Tuesday, December 20, 2016

The Green Fighting Machine

Cindy, Tim, Pam, Joe, Dave, Warren and Ray

Lean, green fighting machine!  That appellation rather describes the squadron Tim and I joined these last two weeks in the war on poverty in Fort Myers, FL.  Our team was limited by the number of RVs the affiliate could host in the area behind the Habitat office, but despite that, we were mighty.  Neon green is not my favorite color but it looked good on our squad when we lined up for the team photo. 

This was a return trip to Fort Myers for Tim and I.  We were here last March, but this time we returned as team leaders, our first opportunity to lead a group of Care-A-Vanners in a build.  

Elisha Baird

Our prior knowledge of this affiliate as well as the Fort Myers area was definitely a boon as we liaisoned with Elisha Baird, the volunteer coordinator. 

Joe and Tim

A team leader’s responsibilities are to communicate with the Care-A-Vanners before and during the build.  At the introductory meeting of our team, we discussed parameters of the workweek, stages of the homes we would be working on and administrative details such as tracking the number of hours we worked on the construction site.  

Although we were prepared to lead devotions each morning before the day’s work began, we welcomed others who might volunteer for this task.  Then, we got to the fun stuff—social events for the two weeks we’ll be together.   Evening happy hours and Friday night dinners out at the nearby waterfront restaurant, Cactus Jack’s, and at the barbeque place, Smoke’N Pit, down the street were planned.

But wouldn’t you know it!  Pam and I, the two women on the team, became the only casualties of this build.  Pam took a chunk out of the pad of one finger while she was using the power drill.  I fell and twisted my knee, sidelining me for several days until the swelling went down.  

Pam and Tim

However, those two setbacks did not prevent the team from completing the jobs assigned to us.  

Ray & Dave

Framing and drop-down ceilings were nailed, windows and doors were hung, 


outside soffits and blue boards were installed, and with the help of a class from a local high school, stucco was painted on two houses. 

All in all, I’d say we won this skirmish. 

Saturday, December 3, 2016

The Keys To Happiness

Tim and I discovered the keys inspiring happiness in the Florida Keys during our visit there these past two weeks.  Family, friends, food and fun all helped to unlock a wonderful time.

The day before Thanksgiving, our children Jillian and Richard flew to Miami to join us in Key Largo for the holiday weekend.  Tim found a campsite at Kings Kamp that was only a block away from their hotel.

We feasted at the hotel's Thanksgiving buffet and hung out at the Marriott's beach.

On Saturday Tim made arrangements with All In Watersports to try some activities we'd never tried before such as

paddle boarding, 



jet skiing

and even parasailing.  

All survived, although I wasn't so sure they would when they were sucked off the back deck of the boat by the parasail's parachute.

But their rapturous descriptions of their trip to the clouds made me wish I'd been brave enough to give that a try, too.

Sunday before we dropped them off at the airport for their return flights, we made a detour to the Art Deco District of Miami's South Beach.  This area was reborn after a deadly hurricane in 1926 razed the city, killing 400 people.  Subsequently for the next 20 years, a building boom resurrected South Beach in the chic new style of Art Deco architecture.  Seeing this part of Miami was a fun conclusion to our time together.

Although we were downcast after their departure, we regained our good spirits by spending a day with our friends Randy and Pam who were camping in Key West. 

Driving the 100 miles of the Overseas Highway to reach them was an unforgettable experience.  That's more than the distance to Cuba from Key West.

Linking more than 20 small islands or keys, the highway is the southernmost extension of U.S. Route One.  

It follows the former railroad right-of-way first built by Standard Oil millionaire Henry Flager who used his fortune to develop Florida's Atlantic coast as a tourist destination by extending his railroad all the way down to the Key West.

Because the speed limit rarely exceeded 45 mph, the trip took us two hours each way, but it was worth it.  We enjoyed our time with friends and our chance to see the sights of Key West, most memorably Hemingway's home and the Little White House.

Hemingway's House

Noble Prize author Ernest Hemingway lived on Key West during what our tour guide said was his most prolific writing era from 1931 to 1939.  

In this display of his wives, Pauline is pictured in the upper right.

The home where he lived with Pauline Pfeiffer, the second of his four wives, had a carriage house with a second floor that he converted into his writing studio.  

Known as a hard drinker, our docent joked that the Key West lighthouse across the street was the beacon by which Hemingway found his way home after a night of carousing, frequently at the Sloppy Joe Bar on Duval Street.  

While he was away in Europe, Pauline had a swimming pool built in the rear garden.  Upon his return, Hemingway tossed a penny in the pool, claiming she had used his last penny to install it.  That coin is now encased in the concrete of the cabana.  Over 50 polydactyl cats roam the property today.  Many are descendants of the original six-toed cat Hemingway received as a gift from a ship captain.  A noted angler, Hemingway and his friends, The Mob, would go fishing for weeks at a time in pursuit of giant tuna and marlin.  Seeing this house gave me a new understanding of this famed author.

