Sunday, March 27, 2016

Celebrating with Our Easter Family ... Wherever RVentures Lead Us

This Easter weekend we are watching the rain come down in the "Spring Break" destination of Panama City, Florida. Since my Easter decorations went to new homes during our downsizing, I won't be making my traditional "Lamb cake". (I always get asked, and no, it is not made of lamb meat, but rather is a pound cake in the shape of a lamb ... an Easter symbol.) We will miss our traditional Easter meal with my sister Mary and our sons, as well as enjoying the beautiful Easter music of our Minnesota church family. 

But as we have come to discover during our travels, "family" is found in many ways. "Family" can be found when our paths meet up with treasured friends from our past. "Family" has also come in the form of new people we meet on the road. And it is always comforting to know that "family" can be found in the always-changing church communities where RVentures lead us. 

Crossing Paths with Old Friends
During our travels around Florida this winter, we are grateful to be able to meet up with "old friends" whose vacation paths crossed ours.

A visit with Luis from Columbia convinced us to start learning Spanish so that we can someday experience RVentures in South America.

Relaxing stays on "the farm" in Panama City with Tami and family filled us with new appreciation of horses, grapefruit, gospel music, and laughter!

Time on the porch with Doug's folks in Ocala helped us to realize the value of slowing down and enjoying the gift of conversation.

A random call to a college friend led to the discovery that they were going to be 10 minutes away for us ... always fun to "catch up" with a dear friend who home is now on our Virginia travel plan!

We really enjoyed meeting up with our northern friends who ventured down south to experience how great winter can be without a parka and snow boots!

Meeting New Friends Along the Way
We are also grateful for the chance to meet and spend time with new friends such as ...

Habitat for Humanity Care-a-Vanners that we hope to meet up with again down the road ...

Fellow Full-Time RVers who know how to eat well and have fun ...

And all the friendly doggies always eager for attention!

Finding Friendship in our Church Community
And it is always nice to know, that wherever we travel, we have a church family. Celebrating Sunday with ever-changing church communities give us the opportunity to experience the local culture.

Around the retirement communities in Florida, the churches were massive and filled to the brim with our faithful senior citizens. We found that even retired priests can be "snowbirds" when we encountered our former Minnesota Bishop saying Mass in Florida.

The Basilica close to Disney World reaped the gift of having talented vocalists contributing to the worship experience. Their music was breathtaking ... so glad that Doug was able to record their rendition of "Ave Maria". 

By far our favorite worship families have been found in the smaller local churches where the crying of babies and the chattering of toddlers provide the music of God. On Palm Sunday, I admired the cross that a youngster had made out of her palms ... without another thought, she made one for me!

Many churches take advantage of the year round nice weather and develop beautiful outdoor prayer gardens. It is always fun to stroll around the church grounds as we wait for the parking lot to clear out after Mass.

Celebrating with the small Spanish community made us realize that we've got a lot more studying to do before we are proficient enough understand a sermon preached in Spanish ....

... But it also reinforced that no matter what the culture or part of the country, we are all "family" united under a loving God!

Until next time ...  Cherish your Easter family ... and enjoy the adventures in your life!

Tuesday, March 22, 2016

Spring Break on the Ocala Mountain Bike Trails

Spring break is in full swing in Florida. As the crowds began to swarm around Orlando, we headed a bit north to Ocala. Santos Campground and bike trails, part of the Florida State Parks system, was our home for a few days. We have been interested in trying it out as it is located close to Doug's parents. I, however, wasn't too sure about the idea of mountain biking ...

Spring break 2007 ... are mountain bike trails supposed to be this sandy??
You see, my previous experience on this bike trail was during spring break in 2007. After getting lost and ending up on a very sandy horse trail for a mile or two, my husband and son lead me to the "expert" area ...
Adam assures me that this is OK ... even though the sign says "for experts only"!

This time around, Doug promised to take it easy on me! And I am happy to say that the years of work by the Ocala Mountain Bike Association has increased the quality of the trails and improved the signage.

The Santos Trailhead, a part of the Marjorie Harris Carr Cross Florida Greenway, is adjacent to the campground, and it was apparent that the majority of campers were here to bike. And being spring break, these bikers were all ages. Fun to see kids enjoying the great outdoors!

Like skiing, I learned that there is a certain color trail marker that I need to follow ... and yellow was the color for me! No venturing onto the black diamond "experts only" area for me this time!

