Thursday, March 31, 2011

Sweet Savannah

Savannah. Even the name evokes a romantic image of a moss laden canopy draping from the outstretched limbs of ancient oak trees. I love this town. I fell in love the first time I stumbled aimlessly down the uneven brick sidewalks and peered through private gates into lush courtyards of horticultural oasis. Spring time in Savannah is particularly magical. The dogwoods and azaleas paint the landscape of every street, park and corner, making the historical town cascade with even more charm (if that’s possible). Savannah was the first planned city in Georgia. (Its history is so deep and significant; I won’t even try to paraphrase. Please, do yourself a favor and explore it, you won’t be disappointed.)
The city is nestled against the marshy coast and within its boundaries lays a meticulously planned grid in (near) perfect balance of nature, residential living and commercial enterprise. British General Ogelthorpe conceived of this city wherein an equal number of houses line the streets and perpendicularly the shops, restaurants and churches complete a grid pattern. In the center of each square - a beautifully landscaped park, with gloriously mature oak trees whose limbs seem to skirt the sidewalk and ascend heavenward.
This allows a wanderer to meander leisurely in any direction without feeling too far removed from the greenery of Mother Nature, the delight of window shopping, nor the comfort of home. The romanticism of the city is present in 360 degrees, and in how ever many dimensions you believe exist. Ghost tales of mystery and tragedy cloak the streets like a dark cape on a cold damp evening. Beautifully restored mansions glow with impressive luster and lighting, but hardly compare to the hallowed and eerie houses that they neighbor. Vines grow up and around trees, wrought iron fences, and through broken window panes. High society, antiques and art of every form is appreciated here. So to, is the history that lies beneath its tabby houses and stone streets. The cemeteries are truly some of the most alluring I have ever seen. Exploring them is like stepping into a page of ‘Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil’.
We had planned to spend most of the winter here. Well, as you know, our best laid plans rarely come to fruition, but alas, we arrived. Just in time for the Savannah Music Festival. Let me set the stage for you: the venue is just the right size to accommodate a few hundred appreciative guests, while still capturing the intimate feel of a small music club. There were candlelit high top tables lining the room and the only décor were a few sashes of black curtains that draped down the brick walls behind the stage. The lighting was subdued and cast hues of blue in the shadows. The prefect stage for some blues…or jazz…or bluegrass, whatever your pleasure, this festival has it all. We heard men with voices that boomed like thunder and others whisper tunes as smooth as silk. There is a place in many a hearts that talking cannot reach. Thank you, God, for music.
The wail of the guitar against the sob of the bass was sweetly seductive and we found ourselves swaying without intention. We heard a banjo blend harmoniously with a piano and got carried along by a steady jiving drum beat. Every cell in our bodies came alive as we felt the musicians swell in their energy. One concert ended with a version of ‘Oh Happy Day’ that had every foot in the place stomping, every hand clapping and every soul shouting for redemption. Oh happy day, indeed.
We received the welcome of southern hospitality that can only be offered by….Midwesterners? (Of course.) We struck up a conversation with a couple of retired teachers from Chicago who now live in the heart of historic downtown Savannah. Fred and Susan Johnson invited us over after we shared a table at one of the performances…….. The universal laws of attraction were well at work that evening. The Johnsons are as adventurous as Torben and I, perhaps more - instead of driving across the country, they opted to sail across the Atlantic and live aboard their sailboat. We instantly hit it off and could hardly absorb enough of their traveling talks. Did I mention Susan is a writer?! She was the first to be simultaneously nominated for best fiction and non-fiction writer of the year in Georgia…but as she claims, she was the first to lose the nomination in both categories. Humble humility.
She belongs to a writer’s group that includes such well known authors as John Berendt and yes, Pat Conroy has sat in her living room. It was hard for me to keep from gushing all over the place. She told of a time when she first moved into the home and looked out her front window and thought about other women who had looked out the very same window two hundred years ago. Their house is one of ten antebellum homes remaining in the city. Built in 1790 it oozes with historical charm. She started researching the history of her house as well as the others and just knew there was a book waiting to be written. (I have already ordered a copy of her book and cannot wait to delve into it, check out if it tickles your fancy.) Their home is to be on display as part of the Home and Garden Tour next month. We sipped gimlets in the garden (watching no less than six species of birds come to feed) and enjoyed the true art of conversation. Susan even loaned us copies of the articles she wrote regarding their sailing expedition. (If you think I’ve got it bad with an occasional broken sewer hose, imagine being hoisted up the mast, in the face of an oncoming storm, to unravel a tangled sail - and spotting a dark fin circling in the water!) To say I was inspired is to say the sun is a little star. Our meeting felt ethereal, like uncorking a bottle of Chianti…and the promise that its aroma offers. From the first drop to your tongue that does not disappoint…down to the last sip from the glass that lingers with sweet intoxication. Our whole experience in Savannah was pure bliss.
Regretfully we are headed back to Florida. Mary Jean, Torben’s aunt, passed away after having a stroke. It was unexpected and the family is understandably shaken. We will return to the family’s homestead in Largo, Florida for a memorial service.
We wish you all well and hope you are beginning to feel the blossom of spring, where ever your feet may be planted. Namaste good friends.

Sunday, March 13, 2011

Mardi Gras!!

Wow, in light of the tragedy in Japan it feels a little superfluous to be gleefully describing our recent merriment. But, maybe in the face of such worldly sorrow some lighthearted entertainment is exactly what is needed. In any case, that’s all I have to offer, so let's get on with it… I feel like we have just run a marathon. We have engaged in a journey of celebration though a time honored tradition shrouded in mysticism, merriment and mayhem. I can only explain this experience by naming it so: Mardi Gras. And I think Andrew Lloyd Webber might say it best: Masquerade! Every face a different shade… Masquerade! Hide your face so the world Will never find you! Masquerade! Every face a different shade… Masquerade! Look around- There’s another mask behind you!

Masquerade! Burning glances, turning heads… Masquerade! Stop and stare At the sea of smiles around you! Masquerade! Grinning yellows, spinning reds… Masquerade! Take your fill- Let the spectacle astound you! I’ve had the blessed fortune of going to Carnivale in Italy and now Mardi Gras here in the states. The two are comparable, right down to the bright costumes, feathery head décor and eye masks disguise the common face. The pageantry is spectacular. The floats are surreal. Some slither like dragons, winding down the street, swaying to and fro, breathing smoke into the cool night air while children of all ages delight in its passing. Others advertise satirical banners with over the top cartoon characters portraying the backside of modern political circumstances. The crowd is hungry with shock, horror and disgust, but cries loudly for more. A Joker dances around a pole and bashing large golden balls against the float, tries to thwart of death for another year. The balls are suspended by a short rope and eventually fall into the crowd, who eagerly converge to consume these precious gifts. Masked men and women become as revered as Santa Claus and the tooth fairy as they toss treasures and trinkets to the masses.

As a stander-by I too delighted in the experience of raising my arms high in anticipation and feeling the blanketed satisfaction that came when treats fell from the sky and landed in my outreached fingers. The beat of drums kept the pulse of the parade on high. The blare of the horns infused a lightness into the air, while the shimmer of beads flying through the air became as mesmerizing as fireworks on the Fourth of July. Every color in the rainbow, every sound in the world, all in one moment, all in this party.