The Little White House on Key West's naval base which was constructed during WWII was used as a retreat by many U.S. presidents.  However, Harry Truman was its most frequent visitor.  He made 11 trips totaling 175 days there, sometimes accompanied by his wife Bess and daughter Margaret, but more often with his cronies.  When away from his wife, he wrote daily letters to her, insisting on using his own postage stamps instead of having them franked as official business mail.  At that time there was only one telephone line strung from Key West to the mainland, so the presidential yacht was anchored just off shore with its array of communication devices that enabled Truman to keep in contact with Washington, D.C.  After dinner Truman who was as skilled as a concert pianist often played the parlor's piano to entertain his friends.

Photo from "Bluffing In Style" by Sean Chaffin

But the most important entertainment to Truman was the nightly poker game he played with journalists, dignitaries and officers from the naval base.  The massive mahogany poker table with carved chip holders and ashtrays crafted from recycled shell casings holds pride of place in the lounge.

No one should leave the Keys without a taste of its signature Key Lime Pie in all its permutations, toppings of meringue or whipped cream, drizzles of raspberry or chocolate and some with strawberries on the side.  Delicious!

Today, with a sad heart, we said goodbye to the Keys, a paradise that will long be associated in our minds with happiness.

Saturday, November 19, 2016

Anchoring the Dawntreader

Following days at the Prevost repair facility in Jacksonville, FL, Tim twice turned the Dawntreader south to Florida's Space Coast.  One of the Dawntreader's airbags was leaking.  We thought the mechanics had fixed it, but during our 2-hour drive to Titusville, Tim noticed it still wasn't holding air so back to Jacksonville we went.  There we loitered another day and at its conclusion, the mechanics told us they'd tried everything.  I think they were as vexed as we were.  To test their work, we spent the night in the parking lot.  Low and behold, the next morning the airbag was still full of air, allowing us to continue our interrupted journey back to Titusville. 

Kennedy Space Center

Florida's Space Coast encompasses the region around the Kennedy Space Center and includes the Atlantic coastal towns of Titusville, Port Canaveral, Cocoa Beach and Melbourne.

Phil and Joanne, friends of ours, had kindly offered to let us stay in Titusville at their members-only RV resort, The Great Outdoors.  There they own--and pay property taxes on--a 40 by 80-foot concrete pad.  

The resort with its golf course, fishing pond and an array of tennis, shuffleboard and bocce ball courts was beautiful nestled as it was between two swampy nature preserves.  We enjoyed walking through its neighborhoods for the gated community included not only campsites but also lavish homes with RV ports, large garages big enough to house a long, tall RV.  It was all very impressive, but we agreed that we are still infatuated with life on the road.  We're not ready to anchor the Dawntreader to a particular spot; there are yet so many places in the U.S. and Canada that we'd like to see.

Last Sunday while we were marooned in Jacksonville, we attended services at the Episcopal St. John's Cathedral.  Its first services were conducted by The Rev. R.A. Henderson, a missionary priest from St. Augustine, in 1820.  The church's structures have twice been burned, the first time during the Civil War when federal troops torched the sanctuary in 1863.  Then on May 3, 1901, the church sanctuary, the parish hall and the rectory were destroyed by The Great Fire of Jacksonville, a conflagration that devastated much of the city.  

Now the stone cathedral is anchored firmly atop Billy Goat Hill in the middle of Market Street, the city's high ground above St. John's River.

For me, meeting with fellow believers is a way to grow in faith and trust in Jesus Christ.  Searching out a church to attend while we've been traveling has given me an anchor to hold firm in the faith.  A favorite hymn of mine is "It Is Well With My Soul."  The story of its composer, Horatio Spafford, rivals that of the biblical Job.  A wealthy lawyer in Chicago, Spafford and his wife watched helplessly as their young son languished and died.  Then the 1871 Great Fire of Chicago swept away most of his real estate investments.  Two years after that he was asked by Dwight L. Moody to accompany him on an evangelistic tour of England.  Spafford sent his wife and daughters ahead of him on a ship that collided with another.  All four of his daughters drowned; only his wife survived.  It was while he was aboard ship on his way to comfort his grieving wife, he penned the words to this hymn.
When peace, like a river, attendeth my way,
When sorrows like sea billows roll;
Whatever my lot, Thou hast taught me to say,
It is well, it is well with my soul

The frustrations Tim and I experienced with the Dawntreader's repairs this week cannot compare to the difficult trials of Spafford's life, but the same Lord offers each of us an anchor that holds.
It is well, (it is well),
With my soul, (with my soul).
It is well, it is well with my soul. 

Friday, November 11, 2016

The Ins and Outs of Washington, D.C.

After this year's rancorous presidential campaign, it's over.  "Thank God!," many are saying!  Whether your candidate won or not, it's time to look past those loyalties to the common goal of  strengthening our democracy.  It's time to work together to build a future that is brighter for all Americans.

Just like the Obamas, it's also time for many Washingtonians to look for another residence.  The District of Columbia and its surrounding suburbs are a transitory location.  Over the 14 years we lived here, we had many friends move in and out of the area.  It was difficult to say goodbye to these intimates with whom we'd shared life.  Still, we've been fortunate that with our current lifestyle, we've been able to rekindle some of those friendships as we've traveled the country.