Doug took me out each day for short seven mile loop in order to get my confidence built up for in anticipation for a longer ride to the Land Bridge. During these rides I learned: 

...To make sure to look for sticks that move as you approach them as those can turn out to be a snake.

...That somehow, we will still get on the "expert" trail.

...That being the faster rider just means that Doug gets a LOT of time to "rest up" as he waits for me to "catch up".

...That our Origami folding bikes, while not as "cool" as all the fat tire mountain bikes, did well on the unpaved surface. Doug did have a few issues, but I just think that he just secretly wants a new bike!

...That a leisurely ride through the woods, even if it involves dodging rocks, sticks, and snakes, is FUN!

On Tuesday, we took advantage of a gorgeous day to ride out to the "Land Bridge". 

After we left the busy loop near the campground, we were able to have the trails almost all to ourselves ... only had to yield to a group of horseback riders.

The trail was a beautiful combination of live oak and pine forest, with occasional palms interspersed just to let you know that you are still in Florida!

Ten miles down the trail, the hum of traffic became louder. We had arrived on the land bridge that spans over Interstate 75.

Watching the traffic below us, we saw ... a not-so-good day for a fellow RVer. It is a welcome reminder to give thanks for fun times like today!

We enjoyed returning to Ocala for spring break and learning to enjoy mountain biking fun with bikers of all ages! 

And I am glad to be able to give this new type of RVenture a thumbs up!

Until next time ... try something new ... and enjoy the adventures in your life!

Saturday, March 19, 2016

Wekiwa Springs State Park: Circles in a Forest

We were able to put on 75 miles on our bikes while staying at Wekiwa Springs State Park. The West Orange Trail beckoned us on for another ride, this time to celebrate with the Irish on St Patty's Day.

But the highlight of our ten days here was being able to step out of the shiny Wildebeest and walk the many miles of wooded trails in the park. I entitle this entry "Circles in a Forest", as I reflect both on the beauty of our hikes, and how the book that I read this week reflects what we experience as we explore the beauty that our state parks work to preserve.

My story starts two years ago when I was starting to downsize in anticipation for RVentures to begin. I had some Hummels that I "gifted" to family and friends. It was fun to be able to give the figurine to the person whose personality and gifts were most reflected in the figurine. "Ride into Christmas" went to my ski buddy, Kaleesha. In turn, she gave me one of her most favorite books, "Circles in a Forest" by Dalene Matthee. 

She fell in love with the South African book when she visited there during high school. The book is set in the Knysna forest in the 1880s and tells of how the destruction of the forest by foresters and gold miners affected both the wildlife and the people of the forest. The Knysna elephant "bigfoot" was especially hard hit. There were an estimated 400 elephants living in the forest in 1880. With the destruction of the forest and the killing of elephants for their tusks, the number of elephants fell to about 12 in 1970. The story focuses on one man's effort to try to save his beloved bigfoot from the people who wanted to take all the timber, gold, tusks .... and ultimately, all the beauty out of the natural forest.

It was special to be able to read about a forest on the other side of the world, and realize that the area around us is faced with some of the same issues. We all need to do our part to protect this precious gift!

Mr Gopher Tortoise is depending on us ...

As well as Mr. Very Large Bug ...

As well as Mr. Alligator who is not going to show himself to Doug today!

We are so fortunate to live in a country that is continually working to preserve the natural beauty that surrounds us in our state and national parks. 

During our last three days in Wekiwa Springs State Park, we also learned of another way that the forests are being preserved ... which seemed, at first glance, not so good. We experienced an ecological burn.

As we set off on a walk one morning, one of our favorite "circles in a forest" was closed off. With many miles of trails around us, we chose another path. From the distance, we could see smoke rising, and as we approached the road to our campsite ...

... we could see and feel the massive heat of the burn. When we talked to the park ranger we learned that fires can be a "healthy" forest event helping to restore the Florida forest to its more natural state. 

A day later, I had a hard time believing that this is a good occurrence, but began to understand after seeing the wild turkeys eating the newly exposed forest nutrients. 

Looking just across the road, I studied the area that the ranger pointed out. It had undergone the ecological burn a year ago. A year later, pine and palm trees remain majestic ...

And Mr. Gopher Tortoise is thoroughly enjoying his new burrow!

Circles in a forest help us to discover the beauty that God has given us to protect!

Until next time ... follow a circle through a forest ... and enjoy all the adventures in your life!