It’s overwhelming to say the least. One parade would have your senses buzzing for hours. We did it in pro fashion. Twenty parades. No joke. They are a seemingly endless trail of music and mayhem, one quickly followed by the next. Sure there were several themes, but ask me if I could tell the difference. . It culminates on Fat Tuesday (the literal translation of Mardi Gras), the day before Ash Wednesday, the beginning of the season of Lent. The tradition of Carnivale, or Mardi Gras as it is known in this country, is as ancient as the Catholic religion it was founded in. It is the last unrestricted hurrah before religious devotees forgo something of significant value for 40 days until Easter. We learned that the entire Gulf coast shuts down businesses and schools for days to accommodate this annual festival. In other words it is a church sanctioned, government approved party to shed inhibitions and partake in mass gluttony. I never knew such a thing existed with such flare and (seemingly) moral support in this country.

I was astounded, by several facets of the experience. First, and most impressive is my husband’s rejuvenation and stamina for eagerly dragging me back to parade after parade. Without his persistence I would have given up the goal way before the finish line. But we finished, tired and bruised, but remarkably we finished. Second, if you believe there is an economic crisis or national slump…come to Mardi Gras; the sheer quantity of STUFF is enough to sink a small island in the Pacific. Third, the pleasantry of southern hospitality is a current that flows through Mobile; people are courteous and there is always enough food and drink to go around, so long as you don’t mind the wait.

We have all heard Mardi Gras stories of women showing boobs for beads and mass chaos exploding in the crowd as some yahoo brandishes a weapon, so I was expecting to be confronted with these scenes. But surprisingly, I wasn’t. It is actually a $500 fine to expose the ya-ya sisters for beads, not that a few guys didn’t try. And the motorcycle cops and sheriff’s mounted posse kept the crowds from getting too out of control. I could not even begin to count the number of law enforcement officials present. Their lights preceded every parade and made the streets flash like rays from a disco ball. Parades lasted 16 long days and nights. SIXTEEN. They don’t take this stuff lightly. Over the years the party has morphed some and each little neighborhood or association has their own spin on it. We saw elegant men and women dressed like Lord and Ladies in white tuxedos and hats that stretched the length of the block. We saw kids parades with little children fiercely throwing candy that barely made it off the edge of the float.

At this party, anything is a delicacy and everything is desirable. At first I was content to observe the festivities, taking a few pictures from the sideline. Then the infection set in, and there I was, shouting with the rest of them, hanging over fences, wearing a silly hat and begging for beads. Shameless. The moment I knew I totally sold out was when Torben tapped me on the shoulder and pointed to the nearby T.V. camera crew who had focused in on my hooting and hollering, or the three pronged light-up jester hat I was hearing, in either case I had succumbed to the greed of the masses. I was addicted: Beads! Beads! Beads! I wanted more beads! We toted backpacks to carry home our spoils. Spilling over sweet tarts, oatmeal cookie pies, light up swords, Frisbees, t-shirts, cups into the streets as our bags couldn’t carry it all and our pockets were filled to the brim. Truthfully, it put Gasparilla and all of the other Tampa Bay parades to shame (sorry guys!).
We even attended the MLK parade, despite recommendations that we wouldn’t “fit in”. And we didn’t. But Torben and I learned some critical parade skills that helped us assimilate into any parade crowd: make friends with your neighbors; only after you know their name can you then proceed to throw elbows in their faces as you grab for beads and be assured a riot will not break out. Worked every time. Ironically, it was the MLK parade where we made the most friends, had the most fun and brought home the most beads!
As we left I felt a little ball of guilt bounce in my stomach…I hadn’t done anything illegal or sinister, but looking around at all of the carnage made one feel, well, a little dirty (literally and figuratively). The streets and sidewalks were littered from two weeks of constant spillage. Broken bead strands hung from tree limbs, feathers floated in fountains and a river of God knows what flowed steadily down both sides of the road. The store fronts looked like a bomb went off. Squashed moon pies were indistinguishable from the mounted patrol’s droppings. Port-o-potty’s were filled and in many cases spilling over. Cars were parked on every median, in every direction…their owners lost somewhere in the crowd. One street became a parking lot, with cars parked three wide and forty deep. Nothing in my view escaped the wrath of Mardi Gras. Well, I guess I now better understand this holiday’s place in the calendar. Clearly after a celebration of this careless magnitude some time of good old structured abstinence is warranted, even welcomed. I have no earthly idea how long it will take the city to clean up the mess or for that matter to return to a state of normal (whatever that is).
On another note, we experienced a miracle. I still feel like I am dreaming and want someone to pinch me. Three days, that’s all, three days. I feel like we’ve won the lottery! We took a break in the middle of Mardi Gras (who wouldn’t?) and headed back to northern Alabama. We made what we have come to call our “annual pilgrimage” back to Red Bay. For those of you who were along for the ride during our first introduction, no second introduction need be necessary. For the rest of you who’ve hopped on somewhere mid-journey Red Bay is the comical vortex that held us prisoners for five agonizing weeks. It was ground zero, a place from which we could not escape. When we courageously tried, something in that two light town kept pulling us back in. After 11 months and half the country, it was time for a visit back to the red dust of Red Bay. Can you pick out our motor home in this picture?
Neither could my husband. He almost came home to a new wife and quickly learned to look for the Gator license plates before walking in the door. No major breakdowns this time, (thankfully) just annual maintenance and some small repairs (like where I broke the screen door & where the laundry drawer took a derailment from its track). We also replaced an a/c filter and cover that I managed to lose while washing them in my parents’ driveway (yea, I’ve got skills). At arrival our list included 31 items, but we had a little something that we didn’t have before: friends. Torben has a gift for putting people at ease. He remembered almost everyone’s name and with a casual greeting and some good ol’boy camaraderie the garage doors opened and we were in. This time around there was no f*-ing around. I have to give the town credit. Perhaps after traveling for a year and learning a bit more how this business goes we have wider eyes and more appreciative hearts. The town goes to work at 7:00. The whole town, every business, now granted they close up at 3:30, but most days I couldn’t even recite the ABC’s at 7:00 am. And in an effort to get us in/out/on with life – they came in at 6:00. Yup, that’s right, 6:00. That’s not the only amazing thing…they stayed later, allotted us a few extra hours in the express bay (limit is three, we took 6). Seriously? And they did it with a smile on their face and a cute little “yes ma’am” in their adorable southern drawl. One guy even took us to his house to wash/wax our RV after his day shift. He completed the task under the moonlight (and a spotlight). Perhaps in my maiden voyage to this town I was overrun by my own impatience, because this beautiful work ethic was previously lost on me. This time was a night and day difference. These skilled workers could pull our RV in and park it in the tightest of spaces, do their thing, back us out and to the next bay we went. Torben exclaimed that our home is in better condition now than when we bought it!
We had some bodywork done (courtesy of a picnic table that hitched a ride in San Francisco) and had to spend one night parked inside the garage to let the paint dry. It was a weird feeling at first, I’m used to big open spaces and this was a little claustrophobic, even in the daytime it was as dark as a moonless night. But they plugged us in and we at least had power. Satellite coverage was not an option. But did we care? Of course not! We just turned up the music, busted out the drums and sang/danced our hearts out. Even the dogs got in on the play and chased us around in circles, taking turns harmonizing their howls. I swear a living room dance party should be on everybody’s agenda. Not only is it a great workout, but it is so much fun to open yourself up, shed your inhibitions, lift your heart and spin yourself in circles. My best advice this week: Lose the T.V. for a night – it’s amazing what fun you can create.
The best part about our second visit to Red Bay? You’re not gonna believe this – I’m still having difficulties believing it - besides that it only took THREE days and we were actually able to leave without being pulled back in – we were just outside of our warranty –and they honored it! The noMadsons final bill at the Tiffin Allegro Service Campground = $0.00! I wish I knew what the actual amount would have been, I feel like I need to donate that much to charity. What a blessing!! We did pay for some private maintenance services, but the repairs were a whopping zilch, zero, nada. I reaffirm our decision that this is the best brand of motor homes on the market! Next we’re headed to the East.
We've stopped in to see Ericka and Momma Madson, just long enough to pick up our mail (undoubtably the trickiest thing about life on the road)
and long enough for me to spill a full banana milkshake in my mother-in-law's lap. (I am nothing if not predictable.) We have tickets to the Savannah Music Festival and I cannot wait!!
Sending lots of love and hugs to everyone. Remember: living room dance party! Get your boogie on!

