Camp NanaPudge 2019 – STAY GOLD

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As I sat down to reflect upon the last few months, I decided to revisit the past ten years of our BIG ADVENTURES recorded on this blog. I found myself falling down the rabbit hole, with images and memories whirling through my mind, admitting that some of them had managed to escape my consciousness. It was a good reminder of why I keep a record and I was grateful for the reboot. Time is flying by at warp speed these days, and though it has taken a while to post a few remembrances, I’m grateful that they are still percolating in this old brain of mine (at least for now)!

Knowing that we would not be together before our 50th Anniversary in February, we decided to celebrate early…thus the CNP ’19 theme, “Stay Gold.” Our older grands had enjoyed reading “The Outsiders” in recent years, so the term was familiar to them.

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Fort Morgan, Alabama – November, 2019

A little more background…S.E. (Susie) Hinton, the author of “The Outsiders” was a classmate of mine at Will Rogers High School where she struggled to pass a Creative Writing Class, all the while writing a young adult novel before that was considered a genre.  She had the last laugh, though, when she learned (the same week she graduated) that her work would be published. “The Outsiders” has been a young adult best-seller for over 50 years! While the book described extremes in our nearly-3,000 member school, it addressed issues that still resonate with young readers today. The “Stay Gold” quote references a Robert Frost poem that says “nothing gold can stay.” Sorry, Robert…I’m idealistic enough to believe our sweet memories allow us to prove your theory wrong.

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Our stair steps by height….

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and by age…

So…we talked a little about what it means to “Stay Gold.” To be true to yourself. To find the splendor in every sunrise and sunset…which is easy to do when you are at the beautiful Fort Morgan beach… but to discover they are equally spectacular in Oklahoma, or Arkansas, or Florida, or North Carolina…if you only take the time to notice.

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God’s splendor never disappoints.

Once we know the ETA of the final carload of cousins, the welcoming committee activates, signaling that Camp NanaPudge can soon officially begin!

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Getting everyone together is like working an intricate jigsaw puzzle, but we’ve managed to do for the past 13 years – with lots of cooperation from everyone. And it seems that a shift is taking place as the older cousins are taking the lead and the parentals (and grandparentals) are sitting back more and letting them! Case in point…I was not involved in the making of the s’mores this year!

And the down times are easily filled without screens or parental intervention.

Wonder of wonders, miracles of miracles, the families agreed to let me engage a photographer to capture a photo of our crazy tribe. Here are the results.

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The Weinheimers – Jules, Indy, Jason and Johanna

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The Zedlers – Anna, Natalie, Joy, Ollie, Ryan, Stephen and Sophie

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The Seiferts – Jeremy, Pearl, Jennifer, Tennessee and Finn

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A little math lesson: 1+1=2…..2+3=5…..5+3=8…..8+10=18

The last time we attempted such a fete…it was CNP 2010 with a self-timer on the camera. Pearl was in utero and Natalie and Ryan hadn’t been born yet…so it’s been awhile.

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The grands range from 7-17…but even as they mature, they still fall into traditions that they’ve shared during the previous 12 Camp NanaPudges, i.e. Manhunt after dark on the beach; spontaneous football games, which in no way resemble the historic pictures of the Kennedys at Hyannis Port; kite flying…some years more successful than others; waiting for the Blue Angels to fly by, plucking the sucker-holding turkey, and searching for crabs….

We don’t always have CNP over Thanksgiving, but when we do, there’s Thanksgiving meal prep, where the cousins call dibs on fixing their favorite dishes; celebrating Ryan’s birthday, which actually fell on Thanksgiving Day this year; lots of walks on the beach; Fridays at the go-cart amusement Park, where we now have enough teenage drivers to take the little ones on the big tracks; and launching a sky lantern over the water on our last night together, holding our breath until we see it flicker out.

We added volleyball and tattoos to the mix this year…and imagine they will be a part of our CNP traditions!

Pudge and I spent a few sappy moments telling the grands what they mean to us…and what it means to have been married 50 years. I had taken our wedding albums in case they wanted to see what we looked like, lo those many years ago. While we assumed they would be ready to get on with the fun and games, we were touched to see them linger and pore over the books once we concluded our little presentation.

