast and even on the beach after a storm.

Unfortunately, we didn't find any Spanish treasure on the day of our visit.  However, just down the road from the museum is the Pelican Island National Wildlife Refuge, a treasure of another kind.

Pelican Island has the distinction of being the first wildlife refuge ever established in the United States.  On March 14, 1903, President Theodore Roosevelt declared this area a nature preserve in an effort to save the last brown pelican rookery on the east coast of Florida.  

The refuge's Centennial Trail is a boardwalk to an overlook of the island.  Each plank lists the name and year a national preserve was created.  Pelican Island has the place of prominence, but I grew up near the Quivira National Wildlife Refuge in central Kansas.  

Maybe that's why I'm partial to nature refuges.  I think they improve the quality of life for all of us, not just wildlife.  Who knows what future scientific advances will come from the study of the flora and fauna set aside as a preserve?

 A lucrative market for birds' feathers to adorn women's hats prompted hunters to kill thousands of birds in the late 1800s and early 1900s.

Paul Kroegel, a German immigrant and Vero Beach resident, took a brave stand by warding off feather hunters from Pelican Island with his 10-gauge, double barrel shotgun.  In 1903, when President Theodore Roosevelt established the preserve, the federal government hired Kroegel as Refuge Manager.  His salary?  One dollar per month!

Perhaps he believed he was well-reimbursed for the privilege of preserving the pelicans.  Treasure, indeed!

Saturday, February 11, 2017

The Second Time Around

Fellsmere's Care-A-Vanners, local volunteers and homeowners

When we began our life on the road last January, our very first Habitat for Humanity build was at Fellsmere, FL.

Chuck & Judy

That was such a positive experience that when Chuck and Judy, our team leaders from a year ago, notified us that a 2017 reunion of the same Care-A-Vanners was planned, Tim and I immediately signed up.  And you know what?  This second time around has been even better than the first.

January 2016 and 2017

For starters, it was inspiring to enter the Habitat for Humanity subdivision in Fellsmere and see the five homes we had left in various states of completion now finished with families dwelling in each.

Midway through nailing up siding

Then, there was the confirmation of how much my construction skills have grown over the course of the eight Habitat builds I've done.  This time when I joined the siding squad, I could competently use a hammer, hitting the nail--instead of my thumb--on its head nine times out of ten.

Clockwise from upper left: Sue, Marty and Judy, me and Marty

I knew the steps to precisely measuring, cutting and nailing up hardy boards, those planks composed of wood fiber and cement.  

Sue, Judy, me and Marty

After all, Judy, Marty, Sue and I had done this job a year ago, albeit inexpertly in my case.  This time we worked together smoothly, almost intuitively, finishing the siding on a whole house within a week.  When we moved on to install the windows on another house, our teamwork enabled us to make quick work of that, too.

In a way, the people in this group of Care-A-Vanners have mentored and encouraged us to stick with it.   They initiated us into what it means to do things the Habitat way, taking what we've learned in turn, to teach the next volunteer we encounter.  And that's just what I did at Fort Myers last spring break and just three weeks ago at Delray Beach.  I helped college students complete the jobs assigned by the site supervisor which was very gratifying.

Clockwise from upper left: Elizabeth, Diana, Bennie, Judy, Esther, Maria and Ezequiel

This time around I've made more of an effort to learn the names and stories of the prospective homeowners.  On Saturdays, we worked alongside the home buyers who gave up a day of their weekend to work instead of resting from their demanding jobs as laborers, landscapers, waitresses and maids.  


Last Saturday, we raised the trusses on Sharon's home


effectively giving shape to the shell of her house.  

Sharon's house

Knowing that this single mom and art instructor now has hope for her future is rewarding.

So in a way, I feel like we've come full circle by this return to Fellsmere.  We've completed this year's cycle and are enthusiastic about committing ourselves to future Habitat builds.

Sunday, January 29, 2017

Rallying in Naples

Webster's Dictionary lists several definitions for the word rally.  Two that applied to Tim and I this past week are to recover/rebound and to join in a common cause.

