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.