Monday, February 28, 2011

From the beaches of the streets of Mardi Gras!

We’re spending a little time in the city that gave rise to the first American Mardi Gras. Mobile, Alabama. Yes, New Orleans has the edge on this market, but it all began in Mobile. While New Orleans promises celebratory drinking feasting and other temptations, Mobile has kept the celebration high energy, but family friendly. We only saw one person show skin for beads—and HE was not that impressive. Here's a picture with all the loot we scored in one parade. Pirate booty. I have no idea who started the tradition of throwing moon pies, but they do. Torben got knocked upside the head with a flying banana moon pie. That doesn't happen everyday. And I am not sure why the bead phenomenon is such a universal hit, but it is. I had to wrestle my prizes away from a some elbow-throwing grannies. Meanwhile Torben is so tall he just stuck his hand in the air and laso-ed in several strands. Good times.
Mobile is a city that is laden with history. It showcases architecture from its prior French occupancy next to modern day skyscrapers and art museums. I was impressed with the quaintness that I felt while walking downtown in such a large port city. It’s a little softer than New Orleans, but still filled with splendid French influence. And wrapped in Southern tradition, much like Savannah.
The sea, despite bringing the goods which sustain commerce, has not been kind to Mobile. Over the years there has been devastated by hurricane after hurricane…with deathly plagues of yellow fever in between. Somehow, the city seems to come back, but only barely, and the sea splashing across roadside barriers and hallow remnants of houses, hotels and restaurants serve as a constant reminder that the darker side of Mother Nature is always lurking close by. We toured the City museum and learned about the six million slaves that were brought over from Africa to the port of Mobile. Six million. One wonders how so many people could have been displaced against their will. I learned that Africans – often rival tribes – coerced their fellow Africans and sold their own people to slavery. Once captured people spent up to seven months aboard ships, in the most horrific conditions. Imagine being chained to a dirty wooden floor for nearly a year, you slept, ate (if there was any food) and defecated in an area smaller than a telephone booth. Sunshine? Forget about it. The museum had a recreation of a slave ship and it gave all of us a depressing and eerie feeling to walk through it.
These are feet lined up, men packed like sardines. I am always sadly astonished when I am reminded that humans can create mortal hell. My grief for the horror those African slaves endured is deeper than I can find words to express. May their souls find comfort in the afterlife, for they certainly suffered enough here on earth.
On a much brighter note, we spent several days camped out at what is undoubtedly one of the most serene beaches in all of the good-ol U. S. of A. Fort Pickens, off the coast of Pensacola. A kind camper we met at a previous park suggested it and I am sooooo glad we listened. Imagine: soft powder white sands, so bright reflecting the sun that it almost blinds you, small sand drifts, seagulls, pelicans, oh and gorgeous aqua waves lapping the shore. Mmmmm, sounds like heaven right? Did I mention – no condos to obstruct the view? It is part of the Gulf Islands National Seashore, and it belongs to you as much as it belongs to me.
Our national park system is amazing. The only thing left out on this pristine stretch of beach is the remains of old Fort Pickens. I love exploring the remains of old buildings. I love history with a little mystery. This place did not disappoint. The actual park is closed at dusk, but people camping on the peninsula can access the site whenever. So, the crazy noMadsons decided to venture into the fort (complete with moat and the belches of gators hiding in the marshes) at night, on a full moon. Remember, I said I like a little mystery, I apparently forgot to stress the “little” part to my husband. Not willing to be labeled a pansy, I tiptoed through the remains of the brick walls inside the fortress walls and stone halls, on the edge of crying and peeing my pants the entire time. All I could do was imagine the ghost of some ticked-off prisoner (by the way, Geronimo was held here) haunting the corridors. It was creepy. Here is a picture of it during the daytime…now imagine this hall with the only light streaming through being the glow of the moon. The spook factor was off the charts!
Thankfully, to calm my poor panicked heart we walked back along the shore. Watching the moon light flicker like diamonds on the top of the waves as they crested was visual euphoria. The rushing sound as they washed the shore transported me and tranquility soon returned (thankfully!) Torben was eager to explore the Naval Air Museum on the military base in Pensacola. It was filled with military history, old stuff and it was free, the trifecta of cool for Torben.
He was endlessly entertained while wondering wide eyed and mouth agape from one plane to the next, amazed by the technology and the engineering as it has changed over time. I followed, smiled, nodded and learned a few things, but one air museum looks like all the other air museums, and I’ve lost count on how many we’ve been seen. I mean no disrespect the good men and women who have defended this country, so for their, and my husband’s sakes, I will continue to feign interest when our bus rolls by another one, but deep down I will likely be thinking: There goes two hours of my life I won’t ever get back.
Ooooh-weeee! I just love being in the right place at the right time, don’t you? Kinda makes me want to dance a silly jig. We were blessed to help celebrate an old friend’s birthday. I use the word old with double meaning. Yes, he is 50, so clearly that qualifies (ha!) but Jack Onkka has been one of Torben’s treasured friends for four decades! We helped shock Jack with a surprise party at a funky new blues club in town and were able to steal him away for a more intimate birthday dinner and catch-up session on his actual birthday. How awesome. Jack is an honorable man, the kind that restores your faith in humanity. He has been serving the Santa Rosa County Sherriff’s Department for over 20 years and when he plans to retire he hopes to be ordained. Seriously, 20 years of seeing the worst man-kind can dish out and STILL believing in the inherent good in people, not to mention a willingness to continue to give back, WOW! Torben has always spoken so highly of his childhood friend, after spending a little time with Jack and his beautiful wife Amy, I am in total agreement; the world is a better place with him in it.
The kids want me to report that Pensacola has the mother of all dog parks. We’ve seen some good ones, some cleared fields, some mudded fenced in lots, some with wading pools. But the coolness factor for this one is hardly rivaled. Bayview Park has not one, not two, but three parks for dogs, along with traditional playgrounds, tennis courts and fishing piers for the two legged kind. The dog beach, yea, that’s right, DOG BEACH, was like heaven for our kids.
They ran in circles in the sand, chased their new friends, and swam like guppies out in the water. Lily was spastic, she jumped in the water, got soaking wet, then bounced out onto the sand and flopped down like a fish out of water to “dry” herself on the sand. It is a silly little trick she used to do all the time when we lived on the lake in Belle Isle. She hasn’t had a good wet flop since and it was heartwarming to see her enthusiasm return. Actually, there were several dogs there who perfected the splash-and-roll technique. It was pretty adorable. Dog parks are a hoot. I love getting to play with tiny puppies like the four month old beagle who chewed on my face or the sweet giant Newfoundland who flounced happily and blissfully unaware of the delicate flowers she trampled beneath her enormous paws. Blaze has taken to be the “greeter” at any park we stop. He is the official “welcome to the park, let me offer you a complimentary butt sniff” character that looms at the entry gate. He makes friends quickly with other dogs; even adopting their tag along human companions as new family. Rodeo is a perimeter sniffer. She hangs out down the fence line, nose to the ground, sniffing. I think sniffing for a dog is a past time like knitting. You can accomplish a lot without having to exert yourself. It’s the quiet dog’s sport. And she’s breaking records.
Bela could care less about the other dogs, she’s way more interested in squirrels. Obsessively interested, I might add. When she spots one she barks incessantly and gives the rest of us a headache. She probably would have loved to have been adopted by a family that loves to hunt as much as she does. Unfortunately for her the only things she can hunt in this family is food from the from the kitchen counter. Yesterday she caught a box of cookies.
We went to a Renaissance faire! Have you ever been? It’s a place where ordinary men and women are transformed into Lords and Ladies. Where the words hello and goodbye are articulated with such royal emphasis one feels as if they have stepped off the page into a fantasy kingdom. We saw knights jousting from atop horses, both adorned with metal of armor. There were Arabian women belly dancing with fire in slow tantalizing movements. I swear Attila the Hun appeared in one sword fighting expose. All around were the sounds “Here Ye-Here Ye” and the merchants displayed their wares undersigns reading “Ye Olde….(blacksmith/clothier/bar). We tried on hats and capes of period costumes.
I succumbed to temptation and adorned myself with a braided metal headpiece (I love it so much I am still wearing it!) Children rode camels and we each took a shot at throwing axes. My strength wasn’t so impressive, but Torben and Jack landed a few. And to top off a perfectly splendid afternoon- I finally made it to the top of a rock wall. (I try to climb these things at every carnival and usually make it only half way due to my forearm cramping.) Alas, my goal was accomplished.
It was a great escape and another miracle day spent with good friends.
Speaking of miracles, thank you to everyone who responded to my last blog. The fact that someone beyond my immediate family is reading them is a miracle. Just kidding. As one friend put it – every day miracles are like God winks. Coincidence is really just God winking down at us and reminding us that we matter. I love it! (Thanks Sally!) I found it interesting to learn that several friends are also exploring their spiritual selves and it seems to me that we are all on the cusp of discovering something wonderful, about ourselves and our greater role in this magnificent universe we occupy. May your lives be touched by an abundance of love and God winks. Namaste everyone.
Stay tuned next'll never guess where we are headed back to! (Do I hear a banjo playing?)