Worn from our participation in the Habitat for Humanity build in Delray Beach, we needed time to recoup our energy before traveling to the next HFH construction site.  So we arrived in Naples, FL last Sunday for four days of rest prior to this weekend's Crab Fest, a gathering of Prevost RV owners at the Naples Motorcoach Resort.  This consortium of owners gave us the chance to reconnect with friends we'd made at previous Prevost rallies in Lakeland, FL and Foley, AL last spring.  Not only that, these rallies are a great venue for sharing knowledge about life on the road and even more importantly what makes our bus run.

But first, there was R & R.  Just as Frommer's travel guide to Naples promised, this sleepy, swanky city defines the meaning of R & R, since there's not much to do here besides linger on the beach, play golf, and dream.  I would add shopping (or at least, window-shopping) to that list.

Monday we made our way to Waterside Shops, an outdoor mall with posh stores such as Saks 5th Avenue, Tiffany's, Nordstrom, and luckily for us, an Apple store.  Our laptop needed a new battery.  We've drained the one it has to the point that the only way to boot the darn thing up anymore is to plug in its power cord which sports its own wrapping of tape.  However, the young--aren't they all barely out of their teens in that store?--man with whom we met informed us that a new battery had to be ordered for our old machine.  It would not arrive until after we left Naples.  That put a crimp in our plans, but later this spring we'll be near another Apple store in Tampa.  Hopefully, we can order the battery well ahead of time so it can be replaced then.

Meanwhile, we took advantage of the store's free wifi.  Tim updated our laptop's operating system while I sat on a bench outside and downloaded a dozen library books onto my Kindle.  Then, we window shopped the mall.  Living in an RV has dimmed my desire to shop.  We live by the axiom that for every item that goes into the bus, another must be discarded.  Furthermore, we seem to live in T-shirts and jeans so those strictures take the fun out of shopping.  Window shopping, however, is still allowed.

And the beach is always free!   

The pier is one of the most photographed locations in Naples. 

Another location that drew us daily was Eagle Lakes, a nearby city park.

The park's lakes surrounded by trails were the perfect place to birdwatch while walking to stay fit.

Artist Dale Chihuly's 35-foot Icicle Chandelier hangs in the lobby of the Baker Museum. 

The Baker Museum of Art has a small but impressive collection of the works, mostly by American artists.

There I found (above clockwise from upper left) Woman in a Hat, 1934 by Pablo Picasso,
Old House, East Hampton, 1917 by Childe Hassam,
Shakespearean Equation: Twelfth Night, 1948 by Man Ray,
Harlem Street Scene, 1975 by Jacob Lawrence
and Flowers, 1941 by Georgia O'Keefe.

Plus, an introduction to some American artists that I'd not known before.  Again, clockwise from upper left:
West Front of the Capitol Steps, Washington, D.C., c. 1902-04 by Colin Campbell Cooper,
Armistice Day, The New York Public Library, 1918 by Theresa Bernstein,
Wall Street, the Noon Hour, 1925 by Felicie Waldo Howell,
Building of Manhattan Bridge, 1909 by Gerrit A. Beneker, and
The Nest Egg, 1910 by Abbott Fuller Graves.

Farm on the Smokey by Birger Sandzen

To my delight, there was a painting, Farm on the Smokey, by Birger Sandzen, an artist who lived in Lindsborgh, KS not far from my hometown.

On Thursday, Prevost RVs began to fill up the resort.  Tim was in seventh heaven as he talked shop with the other owners.  Malfunctions and maintenance issues were discussed and analyzed beyond my compression.  I enjoyed hearing about everyone's journeys, places they'd been, campgrounds where they'd stayed and funny stories of mishaps along the way.


Saturday night Corey who is a professional chef as well as a Prevost owner boiled up a vat of crab legs.  

Two of the men cracked the crab shells so the diners could more easily extract the meat.

By the end of the week, our spirits and our friendships had definitely rallied in the somnolent, sumptuous city of Naples.

Sunday, January 22, 2017

Hard to Beat!

Only 22 days into 2017 and already Tim and I believe we've found our favorite campground and bike trails for the year.

John Prince County Park Campground is going to be hard to beat.  

That's where the Habitat for Humanity affiliate of Delray Beach, FL negotiated a deal for us to stay while we volunteered at their build.

Our spacious campsite was right on the banks of Lake Osborne.

As we left for the build site at the crack of dawn every morning, we were treated to the sun's gathering light as it rose over the lake.  

