Sunday, December 9, 2018

Searching for Christmas Miracles After Hurricane Michael

Hurricane Michael came ashore near Panama City, Florida on October 10 of this year. For three terrifying hours, the near category 5 winds twisted and broke huge tree trunks like they were twigs. Not only shingles, but entire roofs were lifted from their walls. Those families who chose to stay, or as was the more common scenario, could not evacuate huddled together and did the only thing that they could do ... pray.

When the storm moved further inland, the rains and winds subsided. Residents returned to find varying degrees of damage to their homes, cars, and property. A lucky few found their homes still intact with only minor damage from uprooted trees and flying debris. But for the majority of the Panama City area the damage was unimaginable.

For the people of these communities, life after Hurricane Michael continues to be a challenge as they search for the miracle of normalcy in the midst of chaos.

We have visited our dear friends, Tami and Billy, a number of times in the past few years when our travels brought us to Panama City, Florida. They provided a comfortable resting place for the Wildebeest on their horse farm property when we drove back to Minnesota for Christmas one year. Luscious trees and friendly folks made us feel right at home whether on the farm or at their home in the city.

We followed the news closely and prayed for them when we saw that Hurricane Michael had made a direct hit near their town of Lynn Haven. We were very relieved to hear that aside from many toppled trees causing minor damage, their house and farm buildings were still structurally intact. Last week when we were in the area, we made a trip to Panama City to catch up with Tami and Billy. I know that the damage to their community was bad, but I don't think I was prepared for the severity of destruction still evident two months after the storm.

As we drove up to their farm, we began to realize how much had changed. The farm house and stable had escaped serious damage, but over 70 trees were lost on the property. The lush foliage that had been this boondocker's delight was gone. The remaining trees, confused because they had lost all their leaves in the storm, were starting to bud out as if it was spring. The orange satsuma tree managed to hold on to a few of its tasty fruits, but we will have to wait another year (fingers crossed) for the luscious grapefruit to return.

The horses, Yogi and Panda, had just recently returned from their hurricane hideout. With outdoor fencing in need of repair, their area to graze has been greatly reduced. But they seemed grateful to have a (barn) roof over their heads and a carrot treat from their Minnesota friends.

As we drove back into town, huge piles of tree branches, trunks and root balls were piled up along every boulevard waiting to be hauled away. Blue tarps covered the roofs of almost every house. Piles of damaged household goods, carpets, and dry wall were still being dragged out of houses. And most devastating, the occasional open spaces where a house once stood ... Michael had damaged some houses beyond repair.

Arriving at Tami's house, I praised God that her home was still standing relatively unscathed. During dinner, we sat down to catch up on the changes that the hurricane had brought to their lives and their community. 

Changes like ...

Power, water, and cell service for Panama City and surrounding areas was out for many weeks. Two months after the storm, cable TV is still not been fully restored, forcing 87 year old "Grandpa Billy" to have to try to remember what he did for entertainment in the "good old days".

80% of all buildings in the county were destroyed or severely damaged including many local businesses. This has resulted in many people losing their jobs. This also has made simple tasks like getting groceries ... or simple pleasures like going out to dinner much more difficult.

With so homes destroyed or uninhabitable due to water damage and mold, many families have been forced to move into trailers parked in their driveways or into temporary housing further out of town. Daily commute times (and traffic) have greatly increased.

Bay Medical Center, one of two hospitals in the area, remains closed due to extensive water and wind damage. Easy access to health care is currently not so easy for city residents.

But most heartbreaking of all is the impact the storm had on the children in the community. Tami works as a school nurse for special needs students and has seen the emotional impact that Hurricane Michael has had on her most vulnerable students. Parents are struggling to get their children the medications and treatments that they need. With all the damage that the hurricane caused, these special needs children are also trying to cope with the loss of familiar surroundings, clothing, and toys.

It is difficult to see how one could stay hopeful in the midst of so much devastation. But there is hope and healing emerging from the pain. Many area church buildings also sustained damage from the storm, but we also heard and witnessed how the church communities are coming together to support their members and the community. From distributing meals and needed supplies right after the storm, to filling Christmas gift bags to give to area students, the faith community is helping people to see the "small miracles" that emerged from the storm. 

Even though Hurricane Michael took out every
tree in Sharon McLaughlin's Panama City garden ...
her hand-made cross did not waver!

Some miracles that Tami and Billy shared with us:

The miracle of really getting to know your neighbors as you work together to clear the tumbled trees.

The miracle of thinking of others as you offer your spare bedroom to a young adult who had lost her home.

The miracle of giving up your weekend to help family and friends get items out of their moldy house because the insurance money doesn't even come close to covering the cost of both tear-down and repairs.

The miracle of a change of mindset from "why did we get spared?" to "how can we use what we have to help others?"