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

There's a new holiday on the calendar...

Saturday was Elvis Day, Ericka proclaimed it so. She is always the peacemaker in the family, especially if one of us gets carried away being ornery or jokingly picking on another member of the family. She devises a logical reason why we need to stop razzing someone and be nicer to them. It usually sounds something like this: “Guys, come on it is Christmas, let’s be nice.” No argument there. But sometimes it morphs into something a little more comical. We had our motor home parked in Inglis, Florida (which is pretty awesome) and my mother- and sister-in-laws were riding around with us as we explored the area. Torben was eager to show the family where Elvis Presley had filmed the movie Follow That Dream, and incidentally where our trip first began. Not surprisingly, Torben was feeling playful and I said something or another that gave him good fodder for a few jokes. Ericka couldn’t take it and laughingly jumped in and proclaimed, “Guys, be nice, it’s Elvis Day.” We laughed so hard tears rolled down our cheeks. What a way to keep things in perspective. I envy the ease with which she logically senses that if we have something to celebrate there is no reason to be less than enthusiastically grateful….all day long.
We had so much fun hanging out with Doris and Ericka. As part of our weekend we toured Homosassa Springs State Park which included a chilly, yet majestic pontoon ride down the spring fed river, under the canopy of palms, pines and moss and into the entrance of the park. Kind of like Disney, but without the lights, lines and price of admission. When Torben was a little boy he used to go there with his beloved grandfather who had a cabin on the river. Torben described the area as being an amazing jungle, loaded with wildlife, undeveloped and free of Yankees. He even told the story of how his grandmother had a heart attack at the park and was saved by his father. How’s that for family history?
The state park is a respite for disabled wildlife. It houses animals with little chance of survival elsewhere. Some of the animals there were actually rescued by the Central Florida Wildlife Rehabilitation Center, which Torben used to volunteer with. (If any of you made donations at our wedding, this is your heartfelt gift at work!) I fell in love with the cutest one-eyed owl. There were also bobcats and panthers. Even though they are behind some serious barbed wire, their eyes followed us like predators tracking their prey. I have a healthy respect for big cats. I have a ten pound domestic cat that has nearly clawed my arm off on multiple occasions. I can only imagine the damage her colossal cousins could bring. There were several manatees and every variation of bird you can imagine. One island sparkled with glittering pink flamingos and intensely stunning wood ducks swam everywhere with ease.
We also heard a heart breaking story of the separation of a whopping crane pair. These rare beautiful birds mate for life. Unfortunately the mating ritual requires not only a swanky dance of fluttering wings and tail feathers, but also a song to swoon the female. Ladies, you get it, we all need a little sweet talking. Rusty, the original male had no problems with the dance, but he had no voice. The years passed and he and his female friend never made little whopping crane babies. So another whopping crane male flew into the park and the staff now has the new male sharing space with the female in hopes to increase the whopping crane population. Poor Rusty is in the next area over and keeps craning his neck through the fencing to catch a glimpse of his beloved being swooned by a crane with a voice. Poor Rusty, it was truly heartbreaking to see. Ericka said a little prayer for him as we passed. The whole situation struck me as profoundly sad. On one hand, it is scientifically responsible to help a near extinct species procreate to sustain its existence on this earth. On the other hand, Rusty was clearly suffering. I wonder if all that suffering caused to one sensate being is worth the possible creation of another? Not sure I have the answer, just a place in my heart that melted for Rusty.
Torben and I have thoroughly been enjoying this coast of natural wonders.
Here the ocean seems to seep into the land like a slow winding river that narrows into a creek, then trickles through the underbrush. The trees grow out of the water leaving their vast root system exposed. And the ginormous nuclear power plant keeps the waters warm, attracting a plethora of mammals and reptiles. The manatee population is impressive here. Torben and I took a scenic kayak ride to the Three Sisters Springs, which was out of this world. Lots of boating tours descend on this area to offer a view of manatees, but unfortunately this usually leads to increased water traffic and danger to the manatees by swiftly rotating props. There was a special area, blocked off to motor boats, that was a safe haven for the manatees. We were permitted to gently kayak into the springs and even swim in the clear turquoise water (though it was a little chilly). There were several professional photographers with their special underwater cameras (which actually looked more like bizarre alien equipment than cameras). Everyone was vying for an up close picture of a manatee and no one seemed to be getting the perfect shot.
I am forever amazed by the gift my husband has for communicating with animals. Manatees were swimming to avoid all the photographers and in fact we even heard a fish and wildlife ranger tell some of the photographers to cool it because they were threatening the blubbery mammals. Torben, the only guy not in a wet suit, just hangs out in his corner and begins mimicking the body language of the manatees. Soon, one came over to him and curiously nudged him nose to nose. They rocked back and forth, twisted upside-down and bobbed at the surface together. They continued in this dance for at least twenty minutes, each mirroring the other. It was magnificent. I watched in silent awe from the kayak, reluctant to move for fear of disrupting this delicate interaction. It was beautiful.
Aside from that day being so incredibly moving there was also a typical Sarah shining moment. Before we left for the trip we stopped into the kayak shop to get our supplies. I was immediately taken with a new waterproof box that not only keeps you stuff dry, but floats. We have had a few “waterproof” bags that didn’t really seal out the moisture so I was eager to try this nifty little box out. I convinced my husband that $15 was a good investment instead of replacing the cost of a phone. Well, the box works great…but when you take something out of the box, say your phone to take a picture, it now renders the waterproof part, useless. Just as I took the picture I felt is slipping from my cold wet fingers into the spring below. Son of a…. Good thing Verizon has an insurance plan. By the way, Droid rocks, all my data was backed up on Google and when I signed on with my new phone…everything was there – including the picture I had taken just before I lost my grip! Technology is amazing. Not as amazing as watching Torben with the manatees, or my uncanny ability to drop, spill, or break things, but still pretty amazing.
We continued our journey up the “Forgotten Coast” of Florida and found a beautiful state park where we took the kids on a 5 mile hike through St. George Island State Park. Walking two and a half miles anywhere is pretty tough for some of our kids so we loaded up Rodeo in her stroller/chariot while everyone else got to walk two and a half miles in the sand to get to the beach. We opted for the “easier” route on the way home. Although dodging trucks on the road while trying to direct four unruly dogs is hardly “easy”. Rodeo posed in her Cleopatra chariot and barked encouragement at everyone else. Either that or she was warning off any bears or gators (these looked like trucks and motorcycles to the rest of us), not sure, but in either case – it worked.
We’ve since continued along the “Emerald Coast,” which is nothing less than spectacular. Yes, it is a bit more populated and there are towering condos on the beach, but the water is green, really really green, and the sand is as white as sugar. Not a bad place to chill for a while. Torben picked up on a small sign on the side of the road leading to a Florida State RV Resort (meaning Full hook-ups!). The only one of its kind I believe. Jackpot again!! The sites are wide and spacious and there is a tad of manicured “natural” landscape between each site that helps create the feeling of peaceful seclusion. We can take a private sandy trail one mile through pine and palms and end up on a (rare) undeveloped beach. This place is amazing. If you’re in need of a vacation from the cold grey skies pack your bags and head here. A pina colada and a sun umberlla is calling your name.