The parents have a few traditions, too. I love watching the aunts as they gab nonstop while peeling Thanksgiving potatoes on the deck; sharing sunsets (and occasional sunrises) and slipping away in the evening to share a glass of wine and more stories, while the uncles compete mercilessly at whatever game they are playing…adding poker to the mix this year.

The last night we played a spirited game of Family Feud, complete with buzzers and blaring theme music, then were treated to a slide show, which morphed into a full-fledged dance party. Another CNP in the books!

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Fast Forward…

Three months later, February 20, 2020, we celebrated our actual anniversary in a way that was so unique, I could never forget it (I think!). We had been gone on our GREAT ADVENTURE since mid-December and during our final week in Florida in mid-February, we found ourselves in the only spot available to park our RV… RIGHT NEXT to a busy highway. (As you can imagine, Florida State and RV Parks are filled with Snow Birds from Christmas through Easter and even planning a year ahead isn’t sufficient to assure a desirable place to park.) I awoke that Thursday morning to music blaring…and I mean blaring…through our blue tooth speaker. “One Hand, One Heart,” from Westside Story…and more importantly, from our wedding 50 years earlier. I stumbled out of bed to find my groom standing next to a bouquet of yellow (gold) roses – quite proud that a Google search of “Songs from Westside Story” and a text to Joy had jogged his memory.

There were no words between us…just a lingering hug…a few tears…and hearts full of gratitude that we were blessed to share such a moment. So, yes! We’re committed to Stay Gold…however long that plays out…and plan to continue to celebrate throughout the year.

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Heading Home 9,800 Miles Later

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They say all good things must come to an end….so we reverse the process we began December 3rd and head home. To our Tulsa home. We’ve found through the last eight years that home can truly be anywhere we park the RV. We’ve begun to feel at home in Little Rock, Asheville or Ocala, where the next generation of Weinheimers are firmly planted . And we’re reminded whether we worship at Silver Palm UMC in Homestead, FL or sit in silence at a Quaker Meeting in Asheville, the body of Christ is unified and diverse. That those two concepts are not in opposition when we focus on the two greatest commandments: Love God. Love Others.

While in Florida and North Carolina, we had the opportunity to share a meal with some folks we hadn’t seen in a while…the Conners (from Ohio) and the Clarks (from New York). While both are now “retired” NOMADs, we will forever be connected by our common experiences and the joy we had in working together. Once a NOMAD…

In addition to our 2019 NOMAD experience, we’ve watched our grandchildren grow up before our eyes, maturing in body, mind and spirit. The final weeks of our time away were filled with sporting events, lots of music, dance parties, bedtime stories, being chauffeured by our oldest grandson, and a peek into the lives of our three children and their amazing families. It took us back to the days when just having dinner together and getting baths and homework done is a major challenge. I often tell my kids that these are the hard years. That someday they will get to eat a meal in peace and have an uninterrupted conversation with their spouse. But probably not today, nor the tomorrows in the near future. Until then, I pray that their sweet memories (with the help of Instagram and Facebook reminders) will be enough to encourage them. And while perfection in parenting is impossible, the reward will be when they watch their children parent their children.

Each year I vow to journal regularly and fail miserably as the “day-to-dayness” takes over. I go to bed at night reliving some of the day’s events in an attempt to lock them in my ever-failing memory bank and am grateful for the ability to capture some of the highlights on my iPhone. One of the commitments we’ve made since traveling the Bermuda Triangle of Grandchildren is to have an idea at each “goodbye” when the next “hello” will be. Somehow that helps keep my tears at bay and allows us to begin planning to do “next time” the things we didn’t quite get done “this time.”

So it’s with a little excitement and a little sadness that we shut down our house on wheels. There are days we think we’d love to do the RV life full time. And other days Pudge pulls up a picture of our “stick house” in Tulsa and we get antsy to  plant the garden and see friends again. As we travel down the familiar road between Little Rock and Tulsa with our Big Adventure in the rearview mirror, we are making plans for 2020.

 

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Mamas’ Getaway – 2019

The Fourth Annual Mama’s Getaway had been in the planning stages since we parted ways at the third annual event. And as before, this year’s gathering was another unique (yet special) experience. Three of the four of us were sick (sorry, Indy!). I still stand by my claim that mine was allergies, but I’m not sure all would agree. We considered postponing it, but decided that too many details had been sorted out in order to make our reunion happen, so we’d just load up on cold/allergy/flu meds and boxes of Kleenex and let the chips fall where they may.

