Tuesday, October 26, 2010

The End.

Saturday, October 23 officially ended our cross-country RV trip. 119 days on the road. 17 weeks. My dear friend, Dawn, asked me yesterday if the ending was anti-climatic and I have to say in all honesty, no. The trip was more than I could have ever imagined and totally different than I could have expected.

It is strange, though, that after dreaming, planning and praying about doing this for the last three years, now it is done. What next? Hahahaha, I laugh, because if this trip has taught me anything, it is to never etch plans in stone! God has His plan for us and so now we will enjoy the memories of the trip, look forward to the next step and be thankful for it all.

We had our last night on the road in the amazingly beautiful Grayson Highlands State Park in southern Virginia. We met up with Clayton and Amy, along with their three children, and enjoyed an evening by the fire under a full moon and the next day taking a short hike in the park and encountering wild ponies, something the children enjoyed immensely...well, me too. We then loaded up the RV and headed to Charlotte, NC.

That is where we are now. We have the RV parked on 40 acres overlooking a pond. It is very beautiful, unfortunately, it has been raining since our arrival, so everything is muddy and wet. Plus, the rain dampens my spirits, so I feel pretty unmotivated. But, I have decided to take this opportunity to reflect back on the last four months and try to encapsulate for you my favorite moments from the trip.

When I remember back to our very first night on the road, in the horrible RV park in Fort Lauderdale, it could very easily be 4 years ago, not a mere 4 months. It really boggles my mind. We experienced our first leak in the RV, which was quickly remedied by tightening a few loose pipes, but we were sure the RV was trashed and thought, "What in the world have we gotten ourselves into?" Our next night was at brother Charles' place to have our "Going Away Party" and to say good-bye to our families. This is the most difficult memory for me because I remember my Mom crying as they were leaving...brings tears tumbling down my face now as I think about it.

I have lived within a minimum of 2 hours from my Mom since 1990 and I miss her terribly. Skype and the phone are good, but nothing compares to seeing her face to face and hugging her so tight I'm afraid I will break her. I am so thankful to God that she has Ted, whom I miss just as much, and her Abby Girl to look after her. I can't wait until I get to see her again!

Saying good-bye to Mom and Pop, James' parents, was equally difficult. Thankfully, James and Pop had maintained their nightly phone visits throughout the trip, with the exception of a few nights here and there because of no cell phone reception, so we were able to stay close, but again, nothing compares to physically being in someone's presence.

Saying good-bye to all of the family was painful, but at the same time, we were excited because we had our trip ahead of us. Now, it seems the sorrow of saying good-bye has truly set in. We look forward to reuniting with them all soon, as well as our many wonderful and incredible friends we left behind in the Keys. So many amazing things have happened in their lives since we left, like the arrival of Jayda Skye, first grandchild of our sweet friends, Deidre and Mike Neal and the arrival of Cali, the newest puppy-family member to Marilyn and Keith Allen! I can't wait to meet both of them and hug my girls (Dee, Mare, Cindy, Ruth, Kathy...just to name a few) like they have never been hugged before!!

OK...so onto the trip, I can't cry and type at the same time. Certain things, places and people really stand out when I think about the trip, the first being Austin, Texas. This was our first unofficially planned stopped and what a great surprise it was. I got my first decent haircut since leaving Skip in the Keys in Austin, we had our first amazing Thai meal there and really enjoyed the downtown, music and activity. I think we will revisit Austin again and again.

Then there was Santa Fe; this was our first extended stay, meaning, more than two nights. We loved the weather, food, art and driving north of Taos seeing the amazing landscape. It was here that the feeling of being on the road set in and the stresses of every day life started to fade away. We really enjoyed Santa Fe and the feeling of relaxation that we found there.

Colorado was amazing in so many ways that I can't list them all. We were in Dolores, CO for 10 nights...the longest stay, matched only by Maine, during our trip. We did travel to Carbondale for two nights to stay with Diane and my heart still warms at the memory of spending time with her. I was so thankful she and James had a chance to get to know one another better.

The mountains and sense of peace we took away from Colorado stayed with us throughout the trip and that says a lot about a place. I remember fondly and with a big smile on my face, the many nights by the campfire with Charlie, Judy and Sunny! What fun we had meeting up with some good Key's friends and enjoying food, drink and laughter together. We ate well, laughed hard and enjoyed every moment with them.