Several months ago I met the most amazing woman. Her name is Carrie and she is an energy worker. She cleansed my chakras. Yup, that’s right. I was open to the “chakra cleansing”, if nothing else, for the experience, one more thing on my list of “I did that’s”. But as it turned out, the experience was much more. On the outside, same me, but on the inside I felt as if I had been washed by a tidal wave. This woman was incredibly intuitive and having only spent a few minutes talking with me she laid me on a table and I closed my eyes while she did her thing and directed my energy channels. I felt a wave of release, like colors flooding my consciousness, swirling at first, then falling into a gentle rhythm and flowing together as if they have always been flowing that way. A few minutes later she was done and all I had to show for it was a little dizziness. Then we discussed our experiences. She said my energy reminded her of a bohemian gypsy and a pioneer, and that although I was an “old soul” some of my energy points were small and I tended to view things through neophyte eyes. I was shocked silent.
I have all my life searched for a way to describe how I saw myself, coming up short in 34 (almost) years and yet here was this woman, barely an acquaintance, telling me who I was with words that fit as good as my own skin. Speechless I tell you, speechless. I previously used words like hippy-chic and earthy to describe myself, which I don’t think are too off balance, but certainly not as colorful and exciting as a bohemian and pioneer. I have spent some time feeling my way around in this new self description. I like it. I'm keeping it.
My husband and I took this sabbatical from our careers to explore our creative, intuitive and spiritual sides. Until recently I have felt this was best done privately.
Now I’m not so sure. My chakra experience has me believing that to truly learn anything I have to open myself up and share this small part of myself with others. Apparently I could do it flat on my back on a stranger’s table, so why not with y’all? You guys have been with me flying over Sedona, running from bears in California and jumping over tarantulas in the Rio Grande. Though somehow sharing this part seems like a much bigger mountain to climb.
I’m working with the most wonderful life coach. She is helping me to see that my uncertainty about this greater spiritual side is not a deficit in my understanding, but rather a blessing of my own curiosity. In order to explain where I want to go, I think it best if I fill you in on where I have been before you were reading along with me. As a psychologist I was granted a special pass to the inner world of people’s thoughts and emotions and I felt so honored to be escorted through such a private garden of hope. But often I felt restricted by mandates of the profession. Don’t get me wrong, I thoroughly support the ethical guidelines that preserve our practice. But sometime, well, most of the time, we don’t have all the answers and we are limited to using methods that have been empirically validated (more on that later).
I cannot explain why cognitive restructuring is an insurance approved treatment for depression but giving someone a hug and praying with them isn’t. But truthfully, they both work. There have been so many times sitting in my therapist’s chair that I longed to cross the room and openly embrace a client as he/she struggled with an issue, to hug them lovingly or stroking their hair (the way my Mom used to do to us girls). But there is an invisible boundary we must not cross. I respect the boundary, but I question it. Empirically validated treatment means a manner of reducing symptoms with a technique that has been tested to be effective. The goal of this is to keep people from using quacky treatments (like rolling people up in a rug to symbolize rebirthment - seriously, it was done). So I am in complete agreement with the use of standardization, but I guess my own perspective tends to question who/what decides the scale of measurement on healing a heart? What is a valid indicator for someone may not be for another. This tension between loving what I did and examining the line that measures it was a constant force in my work.
Discussing this with my life coach got me thinking of other invisible boundaries. They definitely exist, though I cannot pin point them as easily. But there is something beyond those boundaries that brings color to life. I cannot, with all my academic degrees and postdoctoral certifications, explain what happens when someone prays…I only know that it works. And I do believe in energy fields; when we focus our attention with intention something shifts, grows, expands. Why? Got me. The beauty of science helps us to better understand the mysterious phenomenon of life…how cells multiply and divide…but it cannot offer us an explanation of why.
This is a big issue for me. Even as a small child I would annoy my parents with this one word question: “Why?” and to their horror I learned to use it in a sentence, “Why does the earth rotate? Why does the heart beat? Why do people get mad? Why? Why? Why? My parents did the best they could to placate the curiosity of this insatiable child, but their answers always prompted more questions. So it came to be that I chose a professional path that encouraged me to question…everything. But happiness, as in my profession, and the essence of what brings color to our lives, seems to defy explanation. Have you ever been in the right place at the right time and felt as if the universe lined up this moment just for you? That’s how I met my husband. Who can explain how Angels walk among us? I know an Angel has been by my side at several times in my life, I have seen her (she was beautiful, by the way). Conversely I have felt the chill of a sinister presence, it was eerie and unmistakable. My best friend has an aura, it precedes her, when she wants to communicate with me she just sends out a universal wish and I feel it. In all our 15 years we have never read it wrong. I don’t know how these things happen, but they seem to, at least for me. On this trip I have experienced foretelling visions, some good, some bad, but all have come true. Déjà vu and outer body experiences fit in this arena, but what else? I have seen at least three things fly across the night sky in a pattern and speed that defy explanation, or at least any explanation I can offer.
The more I begin to open myself up to these things, the more I feel like the science that supports my profession would question my own judgment or the validity of my experiences. So I am faced with a dilemma…do I admit to these unexplainable mind-blowing phenomenon and risk being ostracized by the academic and medical community? Or do I share my experiences with transparency, knowing they could render some criticism, yet hoping that someone (one of you perhaps?) can help answer some of my questions? Against all scientific logic I am choosing to be transparent because I believe I am not the only one. Who else has experienced these phenomena? While you may not be able to offer a sound explanation as to why these things happen (although I am not giving up hope), perhaps it is only your validation that I seek. If you too have wondered if there is more to life than what we can see with the naked eye and touch with our sturdy hands let me know. Let us collaborate our experiences. Maybe by compiling our curiosities we can make sense of the bigger picture, the one I know exists but cannot yet see. What is really going on in this universe of ours?
By the way, did you hear that an entirely NEW solar system has been discovered? Some scientists believe a few of the planets have prime conditions to house LIFE on them. What do you make of that? It excites me! I feel like we are destined to connect with something so much greater than we can wrap our arms or even our conscious little minds around. Our immense ability to love and create was meant for something….I wonder what.
Please email me your thoughts on this. I am eager to learn more. So for now, this is your nomadic bohemian gypsy wishing you celestial peace. Oh, and Happy Elvis Day.