The miracle of gathering in a high school auditorium to support each other through the gift of prayer and music. Hiland Park Baptist Church, like much of its faith community members, sustained a lot of damage from the storm forcing them to find a temporary worship space. Their message of hope is strengthening the assembly of believers as they work together to rebuild their community.

We really wished that we could have spent more time helping out in Panama City. But being in the midst of selling our RV, we needed to make our way to central Florida. What could we do to help out a little during our short visit?? All the small miracles that we had seen in the aftermath of Hurricane Michael reminded me of one of my favorite quotes ...

And then it came to me ... Tami had commented that with all the clean-up activities, she didn't know how "Christmas" was going to happen this year. 

I had my answer ... we could be the Christmas elves!

Doug became the "Christmas tree
assembly and light electrician" elf!

And I was overjoyed to take over Tami's
kitchen and become the "bake a batch
or three of Christmas cookies" elf!

Christmas miracles are found in the smiles of those we love ...

... like Grandpa Billy, the
"87 year old hurricane survivor" elf!

And in the miracles that greet us with each new day.

Until next time ... Be the miracle to those around you ... and enjoy the adventures in your life!

Maggie really wants to be the "are you
sure that you don't need me to taste test
that yummy food on your plate" elf!

Tuesday, December 4, 2018

My Choice: Waffle House

Anyone who has traveled through cities in the southern United States is familiar with the yellow and black letters ... WAFFLE HOUSE! Hummm ... Waffles = Breakfast, and if you are like me, breakfast is "sunshine on a plate" any time of the day.

While we have never stopped, I suspect that these Waffle Houses serve up a good breakfast ... why else would there be one on just about every other street corner??? So, I just had to convince Doug to try it out with me. Problem is ... in his opinion, the best breakfasts are ones made by his dear wife that he can enjoy in his "Home Sweet RV", so why go out? I needed to elicit the help of true "foodies"... our travel friends, Gary and Joanne.

Gary became the ultimate "foodie" in my mind last month in Hattiesburg, Mississippi when we ate lunch at Ed's Burger Joint. There Gary conquered the "Fat Eddie" burger which, to quote the menu, is an "enormously humongous burger" consisting of:

... three certified Angus ground chuck patties topped with American cheese with two grilled-cheese sandwiches as the bun with crisp bacon, grilled onions, nacho cheese, and Texas-style chili.

He finished it ... no problem, and I had found my perfect accomplice and food detective. During our stay in Gulf Shores, Joanne, Gary and I were determined to discover the allure of the Waffle House.

Although it went against all of Doug's "rules of retirement", he got dressed and joined us one morning for our first Waffle House visit. As we entered the small restaurant, I was struck by the friendly welcoming atmosphere. Even the cook behind the grill greeted us with a big smile and came over after our meal came to see how we liked it.

Waffle House, the beloved icon of the South, prides itself on being a fast and friendly restaurant. The first restaurant opened in 1955 in Avondale Estates, Georgia. Their company quickly grew as they stayed true to their motto of serving "Good Food Fast" and at a reasonable price. There are currently over 1700 Waffle House restaurants in 25 states. 

Their menu spelled "comfort food" all over it. Of course, there is breakfast that is served all day on the one side of the menu, but because Waffle House is open 24/7/365, there were also lunch and dinner options on the backside.

While we waited, the "boys" had to challenge each other to the "how many coffee creamers can you flip" game. Thankfully, our food quickly arrived hot off the grill before the competition got too fierce.

I tried their namesake Waffle, and Doug ordered the Sausage, Egg, and Cheese Hash Brown Bowl.

All the games were put aside ... and the creamers disappeared into the endless cups of really good coffee. Gary, the food master, concentrated on the task at hand and thoughtfully declared:

"It's All Good!"

Yes, our maiden voyage to the Waffle House was delightfully delicious ... which leaves me with a dilemma. How am I going to pass by all those Waffle Houses that will no doubt be on our future travel routes??!!

Until next time ... Always make tasty choices ... and enjoy the adventures in your life.

It's been a wonderful seven weeks traveling with Joanne and Gary and enjoying all the "Cheer" that filled our days. With the arrival of December, they head west toward Arizona as we continue east to Florida. Grateful for all the good times and look forward to when our paths meet up again!

Tuesday, November 27, 2018

Rainy Days and Big Decisions

There is a saying in the RV world that goes ...

Buy your last RV first

When we found the Wildebeest in 2014, we thought that we had done just that. She had everything on our "wish list". She was a high quality older rig that was in our price range. She had a comfortable living space. And at 40 feet long, she had the amount of storage that I thought I would need to carry all my "stuff" required to live full time on the road.

And with her bright colors, we were sure to never lose her in the mass of RVs in campgrounds! We fondly named her the Wildebeest because of her "wild berry" color and because of her migratory nature that is similar to her African animal namesake.