Each day's light show seemed even more spectacular than the last.

A gift for getting up so early!

Yet another up side to our punctual arrival at work was the early quitting time.

We generally left the worksite around 3 p.m., giving us plenty of time to walk or ride John Prince County Park's five miles of trails to the far side of the lake and back again.

This trail provide ample opportunities to birdwatch.

Also along the trail was this--a Little Free Library, part of a nonprofit initiative to spur neighbors to read more.  One may take a book from the box in return for leaving a book for the next passerby.  Think of it as a little human bird feeder.

My favorite fowl was the cormorant who perched on a branch just beyond our picnic table.  

These aquatic birds dive below the surface of the water to feed on the fish they find.  After fishing, they go ashore and seem to worship the sun as they spread their wings to dry.  Why they do this is a subject for debate.  Some experts say that this behavior is due to the lack of oil on their feathers which requires them to dry their wings before submerging again.  Others believe this is instrumental in regulating their internal temperature.  Regardless, this bird was sunbathing every afternoon when we returned from work.

On Monday, our day off, we drove to a nearby portion of the Everglades National Park, our first visit to a National Park in this new year.  The area we biked is called the Arthur R. Marshall Loxahatchee National Wildlife Refuge.  Loxahatchee is a Seminole Indian name which means "River of Turtles."  We missed the turtles, but we did log our first sight of an alligator in 2017, undocumented digitally because who wants to stay in close proximity to those teeth.

So, all in all we are off to a great beginning in 2017!  One that will be difficult to surpass in the coming twelve months.

Saturday, January 21, 2017

Strong to the Finich!

I'm Popeye the Sailor Man.
I'm Popeye the Sailor Man.
I'm strong to the finich
'Cause I eat me spinach.
I'm Popeye the Sailor Man.

Our site supervisor for the Habitat for Humanity build in Delray Beach, FL uses the sobriquet Popeye--as in Popeye, the cartoon character.

Even after two weeks of working under Popeye's leadership, I didn't know his real name but his collection of Popeye shirts rivals the number of Habitat T-shirts we are accumulating with every build we participate in.  Unfortunately, I snapped Popeye's picture on the day he wore an incongruous New England Patriots tee, the only day he was out of character.

In every Popeye cartoon, the sailor is invariably put into what seems like an impossible situation, only to use his strength, ingenuity and oversimplified diplomatic arguments to emerge the victor.

I'm one tough Bazookas
Which hates all Palookas
Wot ain't on the up and square.
I biffs 'em and buffs 'em
And always out roughs 'em
But none of 'em gets nowhere.

When Tim and I and the six other Care-A-Vanners on our team arrived on the scene, it seemed a herculean task to take the shells of two houses and outfit them with interior walls and shingle roofs.

I was the only palooka, the one who had never done either job before, but I quickly learned.  

All it took was a willingness to swing a hammer.


Our teammates this time ran the gamut from Lee who has worked over 50 Habitat builds

Diane & Mike

to Mike and Diane who were on their very first foray.  

Marie & Ray

Ray and Marie from Maine try to volunteer at least once a year for Habitat.  


And Ralph brought a wealth of carpentry experiences to this job site.  

New friendships were made as we framed the walls in the homes of the Singletary and Cantave/Jerome families.

Laura is in the center between Mike and Tim.

Laura's house was a rehab project in another neighborhood.  We spent Saturday morning priming the exterior and in return, she fed us hamburgers and hot dogs--but no spinach--for lunch.

If anyone dares to risk my "Fisk",
It's "Boff" an' it's "Wham" un'erstan'?
So keep "Goo Be-hav-or"
That's your one life saver
With Popeye the Sailor Man.

Although Popeye didn't throw any punches like his cartoon alter ego, he did keep us, plus 60 students from Lynn University and another group of 20 volunteers from a nearby 55-and-older community on our good behavior.  

And the seemingly arduous task of roofing two houses was accomplished in just three days.

Lee, Tim, Cindy, Ralph, Marie & Ray

Plenty of time to spare for a celebratory lunch--but again no spinach--at Benny's on the Beach, a recommendation from Popeye.

Oh, and by the way, Popeye's given name is Donald which conjures up another cartoon character, Donald Duck.  Na!  Popeye is a much better fit.