We always take a selfie once the last mama has landed. Without consulting one another, the three seem to always be in stripes. Must make a note to myself to find something appropriate to wear the next time we’re together!

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Together Again

The condo where we stay is a generous gift from a friend of Joy’s. The familiarity of who sleeps where and what we’re going to eat (and drink) while we’re together somehow seems to bridge the months and the miles that are usually between us and lets us jump right away into to where we left off. (Where we left off is the last night of Camp NanaPudge where the four of us make an effort to spend an hour or two together once the kids are settled.) The cousins are stairsteps (ages 6-16 as of this Getaway), so what one mama may be experiencing rings true (or will before too long) with the others. Most importantly, there is a strict code between us. We will not “jude!” This goes back to the first year we were together when we discovered this billboard.

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With that understanding, we all feel safe to share…and boy did we share this year!

We all had agreed to bring journals, notes, creative writings, etc. from our youth. We also planned to celebrate Nuf’s 40thbirthday (five months late). In her frenzy to get out of town (or so she said), she forgot to bring her “assignment.” No problem. I had run across a booklet that she had made November of her first grade year, where she featured a page of Thanksgiving for each of her family members. Apparently, what she appreciated the most about me was that I corrected her! In addition to the booklet, I had uncovered this gem!

The best part of the picture was the hairstyle! Back in the day when I only allowed contemporary Christian music in our home and hoped that my strict guidelines would help protect my children from the evils of the world, I also had an edict: NO SIDE PONEYTAILS! I feared that they made the girls look too mature and sent the wrong message. I’m guessing Jennifer’s self portrait was her way of rebelling!

Since we were last together, Joy has been trained as a TBRI Practitioner, so in addition to our usual discussion about our personality types ala Myers Briggs and Enneogram, this year we had a short course in our Attachment Styles. While I’m afraid I may have dominated the “counseling session” (with the benefit of not having either of my parents in the room with me), I have since found myself weighing my day-to-day reactions with what I learned about myself. This time of self-discovery also uncovered more of my childhood than I had shared in the past with the girls…and I’m guessing has given them a little more grace with their crazy mama. Thank you, Dr. Zedler!

In addition to the tradition of going to the condo on Crystal River, the other non-negotiable is a trip to The Freezer, a no-frills Tiki-bar with amazing steamed shrimp and mullet dip…washed down with a glass of hard cider. We checked that off our to-do list within an hour of arriving.

That evening we shared our diaries, notes and poetry readings…and laughed at how seriously we took ourselves in our youth. Indy suggested that I burn my musings before I die. WHAT? I fancied myself the next generation’s Rod McKuen.

Day two we decided to take off and check out a new place­, Pine Island Beach. It was a beautiful, family-friendly beach where we plopped down and watched a family prepare for what we concluded would be a sunset wedding. Frustrated event planners, we wanted to jump in and help them, as we disagreed with where the arbor was being placed. After all, we surmised that the final kiss would occur just as the sun met the horizon.

We spent a good hour or more putting text to the story unfolding before us. That must be the father of the bride who was patiently fighting the strong winds while assembling the wire arbor…and his able assistant was an uncle, maybe even a twin to the father of the bride. The women were lugging wooden folding chairs from who knows where (again…it was hard to resist giving them a hand). One rather large women was the assigned chair sitter…going from chair to chair, plopping down to make sure they were secure in the sand. With each plop, she’d raise her arms and wave them in the air, o­­bviously enjoying the important task at hand. Should we tell them I could design a program, send it to Staples and have it their possession before the bride walked down the boardwalk? And that Nuf and Indy could work magic with their iphones and their multiple filters, while Joy would be happy to offer her counseling services with a quickie Myers Briggs and Attachment Style assessments to start them on their journey equipped to handle the surprises of the first months of marriage. But alas, we resisted. We did overhear the start time of the wedding: 5:30 pm. Three hours until showtime! What to do?