This week Tim and I moved back to D.C. temporarily.  Rather than go through the hassle of finding a new healthcare network, we kept our doctors here. Over the past four days and between the two of us, we've had 11 medical encounters with doctors, dentists, imaging centers and my audiologist.

The historic domed Billings Hospital at Johns Hopkins Medical Center

In spite of the good health we both enjoy, I must confess--most of those appointments were mine.  Due to my progressive hearing loss, I've decided it's time to have a second cochlear implant.  I've scheduled this surgery for next March at Johns Hopkins Medical Center in Baltimore.

There are few campgrounds in the D.C. area, but we found a fine one in College Park, MD just northeast of the district.  Cherry Hill Park has full hookups, pull-thru sites and spacious campsites.  

Best of all, public transportation is right there.  Every hour the Metro bus makes a regular stop within the premises of the campground, picking up tourists and dropping them off at the College Park Metro Station four miles away.  Anyone who has dealt with the clogged Beltway and District streets knows what a wonderful boon that is.

Once campers have visited all the museums and monuments that D.C. has to offer, they can return to Cherry Hill Park to soak in the pool or hot tub or play a few rounds of (miniature) golf.  

In addition, just down the road is the pedestrian/biking Paint Branch Trail.  The trail is part of the Anacostia Tributary Trail System which leads 15 miles south to the District.  

Tim and I walked a portion of it last Sunday.  We've made plans to return to this campground next spring; it will be a good home base while I recover from surgery.


However, the most important part of our stay here were the opportunities to visit family and friends.  Our son Richard and his girlfriend Montana joined us for dinner at El Centro, a restaurant in the District that not only features delicious Mexican entrees but also has a rooftop bar and a basement tequileria where one could order over 200 tequilas or Mescal drinks.  Not that we tried any of those!  We were too busy talking and tasting the to-die-for guacamole.

Sunday morning we worshipped the Lord and reconnected with friends at Emmanuel Presbyterian Church in Arlington, VA.  We also finalized our plans to have dinner with four couples who were our closest friends during our last stint in D.C.  It was wonderful to catch up on the events in their lives over the past year since we left.  But those ins and outs of Washington, D.C. were once again evident.  Two of the couples are moving out of the area.  Steve and Tami are counting the days until retirement when they'll relocate to the home they've purchased on Cape Cod.  Jim and Karen are anticipating their cross-country move to San Francisco where their son, daughter-in-law and grandchild live.

Today we are leaving D.C. after our brief stay to travel south to Florida, chalking up another in & out to our list of stays in Washington, D.C.

Friday, November 4, 2016

The Season of Change

Every autumn leaf peepers travel to New England to see the changing colors of the trees.  Although I’ve never had the opportunity to join that pilgrimage, I believe the fall colors of eastern Tennessee could give those Yankee trees some serious competition. 

This week we’ve been in Vonore, TN for maintenance work on the Dawntreader.  While we waited for all the items on Tim’s list of concerns to be addressed, 

I paid a visit to my friend Julie.

and another visit to Smok'N Bonz, a local barbecue place we'd first discovered last fall which has raised the bar for all the barbecue restaurants we've ever tried.

However, it was the fall colors that lured us to the hiking trails in Fort Loudoun State Park and in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. 

Jakes Creek in the Great Smoky Mountains

More than any other time of the year, to me, fall is the season of change.  Change is not a state of being that I embrace.  This first year of life on the road has challenged my comfort zone.  As we’ve moved from one campground to the next, I've figuratively held my breath until the Dawntreader is safely moored once more.  And while I've enjoyed the comradery of other Care-A-Vanners on the Habitat for Humanity builds we've participated in, I've missed being a part of a close-knit community of friends.  Still, this chance to travel has opened up new vistas to admire like these of eastern Tennessee.  

Poets express the beauty of this season much better than I ever could. 

"Autumn, the year’s last, loveliest smile."  ~ William Cullen Bryant

"The one red leaf, the last of its clan, That dances as often as dance it can, Hanging so light and hanging so high, On the topmost twig that looks up at the sky." ~  Samuel Taylor Coleridge

"Every leaf speaks bliss to me, fluttering from the autumn tree." ~ Emily Bronte

"How beautifully leaves grow old.  How full of light and color are their last days." ~ John Burroughs

But there is One who never changes.  He is always with me no matter where I am; no matter the season of my life.  As it says in Psalm 90:1-2,  “Lord, You have been our dwelling place in all generations.  Before the mountains were brought forth, or ever You had formed the earth and the world, even from everlasting to everlasting, You are God."

From the shifting chaos of life, God forms beauty out of change.  A favorite hymn of mine, written by Henry Francis Lyte two months before he died, is Abide With Me.  Its second verse is a testament about the presence of God in our lives regardless of the changes that threaten to overwhelm us.

Swift to its close ebbs out life’s little day;
Earth’s joys grow dim;
its glories pass away;
Change and decay in all around I see;
O Thou who changest not, abide with me.

No matter the season, the location or the circumstances of my life, I'm grateful that the Lord abides with me.