Then there was Southern California. Ahhh...yes, a good time for sure!!! I have to be honest and say that living there still lingers in our minds and we wait to see what God has planned for us. I was reunited with Dawn, whom I have known for 20 years, and it did my heart good! My time with her, Frank and their kids was cut short due to their move to Texas! But, since Dawn and I are both Dallas Cowboy fans and she lives near Dallas, I'm sure we will be visiting a lot!

I finally got to meet a lot of the "Wheaton Gang" while in Southern Cal and what a blast that was! Our time with all of them was very special and let me just say that Laguna Beach is gorgeous! The water is a bit too cold for me, but I loved that James surfed and SUP'ed while there! The Bahamian in freezing cold water...that is one adventurous man!

I remember vividly that it was in Dana Point, California that James and I both realized we are water people. Having spent about six weeks "inland" and in the mountains, we had forgotten the powerful calming quality that water has until we drove down to Dana Point and were faced with the amazing and awesome Pacific Ocean. We both sighed deeply. Southern Cal is beautiful, diverse, filled with amazing and unique people and a place we both feel a deep bond to. It will be interesting to see where that leads us.

I have said many times in these Blogs how impressed and proud I am of our National Park system, but I don't think I can say it enough. I hope all of you get out and see as many of them as you can. They are all completely different, unique, wonderful and awe inspiring in their own ways. I can't pick a favorite because they are all so different. Here is a list of the parks we visited:

Carlsbad Cavern National Park
Mesa Verde National Park
Grand Canyon National Park
Joshua Tree National Park
Sequoia National Park
Kings Canyon National Park
Yosemite National Park
Redwood National Park
Crater Lake National Park
Olympic National Park
Glacier National Park
Acadia National Park

I'm sure I have left some out, and that doesn't include the many, many State Parks we visited along the way.

IF I had to pick one favorite area, I would have to say the coasts of Northern California, Oregon and Washington. The shores, beaches and coastlines in this sector are so wild, intense and breathtaking. The best day for me on the trip was in Westport-Union Landings State Beach in Northern California. It was our first primitive spot and we were parked 20 yards from a cliff that overlooked the ocean. We didn't go anywhere while we were there...we just stayed at the RV and read, wrote, visited and enjoyed the sound the surf, the whales breaching out in the deeps and just the amazing beauty that surrounded us. It was The perfect day for me.

Glacier was everything we wanted and more. Majestic is a word that comes to mind when I remember driving through the park with thick fog around, or just before dawn when the stars were still out before the sun rose to tuck them away. Montana in general could be described this way. Once you have been there, it gets into your blood and becomes a part of you. People born there, stay there. I can see why.

The Midwest is another highlight because of the people we visited! Meeting up with old friends and family really ignited our spirits and made for some fun memories. For me, not a lot compares to the hugs and love I get from my nieces, nephews, great-nieces and great-nephew! From age 2 all the way up to 25, they all have a very special place in my heart and I'm so incredibly proud to call them MINE! Yep, they are all MINE...their parents don't know it, but they are! My sisters, Whitney and Julie, have known me my entire life and there is a wonderful connection and comfort in relationships like that. They are two beautiful and amazing women and I'm humbled by their strength, courage and hearts. My Dad always has been and continues to be so much fun to be around. I loved spending time with him and knowing he and James were getting to know one another better. I hope that in the future our visits will be more frequent and for longer periods of time!

I know I'm repeating a lot here that I have already said in my previous Blogs, but just sitting and reflecting, these are the moments that really jump out at me. I have not gone back and read all of the Blogs yet, but I'm working on printing it all out and reading them with James. I'm sure after reading it, there will be a lot more laughter at the moments we shared over the last four months.

As for now, we are staying in Charlotte, North Carolina. I know that probably comes as a shock to many of our family and friends in Florida, but we do feel God has brought us here for many reasons and look forward to seeing how things unfold. We don't exactly know how things will look, but roughly, James will be working with Clayton in Ministry, I'm hoping to complete a Grant Writing course and begin Grant Writing as well as help Amy in whatever capacity I can as it relates to the church. We will NOT be living in the RV forever (thank goodness) and plan on finding a temporary spot soon. That is about all we have right now and it is good enough for us. Trust and faith in knowing God will work out all of the other little details helps us to focus on being still and doing the next right thing.