We decided that we could all use a good walk and wasn’t that a little restaurant just down the road where we turned in? We took off, thinking it couldn’t have been more than a mile away. The narrow road wound between two marshes, which we determined were replete with alligators. (We passed another pedestrian wielding a big stick, which we assumed was to ward off gators who might decide to cross the road.) Nuf was in sandals (not intended for hiking), but by the time she felt the blisters forming, it was too late to turn back. We were committed. Three miles later, we arrived at our destination…just in time to share some chips and salsa and some very watered-down margaritas (the Happy Hour two-for-one offer suddenly made sense). Not to worry. We needed to be clear-headed as we had a wedding to attend and had a three-mile hike to get there.

As we suspected, the wedding kiss was twenty minutes before the sun set and by the time the sky burst into bright colors, the wedding party had departed. But we watched one of the most remarkable sunsets ever. The orange ball descended through the clouds and lingered long enough for us to ooh and aahh before it disappeared.

It was time for us to return to the condo, resume our gab session, eat our traditional salads and stuffed dates, take our meds, and go to bed.

The weekend didn’t lend itself to being on the water as in years past. In fact, Joy had to go back to Ocala for her Pearl Project Support Group on Sunday. We decided that we’d ride with her and grab a late lunch with Pudge before heading back to Crystal River. But before going to the condo, we headed out to walk on the Ft. Island Beach where we had lost our keys three years ago. You know, return to the scene of the crime.

For those who don’t know that story…it’s contained in this post: Three Sisters and a Mama

We could never have orchestrated a better welcome. We parked and commented on how many cars were in the lot…so different from the time we found ourselves “stranded on an abandoned beach.” Instead, we heard drums and flutes…and happened upon THIS:

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Apparently, this happens…non-stop…every other Friday, for two hours before sunset. Nuf thought she as back in Asheville! I thought I was back in the 70s! (Sorry you cannot tell that the lady in pink has a mermaid tail hanging in the back.) We somehow blocked the monotonous drumming while we watched the sky preparing for its farewell to the day. It didn’t disappoint.

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We awoke early and began to reverse the reunion process…dropping off one mama then another…grateful for the time we had and looking forward to our next adventure.

 

 

 

 

 

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Jay and Jan’s Big Adventure – NOMADS

We did something a little different this year. As team leaders for the project, it’s always a good thing to get there a day or two early, but we took advantage of Silver Palm United Methodist Church’s hospitality and arrived nearly a full week ahead of the team. Homestead, Florida has become a favorite place to serve, and since Pastor Diane will be moving on to a new assignment this summer, we had a special desire to have some extra time with her and her husband, Louie.  Before the team arrived, we spent our days organizing our RV and familiarizing ourselves with the projects we’d be doing in the three weeks of service, recognizing that the initial punch list would be expanded as the days went on.

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One by one the team members rolled in. Our good friends, Ron and Martha (New Baltimore, Michigan), had a little “issue” with their RV (carrying on a long-held tradition by the NOMAD community) and came in Thursday. Ron is extremely handy and felt confident he could fix the problem, but needed a part, that wouldn’t arrive until the following Monday. So the four of us had some great catching-up time as we anticipated the rest of the team arriving. Thursday evening Bob and Carol (New Smyrna Beach, FL and some of our longest NOMAD friends), came in and the church ground was beginning to look like a bona fide RV park! Bob, a semi-retired Methodist pastor, worked his way through college painting houses, and always has an opportunity to put his experience to work. Our new friend, Karen (Upstate New York), drove in Saturday, along with her faithful companion, Sammy the poodle. Karen and her husband had a history of RVing and since his death five years ago, she has continued to drive across the country (including Alaska), serving and enjoying the outdoors. She arrived with her kayak in tact, although the paddle was lost somewhere along the highway. Amazon to the rescue! Tim and Terri (Pennsylvania) arrived next. We met them a couple of years ago and were so happy to meet up with them again. They have taught us a lot about their Quaker faith and it’s obvious that in spite of the differences in worship style, we agree on the important call to love God and love others. They travel with a canoe on top of their van, so they were easy to spot when we caravanned. Finally, Ricci and Jane (Tennessee/Florida by way of Wisconsin) arrived Sunday. Within an hour of meeting them, we felt like we had known them forever.  Always smiling…and quick with an affirmative “Yah, yah” (with a Wisconsin accent), they kept us laughing the entire three weeks. So in spite of the fact we arrived as strangers to some, we could tell right away we would depart as friends.