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Respite in Florida

You're not going to believe it…I still don’t. We drove ALL the way across the country and back only to get stuck…in our own backyard? What a headache on steroids. We pulled into “Happy” Trails RV Park in Tampa. Happy, my ass. There was nothing happy about that place…the closest thing was leaving and yet even that fell short on the contentment scale. Bloody hell. We got stuck in the sand. No, we got buried in the sand. Old guys in RV parks have a thing about standing around watching people get into (and hopefully out of) pickles as they park. They don’t do much except offer contradicting advice, point, stare and shake their heads. We had an Olympic collection of curiously zombiefied old fogies driving up in assorted color golf carts – with popcorn! – decorating the scene of our disaster. Finally someone offered us a board to load under the sinking tires…then another….then another. Twenty-two boards and four concrete slabs later we were still sinking in the Happy freakin Trails RV Park. After watching my husband dig out tires for three endless hours the industrial sized tow-truck finally appeared to wench us out (Yay for Good SAM!). Our poor coach lurched and creaked its way out of a hole in the ground that now lies about four feet below the pavement. In retrospect I want to extend a special finger wave to Sandy the manager, who not only refused to help us, but also refused to honor our request for a refund. Too stingy to refund our $37.50? You're gonna love the whopping bill I send you for the repairs. Great business management skills Sandy, I hope you go far. And the final insult of the day: a broken tag axle tire seal. Bad, but not so bad…it became worse when we learned that the closest place to have it fixed was Lazy Days RV in Tampa. Here’s the thing about Lazy Days: the name is a self fulfilling prophecy. I think they are, well, Lazy. Sometimes when a company is soooo big, the right hand doesn’t have a clue what the left hand is doing and that is clearly the case here. My mother–in-law dropped her coach here in April to get a window fixed…and it is still here. Yup, 10 months and no repair. Groovy. Recently, my husband, on behalf of his poor mother, has taken to using that “southern charm” we all know so well to get the situation resolved. I am sure they have the name Madson on a black list by now and tomorrow I get to go in and plead for an appointment. URGG!! As my sweet loving husband would say, “ain’t that a peach, hon”.
Since it looks like we'll be here a while I might as well use this time to fill you in on our home journeys. I know, an oxymoron, deal with it, life's full of 'em. We weren’t sure what to expect. Traveling, well, we are accustomed to that by now, but coming home? That’s a totally different story. One, we never really took time to ponder, for no other reason, than, well, we didn’t. So I wasn’t sure what to expect when we crossed paths with our old stomping grounds. One major difference between Orlando and the smaller places we have enjoyed: I went to my dentist… on the 14th floor. As I was riding up the huge mirrored elevator with mahogany doors and marble floors I laughed out loud to myself. I felt a little like Alice in Wonderland. We made a quick stop into see our friend and salon owner, Ibi. Funny side story, when I first moved to Orlando I searched, as many women do, for just the right hair stylist. It’s not just about the hair, it’s about who you trust to cut your hair. Anyway, Torben kept pressing me to try his stylist and I had visions of a bald barber coming at me with a razor. How come I am so often wrong? I didn’t know then that I was marrying a man who cared as much about his hair as most women do. As it turns out Ibi is one of the best! She is Hungarian by birth, Italian by her first marriage, and is now full blown American! She has lived here for years, runs her own salon downtown and has the most unique accent I have ever heard. Several years back she invited me to her party to celebrate becoming a Naturalized Citizen. I am ashamed to say she probably can recite more facts about this country than I. Anyway, she is wonderful and Torben, I, and our heads of hair have missed her greatly. We made a surprise landing on her salon by barging in on her in the back room where the stylists mix their colors and retreat for a quick bit to eat between clients. She cried and gushed over us and exclaimed that Torben looked so much younger. She did seem to be restraining her hands from grabbing a pair of scissors as she marveled over his wayward locks, but her exclamations of joy were pure and heartwarming. Later, we ran into our neighbor’s daughter while shopping. It was shocking to see a familiar face, then excitement brewed as we tried to shove 10 months of catching up into 15 minutes. We traveled to our favorite hippy spot for lunch. The Dandelion Café is one of Orlando’s coolest little joints. The menu is all vegetarian/organic and the selection of herbal teas is out of this world. We indulged in some much needed nutrient recharging while soaking up the Florida sunshine on the picnic tables that dot the lawn of this brightly colored house-turned-restaurant. Special moment enhancement: enter, Dee Dee stage left. Dee Dee was my lifesaver in the time before we left Orlando and one of the only people on the planet that can have me laughing so hard my sides ache, and that’s before she’s even finished taking off her coat.
When we first left Orlando we knew the thing that we’d be missing most was our little community of Nela Isle. It’s not labeled on most maps of Orlando, but it is truly a hidden gem. Many of the houses are occupied by their original inhabitants who lived there when it was “way out” of down town. Downtown has since spread far and beyond this little island, but it is a place where you can still stop and catch your breath, or an amazing sunset over the glassy lake. Every year Mo and Carolyn host the annual Christmas party. It’s tradition, and oddly enough, there is only one rule: No silverware allowed, everything must be finger food. Hilarious rule right? I remember one year Ed snuck in a fork and giddily bragged about it to someone, who begged to wash and use it, I think twelve people ate off that fork by the time the night ended. Mo recently turned 80, but doesn’t act a bit over 50, maybe younger. He purchased our old pontoon boat when we left and totally revamped her. Beautiful new carpeting, new seats…It was kind of a special moment to see something that we had let go get another lease on life. Mo is also incredibly talented with stained glass and has the most amazing windows, walls and art displays around. He showed us the new wall he had just finished stoning in time for the party. I am in awe of people who are just born with a natural talent for art, Mo is one of those characters. It was so uplifting to see our old friends and catch up. Things are pretty much the same there, which was reassuring. When the party ended we hopped across the street to see a neighbor’s newly remodeled kitchen (with hydraulic lifting cabinets – way cool!) Kim has an attraction to all things tiki-esq. The real tiki, not just torches, but carvings, lanterns, and other assortments she has driven across the country to collect (or had flown in from half way across the globe). She had an additional room added to her house just for her lamp collection. I am not kidding- she had to fight with contractors to install 17 plugs on her ceiling! Undoubtedly the best part of coming home was watching her get so excited to show off her newly installed outdoor shower (it’s unbelievable, by the way). Intoxication may have been a factor because she took an erroneous step backward and fell head over heels, wrapping herself around the outdoor air conditioning unit, wedging herself between it and the wall. One minute she was upright, the next-all we saw were two pointy feet aiming up at the night sky. I know you’re supposed to show sympathy when someone you love is hurt, and believe me; I really wanted to….I just had to stop laughing first. (Even now I get a chuckle when thinking of it) Sorry Kimmie, I hope your bruises are healing well. We also visited with one of Torben's old law firm Partners...on his farm. Some of you may think it outrageous, but I totally get it, and I loved it! He and his wife bought up a bunch of farm land and have slowly shaped it into an (almost) self-sustaining farm, complete with five miniature dauchsands, four