Our migratory travels in the Wildebeest have taken us south in the winter and back to Minnesota in the summer. We have spent time in many amazing areas. We have settled into the RV lifestyle. And we have discovered something very surprising to us ... We discovered that we have more space than we need, and that "extra space" has sometimes prevented us from being more "nimble" in our travels.

Since one doesn't park a 40 foot RV just anywhere, we have felt the need to make our travel plans and reservations several months in advance. In the last few years, there have been several travel opportunities such as sailing in the BVI and traveling to Colombia, South America that didn't include the Wildebeest. We started to think about how good it would feel to be able to be more spontaneous with our travels. We also wrestled with the idea of being able to live in a smaller space.

What we are striving to become ...

We have tossed around this idea for the last year. Doug has done extensive research on "camper-vans". We have sought advice from many of our RV friends ... Thanks! We have come around to the idea of "downsizing" to a Class B such as the Winnebago Travato. At 21 feet long, it is easier to drive, maneuvers better on narrow roads, and don't require as much advance planning in order to find an overnight parking spot.

We also have thought about what possessions we really need and what we can do without. We have continued to give away the items that we don't use or need.

Happy that Joanne could adopt our "coffee" table!

During our month long stay at Gulf State Park, we had a few rainy days to seriously think and pray about this decision. We both feel that the increased simplicity and nimbleness outweigh the decreased living space, therefore ...

We have decided to go from Class B "wannabees" to "owners" in 2019.

So during those rainy days, we put our beloved Wildebeest up for sale. Pictures were taken, ads were placed on Craigslist and RV Trader, and the "For Sale" sign was posted.

Although it feels good to have made the decision, some uncertainties still remain.
  • Should we sell her before we go to Colombia for the winter?
  • Should we store her for the winter?
  • Should we look into RV consignment?
  • Should we just trade her in when we get our new RV?
  • Should we buy our new rig in Florida or up north?
  • Will we be OK with less than half the living space... and half the stuff that we have now??
For the answers to these and other questions, stay tuned to RVentures. And, as always, we appreciate any wisdom you can share with us!

In the meantime ...
Does anyone want to buy an RV???

Here is the link to our ad ... feel free to pass it anyone who may be interested in a well maintained and much loved 2000 Winnebago Ultimate Freedom.

I know that I couldn't have downsized to the level of a Class B camper-van when we began RVentures. During our first four years, we have had great RVing experiences and have learned a lot.

We have learned to appreciate wherever RVentures take us.

Until next time ... remember that it takes rainy days to appreciate the sunshine ... and enjoy all the adventures in your life!

Friday, November 23, 2018

Thankful for Everyday Blessings

"A thankful heart opens our eyes to a multitude of blessings that continually surround us."
James E Faust

We cherish the memories of past Thanksgiving gatherings with our sons and other family members when we were living in Minnesota ... wonderful memories of family gathered around the dining room table decorated with colors to match the brilliant autumn foliage.

Since we began our full time travels in 2015, we have celebrated this holiday differently each year depending where we are and who we are with. Although we no longer have the seasonal decorations or an oven big enough to fit a twenty pound turkey, one thing stays the same ...

We continue to be thankful for the everyday blessings that surround us.

The blessing of God's beautiful
creatures that we meet on our beach walks.

The blessing of my handy man and
his "consultant" figuring out the best way
to keep the Wildebeest in tip-top shape.

The blessing of pickleball, volleyball,
and beach-walking friends.

The blessing of laughter with friends
while enjoying Bingo and Bushwhackers
on a rainy afternoon.

This November marked our fourth Thanksgiving on the road. Doug's cousin Debbie and Ron, who live near our current location of Gulf Shores, invited us over to their beautiful home to share the Thanksgiving meal.

We are thankful for the blessing of new Thanksgiving memories that each year brings.

The blessing of our vigilant
"turkey scrap" monitor, Frisco.

The blessing of a full plate of
turkey, cranberries, and
pecan-topped sweet potatoes.

The blessing of the most delicious
carrot cake EVER!!
I have to share the amazing story behind this culinary work of art. The delectable carrot cake was lovingly made by a talented chef who will never be able to enjoy the taste of any of her creations. Ron's stepmom, Cheryl, successfully battled oral cancer four years ago. The treatment, however, left her unable to eat anything by mouth. She is dependent on tube feeds for her nutrition. Despite this hardship, Cheryl continues to share her love of cooking with those around her. I cherish the blessing of being able to get to know this strong, beautiful and generous woman!

Multitudes of blessings!

We are thankful for God's greatest blessing ... 
the blessing of friendship of those around us
and all of you who follow our journey.

Happy Thanksgiving!

Until next time ... Cherish your multitude of blessings ... and enjoy the adventures in your life.