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Ron, Martha, Bob, Carol, Terri, Tim, Ricci, Jane, Karen, Jan, Jay

 

But so much of what happens on a NOMADS project has a lot to do with things other than the work itself.

  • Like meeting folks you would never have the opportunity to meet, from places you’ve never been, with backgrounds so diverse and interesting that you want to get to know them better.
  • Like working together through challenges on projects and finding the humor in the fact that we all make mistakes.
  • Like learning patience and practicing tenacity as we discovered ways to correct them.
  • Like caring so deeply about one another, through morning devotions and praying for each other and our friends and loved ones.
  • Like sharing the joys of answered prayers…and sharing the burden of one another’s sorrows.
  • Like painting two houses in one day and getting to know a group of young people who spent the Martin Luther King, Jr. Day of Service helping you get it done.
  • Like spending time painting a community center where over 500 children receive support and encouragement to enhance their education.
  • Like giving LOTS of business to the local ice cream shop and getting to know the new owner, who “infiltrated” (his words) from Cuba.
  • Like celebrating birthdays with ice cream cakes from his shop, which he made cakeless to accommodate a team member who is gluten intolerant.
  • Like soaking in as much of the Hispanic community as possible, hoping to absorb the vitality and joy that accompanied each encounter.
  • Like sharing communion with each other and serving dinner to the homeless on our final evening together.
  • And so much more.

Three Things I will never forget about Homestead 2019…

The day that we painted at Branch’s Community Center, we were treated to some delicious Café con Leche and Cuban pastries during our break. One of the staff was working at a nearby table, softly singing, and I strained to hear him. He had been the supervisor of our housepainting project the day before. “He’s an opera singer,” our host said. This piqued our interest, as we have a family friend from Puerto Rico who sings opera professionally. Jay asked our host where the staff member was from, as it was evident most (if not all) of the staff were fluent in Spanish. “Puerto Rico.” Well, it was a long shot…but Jay had to ask. “I wonder if you know our friend, Jorge?” (I’m thinking…I’ve not been to Puerto Rico, but I’m guessing there’s more than a few Jorges and also guessing not every opera singer knows every other opera singer.) But as I was beginning to apologize for Jay’s naivety, our new friend, Ray Gonazalez, responded enthusiastically that he knew Jorge…and shared some things that assured me that they indeed knew each other. What a small world we live in.

Speaking of that delicious coffee…we remembered from previous years how yummy it was and couldn’t wait to have more of it at the little café down from the laundromat we used in Homestead while the clothes were drying. As the only English speakers (or so it seemed), I told the lady behind the counter that we wanted two coffees. Simple enough, right? “Cuban coffee?,” she asked. “Yes, I replied. Two of them.” “Dos?” she asked. “Si, Dos!” I responded, quite proud of my expanded Spanish vocabulary. “Dos?” She asked again, this time holding up two fingers, in case I didn’t know that dos meant two. “YES,” thinking that if I spoke louder she’d understand. “TWO COFFEES”. She then presented us with two small lidded styrofoam cups with four tiny medicine cups on the top of each. I paid her the $2.70 for the two cups and we sat at the nearest booth, trying to act like what she gave us was exactly what we ordered.  Gringos! I poured two of the medicine cups and we threw them back like we knew what we were doing. And as Jay has said, “We didn’t sleep for two days.” Café con Leche is what I should have ordered. I shall not forget!