We will be coming to Florida for the Christmas Holidays and maybe get our stuff out of storage, so I will be keeping everyone in the Florida updated on our plans as we finalize them. Your continued prayers for this next chapter in our lives is very much appreciated. It is with many mixed emotions that we have come to this point, but again, feel God's hand in this and know it is the right move. I will miss my amazing friends, my beautiful Mom and fmaily and the incredibly unique life in the Florida Keys very much...but remember, North Carolina isn't that far away!!!

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Nearing the end.

Greetings from Virginia, or let me say, BEAUTIFUL Virginia! I love the rolling hills in front of the mountains and the people are kind, funny and very generous.

We are nearing the end...and I have to say what a blessing it is that we both, James and I, feel the same way at the same time. Imagine how things could have been if either of us were ready a month ago, but the other wasn't. But, as God would have it, we are ready to settle down and get back into the grove of normal things.

It has been an incredible blessing being on the road for the last four months. I can't wait to sit down and read the Blog from beginning to end and revisit in my mind the incredible places and people we have seen.

Maine, was, as always, extremely beautiful. We spent three nights outside of Boston and visited Cape Cod and Martha's Vineyard, both were amazing places and made us, once again, realize we are truly water people!

We spent three nights in New York, actually, in Jersey City. The RV park was the most unique park we have stayed on this trip. It was basically downtown Jersey City on the harbor...we saw the Statue of Liberty from our RV and were only 40 minutes from Manhattan. We had to walk five blocks to the PATH (Jersey's subway system) and then catch a few subways to get to the heart of NY, NY! I SO LOVE IT THERE!

New York City is so alive and so full of different and amazing people. I could sit on the subway all day and people watch. We spent most of the time with our dear friends, Eric and Keri and their two adorable children, Emma and Daniel. It was so much fun! The four of us went to the Metropolitan Museum of Art and then James took me to MoMa (Museum of Modern Art)...I was in heaven. To see Monet's Water Lilies, Degas' Dancer, all of Rembrandt's portraits was almost too much for me to handle. It seems the first part of our trip was seeing God's awesome creation and I loved every moment of it and then to spend the last part looking at man's creation of God's creation is nearly as beautiful, but not quite.

James and I aren't the only one's ready for the trip to be done...our little Miata, Sarai, has just had about enough! You might remember that since being on the trip Sarai has received a new CAT converter, radiator, rewiring of the AC and today...well, today was something all together different! We waited around until the rain stopped, which was about 2:00 this afternoon, and then hopped in the car to take in the sights along the Blue Ridge Parkway. We stopped into the gas station to fill 'er up and then just as we were turning out of the gas station we heard it. A noise like no other noise we had ever heard before.

We pull over, pop the hood and don't ya know it, we blew the 2nd spark plug clear out of the engine block. We just laughed. By the grace of God, we did this right by the gas station which happen to have a tow truck and the owner knew of a place that could fix the problem. So, three hours later, we are driving the car back to the RV thankful we weren't in the middle of nowhere when the plug decided to pop!

Tomorrow we head to Grayson Highlands State Park to camp with Clayton and Amy and their three kids for a couple of days before heading back to their house in Charlotte, NC for some much needed down time, prayer time and decision time.

We are very excited to see all of you again very soon! We have missed everyone so much and again thank each and every one of you for your prayers for us while on this trip! Until we see one another face to face...God bless and WE LOVE YOU!

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

My Husband

My Blog entries to date have been about all of the wonderful places we have seen on this journey.  I’m so thankful for this platform to be able to share with you all of the amazing experiences we have had.  However, this entry is all about my husband, James.  I know he will hate this, but I simply have to acknowledge him and share with you what being on this trip with him means to me.  Without James this journey would not have happened, the memories would not exist, the life experience would be still unlived.  He is more than just my traveling partner on this journey, he is my leader, my guide, my friend, my husband, my protector.  Through Christ he provides the most stable life I have ever known in my 42 years.  So, this entry is all about him.