horses, two emus, two egg laying ducks, a gopher tortoise, and a rattlesnake occupying said gopher tortoise’s hole. They even built the barn themselves! And filled it with farm equipment that would make Mr. John Deere jealous! It is demanding physical labor, but they seem to be so at home and in their element, it was truly amazing. I loved meeting all the animals. We took Blaze along, he was super stoked to meet the horses, but preferred to chase after the ducks rather than make their acquaintance the proper way. We were also treated to a Mexican Coca-Cola. Did you know that in Mexico they make it they original way with cane juice as sweetener, not this partially hydrogenated corn syrup stuff (seriously, that’s saying something if Mexico won’t even use it). Apparently you can buy it by the case at Sam’s club and it tastes amazing! We had in interesting discussion; our friend proposed that Coca-Cola used to use cane syrup, then distracted everyone with NEW Coke, that was a total flop, as was expected, then people went back to drinking Coca-Cola “Classic”, which they had reformulated to use corn syrup and no one could tell the difference, because as bad as it was, it was still better than NEW Coke. (I love a good conspiracy theory, no matter how irrelevant.) Torben and I basically called this last month a respite. We spent as much time as possible with Doris (Mom Madson) and Ericka (my sister-in-law). Only a few days did we venture out with our explorers hats on. We took a beautiful drive down to Rainbow Springs State park (thanks for the suggestion DeeDee!) and I got to play with my amazing new camera that Torben got me for Christmas. This baby is so sweet, it has so many funky options, that I am only now learning to use.
There are beautiful waterfalls on the property and the natural springs run an almost turquoise color. The moss covered trees made the setting serene.
On our way home we found a slightly paved road leading back into a wildlife preserve. We were bedazzled with the armadillo that jumped (I am not kidding, jumped) across the grass and stopped to play with a river otter who was just as curious about us as we were with him. (Secretly I think he loved the camera, he kept posing for us.)
Somewhere back in the dense ground growth of palms we heard a big rustle, too big to be a rodent. So Torben, who thought that it was either a bobcat or panther, picked up a surveying stick that happened to be close by and carried it like a sword. No, we weren’t smart enough to turn around and leave, this is us, remember?
I picked up a long piece of a pine branch with the cones still attached and waved it like a magic wand, begging the forest to protect us. My senses were on high alert when it dawned on me that no one knew where we were. Nor did we bring a backpack with any emergency gear….geesh, you’d have thought this was our first time. But like true idiots, we kept trekking in, the path became narrower, the cabbage palm thicker, and the sun started to make its westerly descent. I lagged behind Torben and bent down to take a close up photo of something that caught my eye when I heard it…the unmistakable snarl of the Florida panther. If I hadn’t just peed 10 minutes ago in the brush I would have totally soaked my pants. Something about panic racing through your veins makes your senses go berzerk, your eyes about pop out of your head, and your legs move at mach speed. We arrived safely at our car, although the adrenaline didn’t leave my system for some 45 minutes or so. Why do we always get ourselves into these situations? Perhaps an even better question: why am I always surprised, while Torben isn't?
One of my favorite things about coming home to Florida: Ericka. Ericka is 37 and severely handicapped with Cerebral Palsy. Life is not easy for her, or for the people taking care of her (my mother-in-law is another person who deserves a sainthood nomination). But there are some things she does well, and I might even say, better, than others.
When she dances she gets totally lost in the music. We spent six hours shaking up the dance floor on New Year's Eve. She was without a doubt my favorite dance partner. I loved hearing her squeel in delight as I spun her wheelchair in dizzying circles. More importantly, she loves hugs. Something about Ericka’s love feels like receiving the love of one thousand angels. There is something so pure in her expression of affection. She is in the moment. If you hug her, she is fully present in that hug. It was startling to me at first; then I allowed myself to relax into one of her lengthy embraces and bask in the sensation. It transported me to a full here and now moment. I don’t know why I was shocked. Perhaps my revelation said more about my own barriers than about the loving capacity of a handicapped woman. How often do we hug people? So often it becomes effortless. Maybe therein lies the problem: we are just going through the motions of a common behavior, so common that we have lost touch with the essence of its purpose. To hug someone, really hug someone you have to rest in the embrace and surrender your thoughts to the place your heart is. I shudder to think of the years I have engaged in hugs and yet still maintained a distance, a wall, a non-permeable barrier between myself and this world. Anyway, the beauty of the moment washed over me like the warmth of sunshine. And the clear recognition in my heart acknowledged love that poured forth like an endless spout of water, cleansing away the imperfections, rounding out the rough spots, and filling in the gaps. Yes, my heart did indeed recognize this universal connection. Love as the Creator intended, bonding and bright, transcending one soul to another, breathing as if the heart itself was somehow the only functioning part of the body. Go ahead, hug someone today, I dare you. I also have loved spending time with my grandparents. I have lived my whole life with the bounty and blessing of 2 sets of healthy grandparents. They set a role model for me for the way marriage should last; I think my mom’s parents just celebrated 62 years this year. Unbelievable! Anyway, as much as I love spending time with them I think I have taken for granted that they would always be there to spend time with. Only recently did life bring the reality of my blessing back into focus. My 84 year-old grandfather, Bob Curran, (his friends call him Curnie) is as cantankerous as they come. He loves fly fishing on the Au Sable River, three minute eggs on Sunday mornings, and watching the T.V. with the sound off and has always, always found a reason to complain about something…except his granddaughters…all 7 of us. He recently took a tumble and as most 84 year old bones do, his ankle broke. Well, he more or less crushed his into powder. I know, I know, a broken foot is not the end of the world, but boy did it throw my family into a panicky tailspin for a few days. Curnie and my G-ma are spending the winter in Florida, as they do every year to escape the wintery wrath that blows upon Indiana this time of year. I was the family member in closest proximity and without a hesitation I broke a few speed limits getting down to Ft. Myers. His stay in the hospital, the confusion that followed the anesthesia, and his resistance to anything that even remotely resembles change made us all hold our breaths. Thankfully it was only his foot that took a beating. His head, heart, and all those essential organs are still intact. But for the first time I saw one of my grandparents as mortal. Sitting in the hospital with him he looked so frail. He was worried about being able to manage the things he has always done and it was damn near impossible to convince him that things would have to be different. He would have to go to a rehab facility because he couldn’t walk and no one at home could take care of him. My G-ma has been partially paralyzed for over 40 years and uses a walker or electric wheelchair to get around. It’s not like she wouldn’t want to take care of him, it is that she can’t. The harsh reality of that was devastating to all of us. The facility tried to make the transition as easy as possible (is it ever easy to admit someone you love into a rehab/nursing home?). When we arrived there was a bazillion stacks of paperwork -F.Y.I. have your medical healthcare representative and durable power of attorney forms completed BEFORE you have an accident, my grandparents did and it made at least this part of the process move seamlessly. The medical transport van arrived just as G-ma and