And as if the three weeks hadn’t been wonderful enough, there was one last opportunity to be surprised by what God had in store. Knaus Berry Farm across the street from the church is a legend. It is owned by German Baptists who have a lovely produce market and “you pick” fields. But the draw is their “sticky buns.” And this is absolutely no exaggeration. People stand in line for hours on Saturdays to buy a dozen sticky buns for $11.00. HOURS. We’ve witnessed it year after year, and still are amazed. The school parking lot across the street is filled with the sticky bun seekers, in addition to parallel parkers that line both sides of the road for blocks. It’s sort of like tailgating, I suppose. No one seems to mind, and everyone is taking selfies with their sticky buns once they make it to the front of the line. They are delicious and the bane of our good intentions to eat healthy while NOMADing. On the morning we depart, we always pick up a dozen or so to take to Joy’s family, and another couple dozen for her good friend, Melissa, who grew up in Homestead, eating sticky buns from Knaus Berry Farm. So the plan was to be waiting at 7:45 on the day we departed, even though Friday lines are nothing like Saturday (or holiday) lines. I got distracted helping Jay hook up and visiting with our team before we said our goodbyes and didn’t get to Knaus until 8:10. As I walked up, I saw there was a line and was mad at myself, but decided it was all for the greater good. But then I noticed a woman in a truck on the parking lot, whom I assumed was waiting for someone in the line. But she was sobbing, those shoulder shaking sobs with her head down, arms embracing the steering wheel. I knocked on her window and she rolled it down, still crying loudly. I was going to say, “Are you OK?” which would have been really dumb, and fortunately caught myself and just asked, “Can I help you with anything?” “I just learned my cousin is with Jesus.” She had just received the news and pulled into the parking lot, too distraught to drive. She went on to tell me that her cousin helped raise her and her two siblings, and that he had been sick but she thought he was getting better. I leaned through the window, put my arms around her and began to pray. Again I asked her if she needed anything, and she said she could use some water, but then noticed she had a bottle of water in the car with her, so no, she didn’t need anything. I left to get in line, thinking that buying the four dozen sticky buns seemed a little unimportant in the whole scheme of things. I waited for my turn and put in my order, then asked if they sold the sticky buns individually. (I’d never seen it done.) I told the lady behind the counter about the woman in the parking lot and she gave me a sticky bun to pass along. More cars had arrived when I walked out and was afraid she had left, but I spotted her truck and tapped on the window again and handed her the sack. I told her she might like to have a little something to eat. “I had just been thinking that I needed some sugar, and had prayed to be OK until I got some.” Maybe a diabetic? I didn’t ask. Ohmygoodness. This was NOTHING about me doing something for someone. This was EVERYTHING about God giving me the privilege of passing along something He had for someone in need. It was the most wonderful conclusion to another amazing project.

Here’s a little peek at the three weeks at Silver Palm UMC, Homestead, FL.

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Going out in style!! Thank you Silver Palm for another great experience.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Jay and Jan’s Big Adventure – 2019

December 3, 2018

We did it! We pulled out of Cornerstone Storage in Tulsa without incident, perhaps due to the fact there are no trees, mailboxes or squirrels in the lot. But we considered it a victory, high-fiving our good fortune, with prayers for an uneventful trip.

First stop: Little Rock!

I’m guessing we could make this trip blindfolded, but still we proceeded with caution. We arrived at Maumelle (the beautiful Corps of Engineers Park on the Arkansas River) in just the right amount of time to set up and meet Jason’s family for dinner. We had found “the perfect spot” a few weeks ago when we were there…so perfect that we paid the cancellation fee for the spot we had reserved earlier so that we could enjoy said “perfect spot” during our brief stay in Little Rock. But alas, someone had decided to forego the proper routine of going to the welcome center to confirm that a chosen site was available before setting up camp. Lo and behold, they had squatted on the coveted F-12 with its spaciousness and beauty. As frustrated as we were, there were plenty of lovely uninhabited spots, so we chose F-4 (the one we had paid the cancellation fee on a few weeks earlier).

We had two great evenings with Jason’s family…with one highlight watching Jules play shortstop and knock the socks of the ball in temperature more reminiscent of football season rather than baseball. I remind Jules often that the hottest I’ve ever been in my life was watching him play baseball…and the coldest I’ve ever been in my life was watching him play baseball!

After the game we got to enjoy Indy’s delicious chicken enchiladas…and hear again how much she enjoyed them when Joy made them her after Jules was born. (There’s something about comfort food that evokes sweet memories.) Johanna has now officially passed me up in height, which she loves to point out, and we couldn’t be more proud of her. She makes all things fun, even a trip to the orthodontist or lunch at Sam’s!

Even though we get to see the Little Rock grands quite often, we’re always surprised at how much they’ve matured from visit to visit.