Some of you reading this have known James his entire life…40 years.  Some have known him since high school, some college, some have known him since his days at Coral Ridge Church, some through work and some know James by their association with me.  I have known James for almost 9 years.  I have been blessed to call him my husband for the past five years, ten months and two days (he hates it when I do that). 

There has been no break in our time together since starting this trip; i.e., 8 hours at work, time out with friends, shopping errands alone, etc., we have been together non-stop for three and a half months, 24/7.  Many of you may be shaking your head in disbelief and thinking, “There is no way…” or, “How in the world do they do it?”  But, I assure you, there are no magic words, secret formulas or tricks we have played.  I can say that this experience has been the best time since we have been married, and a lot has to do with Christ and a lot has to do with James.

I fell in love with James all over again on this trip.  Not necessarily the “butterflies in your stomach” kind of love when we first started dating, but more like a heavy, warm, comforting kind of love that is anchored into something substantial and strong…safe.  I have seen him in a way that I have never fully seen, or let me say, fully appreciated before.  I have always known James to be kind, caring and honest, but being with him for this amount of time and in all kinds of situations, I see his kindness, caring and honesty differently.

James is a man of great integrity.  I’m not sure how many of us truly appreciate that particular trait in the man.  I can’t say that I have ever given it too much thought, but I realize now that it is probably the most important trait a person can have.  Because of James’ integrity, I know I can trust him.  I know I can rely on him.  I know that when something goes awry, I can count on him…time and time again.  He is consistent in his actions and has provided me a stability I feel safe around.

James is also the most generous and gracious person I have ever known.  And I don’t mean material generosity, though he is this also, but just a generous spirit in general.  It emerges in the smallest of things, like when driving the RV on a two lane highway and pulling over so the cars behind us go by…even though he may be doing the speed limit or better.  If we are walking or hiking somewhere and see another couple taking pictures of each other, James will ask if they would like their photo taken together and then take it.  When he and I are walking down a street together, he makes sure that he is walking on the side of traffic, sheltering me from the oncoming cars.  When hiking, he lends me a hand, or foot, in the more challenging places, making his hand into a step for me to climb on or his foot as a brace while coming down a steep rock.  After nearly six years of marriage, he never fails to thank me for a meal I have cooked.  Never.  It could be breakfast, lunch, dinner or a small snack…it doesn’t matter, he always thanks me. 

They say you can tell a lot about a person by the friends they have.  That is true.  As you all know, I have met a lot of James’ friends on this trip and am honored to call them all my own friends now.  But, seeing James with his friends, some he hasn’t seen in years, some weeks, some months…is really special.  He genuinely loves his time with each and every one of them.  He is truly interested in hearing their story, catching up, reminiscing and just sharing space together.  And, his friends seem to feel the same way!  It is a beautiful thing to witness from the outside.  These are not only friendships, but relationships that have been carefully maintained by experiences of old and time apart hasn’t diminished their intensity.  There is a lot to be said about a person who has such friends.

These things I’m sharing aren’t big things…things that get one in the paper, or invited on a TV talk show, they are little things, and I believe it is the little things that show a person’s true character.  James isn’t a saint and he isn’t perfect, but overall, he is the best thing outside of Christ that has ever happened to me.  He is the truest friend I have ever had, the most honest confidant I have ever conversed with and the most loving husband I could ever wish for.

Sunday, October 10, 2010

Maine-ly Fun

I can’t believe we have been in Maine for a week already!  Gosh!  Time does fly when you are having the time of your life.

I need to back up a bit and fill you in on a few other states we visited along the way.  Our time in Old Forge, NY was way too short, but a very special indeed.  Paul and Paulie Case showed us the sights and spent the evening catching up and praying for Katie, Paul’s six-year-old daughter who was badly burned a few weeks ago.  My heart aches for the entire family, but I know God has them all in His hands.

The Adirondack region of New York is quiet amazing.  Unfortunately, it rained, rained and rained some more while we were there…it even rained INSIDE the RV.  Yep, our first roof/ceiling leak, but, nothing major and it seems to have stopped since James climbed on top and caulked every possible opening he could find.  That’s my man!  Back to the Adirondack’s…autumn colors were in full bloom and the small, quaint towns we drove through made me feel like we were transported back in time.  I wish we could have stayed longer, but the short time has basically guaranteed that we will be coming back soon!

