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!)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 love...no matter where it comes from! Namaste friends!
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 mind...as 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.