I were finishing with the papers and I waited anxiously to see the emotional state of my grandfather. The doors opened, the ramps folded out and there sat my grandfather in his hospital gown, laughing and giving the transport crew a serious rash of shit. Some things never change, Amen, I felt like I could breathe a little easier now. He thought we had brought him to the Taj Mahal after he learned that the facility offers happy hour once a week! I knew he was starting to feel better when he started complaining a little more. (He called his physical therapy team “the wrecking crew”.) Later, in a quiet moment of honesty he shared with me that it was awful not to be able to get up and go to the bathroom whenever he needed. It is the simplest things in life we take for granted. G-ma and I visited everyday and did our best to make him comfortable. In the evenings enjoyed our time alone together. G-ma is a fierce competitor and we took to engaging in serious battles of rummy and rummykub. She has this keen manner of “remembering” never before known rules every time I was about to win (NOW I know where the gene comes from Torben!). I razzed her about it a little, but I think the score was pretty even in the end. What she is limited by in her physical body, she more than makes up for in her mental strength. My grandmother has a brilliant mind and I was blessed to enjoy her company all to myself for a whole week.
When I left I made sure to stop by and see Curnie one last time and tell him that he was my hero. He made googly eyes and tried to laugh it off, but I wanted to make a point of letting him know just how much I was supporting him and his new, albeit unwelcomed, goal of learning to walk again. In my mind it mattered a great deal that he know this. Looking back I think it mattered a great deal more to me to know that he knew. It wasn’t until my drive home, after I left the nursing home and headed north on I-75 that the profundity of my feelings flooded me. I actually had to stop on the side of the road and collect myself. I was overwhelmed with fear, what if it had been something worse? What if the struggle is too much for him and he just gives up? What if…what if….what if….. How many of you have ever played this heart wrenching game? There is no easy or promisable outcome. Life is unexpected. At the end of the day, it's what we make of it that sets our course for tomorrow. I hope and pray that G-pa Curnie can come to a satisfactory agreement with today and that he sets a course for health and healing tomorrow. We’ve got friends and family taking alternate “vacations” to Florida coming stay with G-ma and checking in on G-pa. I am grateful for all of these people, so eternally grateful. (By the way, I hear Beer is returning for an encore performance!- Thanks Dawnie!)
We also got to stop in on my other Grandpa (PJ) during one of his Conquistador parades. Funny thing about my grandfather, he is very reserved, but when he learned that he and Torben were each members of a special “krewe” that got to dress up in historical garb (read: kilts and feathered hats) and throw beads to the masses (especially shirtless women) well, he came out of his shell. There was a rainy MLK parade when we were in town and we got a quick picture with Grandpa before hiding back under the shelter.
Torben got a little misty eyed and wants to pull his pirate gear out of storage for an encore parade next week. I know you are just dying to see my handsome husband in a kilt, so I promise to post pictures if it comes to fruition.
We also explored the Warm Mineral Springs. Sounds like heaven right? It wasn't so bad, if you don't mind sulphur bubbles enveloping you in a fart filled cloud every two minutes. I was intrigued by a group of older (and wider) women wearing big floppy hats and bright round sunglasses. They were speaking in fast Russian as they slowly swam in circles around the springs. I didn't have my camera ready, but later I gained an up close image that will forever be etched in my I was changing from my suit into dry clothes one of these said women was parading around the locker room, stark naked, except for the big floppy hat, humming a Russian hymn while she pranced into the shower. I am sure my jaw is still on the floor there somewhere. But now, as I think back, I think: Good for her. I wish I had a little of that shameless self-confidence. We dry camped at the Tampa RV Supershow (that’s RV slang for camping in a parking lot with no water, electric or sewer hookup) and had a blast exploring all the latest and greatest gadgets. Last year we were feeling a little bit of pressure to pick and purchase a motor home when we attended the show, and by we, I mean me-applying it to the other half of we-he. This year we weren’t in as much of a rush, our kids got to walk around with us (awesome) and we already had a home. So we leisurely examined the new models and I have to admit I kind of felt like an RV snob as I walked around and laughed at some of the new designs that may look cool to begin with, but will likely be an RVer’s nightmare if they actually had to spend any time in them. For example, the outside kitchen - Great if you plan on camping, always in good weather, and never have a midnight case of the munchies. Genius idea gone awry. There is also the double door camper…this one was a hoot, the first door was normal entry/exit, but the second door, and I kid you not it was the selling point, opened right into the shitter. Not the aisle, not the sink, but just door…open…toilet…facing the outside. Someone’s dream I am sure. We were impressed with some of the upgrades that Tiffin made on our model, namely the ease of access to the electrical box in the closet. Ours requires a Russian acrobatic routine to twist and contort ourselves into the side/back/bottom of the closet with a flashlight, whereas in the newer model it sits right up in front, no bending, stooping or cursing required. And a few changes were made to the cockpit, Torben was oogling the new toggle switches for the Jake brake. But other than that, we were relieved that at the end of our inspection we were still more impressed with our coach than any we saw at the show. Yay! So, we bought little dohickeys to upgrade our happy little home. Torben got chrome covers for the stairs (the company rep was embarrased when they were too heavy for our step motor) and we adopted a new wheel covering that makes the driving wheel into a table when you’re parked (nifty). He is currently talking to himself while attempting to install an exhaust pipe extension and a light holder-thingy on the awning. I’m gonna let him go on for a while before I have to go out and show him how it’s done. :)
We have unanimously decided that this feels like a half way point in our trip. As you can imagine, it was a tough vote. So our year looks to be extended a little. YIPEE!! (If I still had my 17 year-old body I’d throw a back flip.) So, in preparation for our next leg we inspected the coach, inside and out, top to bottom. T checked all the fluids and gave her a well deserved bath, washing away the last 5 states of dirt from our journey. I climbed on top of the roof to inspect and clean the seals, then paused for a small nap (what a place to escape!). We pulled out a ton of stuff from the undercarriage that we had not used and hopefully won't need, and hauled it over to meet the rest of our treasured belongings in the storage facility. Ugh, one day I am really going to hate unpacking that thing. We also got new tires on the Honda and filled both the car and the RV tires up with nitrogen. Have you heard of it? The theory is that nitrogen is less volatile and not subject to temperature variations that causes regular air to change in pressure. We experimented with it in the Honda tires before we took off last April. At last inspection they still held at 35 psi. Pretty darn impressive if you think of everywhere we’ve been this year and not once did we need to refill them. It took about 20 minutes to get the new tires full on the car…and about 6 hours on the coach. (Groan, groan, mumble, mumble. That was another fun lesson in patience.) So as soon as this recent tire seal problem is fixed, we’ll be on the road again! I'm trying to take a few lessons from mother nature on this patience thing, she seems to have perfected it.
Hope you’re all enjoying the blistery January weather, no matter how much snow you may be digging yourselves out of and hope you are all showered in matter where it comes from! Namaste friends!