We then drove to Vermont and the beauty just kept blowing my mind.  Vermont is the “Green Mountain” State and what a perfect name it is!  As with NY, Vermont was at full peak in foliage color and for as far as the eye could see there were mountains with vibrant reds, yellows, orange and greens dancing in the rain.  Yes, the rain continued.  We stayed two nights in Vermont to do some RV maintenance and to watch some much missed college football.  It was lovely!

Next, New Hampshire.  We were only in the state for a short time, but with the few covered bridges and all foliage mixed with sunny, clear skies, it was simply perfect.  We had our destination in site and couldn’t wait to get there.

Maine.  All of Maine is gorgeous, but we are particularly fond of Bar Harbor.  I am sure it has a lot to do with the fact we have mountains and sea all in one beautiful vista.  We were thrilled to meet up with Tim and Diane for the first three days!  I couldn’t have asked for a better way to start our Maine visit. 

Everyday was special with them, but one really sticks out in my mind.  We decided to hit the local, and highly acclaimed, brewery, “Atlantic Brewery Company”, for a tour and beer tasting, which we did…at 10:30am.  Yep!  You read that correctly...10:30 in the morning!  The funniest thing was the fact that the “Master Beer Drinker,” as he calls himself, was not at all fazed by the fact that we were there well before lunch!  Don’t get the wrong idea, the size of the samples they give during the tasting aren’t enough to cause a buzz even if we were there all day!  There were some amazing beers and the most outstanding mustard I have ever eaten that made their way back to our RV.

Well, now it gets difficult to explain, but after the Brewery we decided to hit the company’s other business…a winery for a wine tasting.  It is now around 11:30am and still before lunch.  We had such a great time!  These little businesses in the area really rely on tourist and they show it by their incredible hospitality!  We felt welcomed at every stop.  The wine was good, not great, but set inside an 1800’s barn, it was tons of fun.

To continue with the “tasting” theme, I should tell you about our very favorite spot, “Fiore.”  This is an olive oil/balsamic vinegar specialty shoppe with complementary tasting of all their oils and vinegars.  Yes…I was in heaven.  We loved, loved, loved this stop and have enjoyed the Blood Orange Olive Oil with White Grapefruit Balsamic Vinegar several times since then!

To top it all off, we hit one of the local Lobster Pound for some delectable, sweet, succulent Maine lobster.  Now, I’m a Florida girl through and through, but give me a Maine lobster over Florida lobster any day!  Those who have had both know what I’m talking about.  We each had a 1.75lb lobster, well, except Tim, who went for the 2lb-er, and we all managed to eat every possible bite with no problems whatsoever.  We even joked about ordering more it was so good.  But, we opted to head to our RV, light a fire and sit under the gorgeous, star-filled night enjoying our wine from the local winery and some bread dabbed in the special oil and vinegar we bought from “Fiore.”  It was a day and evening to be remembered for all time.

Tim and Diane left on Wednesday and then it proceeded to rain for two straight days, which didn’t bother us too much as we enjoyed spending time relaxing and watching movies.  This was a much needed and appreciated down time for us.  Have no fear, though, we resumed our marathon driving/site seeing activities yesterday by visiting Lubec, Maine, the eastern most city in the United States.  We drove all along the coast to get there, about 100 miles, and enjoyed the little towns along the way.  We arrived in Lubec and was greeted with the "Annual Lubec Autumn Howl" happening downtown Lubec.  Vendors and musicians filled the street that overlooked the bay between Canada and the US.  Very pretty.  We went down to the water to watch the seals playing in the water and then a huge bald eagle flew right in front of us and I was hooked.  We had lunch, which I ended with a Fried Twinky…not so good.  Soggy, actually.  Yuk.  But, hey, I HAD to try it!

We are on the final leg of our trip.  We both have mixed emotions about this.  On one hand, we are sad that this wonderful adventure God has blessed us with is almost over, yet on the other hand, we are very excited to see where He has us next.  Yes, I know a lot of you want to know the same thing, so stay tuned!  I’m such a stinker!!   In the near future, we will be in Boston, New York and Washington DC. 

God Bless you all!