Next Stop:  Paul Johnson State Park, Hattiesburg, MS

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Every time we pull into Paul Johnson, knowing we’re just going to spend the night (without unhooking the truck), we comment on how beautiful it is and how someday we’d like to spend more than 12 hours there. But, the pull of the grandkids to the east, and the desire to continue west when we head home in the spring, trump the idea of spending more time there. But for anyone needing a place to lay your head (they have little cabins to rent as well as RV spots), we highly recommend it.

Next Stop:  Top Sail Preserve, Santa Rosa, FL.

We discovered this little jewel the first year we traveled with an RV. Not only is it by a private beach and beautiful Destin, it has the coziest, somewhat-secluded spots, divided by tall palms and pampas grasses. Creatures of habit, we spend the first evening rushing to see the tail end of the sunset on the beach before eating great seafood at Pompano Joe’s.

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I’m sure there are other great restaurants we could frequent, but familiarity and tradition always win out. We spent Friday organizing the storage areas in the camper…mumbling that we had brought too much stuff (yet again). We finished up the last of our Christmas shopping, and although Amazon had taken care of the lion’s share this year, it was nice to actually see and touch what we were buying, accompanied by a little background Christmas.

Next Stop: Ocala!

We were up and at ‘em and departed an hour earlier than planned, eager to see more grandchildren. The Littles had appointments for three days worth of assessments in Sarasota and the scheduling required the availability of two adults. While Stephen and Pudge kept the home fires burning with the Bigs, Joy and I checked into a wonderful family-friendly beach cottage she had found online. It was absolutely perfect…a block from the beach and two blocks from the charming downtown area of Siesta Key.

What could have been an emotionally draining, stressful time was made less so because of the surrounding beauty and the immense healing power of nature. And although the clouds interfered with the evening sunsets on the beach, the free trolley rides looping around the Keys might as well have been a Disney thrill ride for Natalie and Ryan, as we enjoyed the light displays of the local resorts and retirement areas.

I’m so grateful for the services that are available for families who have chosen to foster/adopt children from hard places. We returned Thursday evening to catch the last few minutes of the Ambleside basketball game, where Ollie played and Sophie cheered! Wish we could have seen it all, but we had a pretty good play-by-play by Pudge, who bragged on the intensity and focus displayed by mini-Pudge.

Next up…Annabelle’s Sweet 16 Celebration! When asked how she wanted to celebrate, Annabelle told her folks she wanted to take friends to the beach! In fact, she was so determined, she offered to donate any money she received for her birthday (the gift of choice it seems as they grands have reached their teens!) to help offset the cost of treating her friends to a sleepover at Anna Maria Island. Once again Joy found a great house, perfect for seven teenage girls, a mom and a nana to spend the night. It was such a treat to get to be a part of the celebration. The girls were so much fun and in spite of the estrogen level (which had to be off the chart), there was no drama. Instead there was nothing but laughter and cooperation between the girls, as they shopped, romped on the beach (collecting and giving away sand dollars to complete strangers), and consumed massive amounts of sugar (including the UGLIEST birthday cake on record compliments of Miss Nana – my new moniker).

The rest of our pre-Christmas time in Ocala was a whirlwind. In addition to witnessing the activity of a family of seven, (highlighted by the Ambleside Christmas Chapel, where Sophie had a solo…”O, Holy Night”), we had a little glimpse into what it takes to lead a non-profit. I am so proud of the work of The Pearl Project and look forward to celebrating their one-year anniversary. Once again I promise to never ask “Whatcha doing?” when I call Joy!

We left Ocala with a humorous grandkid story, compliments of six-year-old Ryan. He and I walked to the little candy store at the RV park, where he chose a container of cotton candy. Knowing that it was way over the amount of sugar he should have, we made a “compromise,” (a great TBRI tool). He could have a little of it, but would need to put his

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Baby Guy. Always good for a laugh!

name on the container and keep it in our RV so that he could have a bit more the next time he came out for a visit. I told him that we would find a good hiding place for it in the camper, and that he’d have to remember where it was, because sometimes Nana is forgetful. Without missing a beat, he responded enthusiastically: “Yes, old people don’t always remember things!” The minute it came out of his mouth, he tried to take it back. “Hold on! Hold on! Hold on! I mean, you’re not really THAT old, just sorta old!” Of course I laughed and assured him that he had not hurt my feelings. I told the story when he got back to the Zedlers, and we all had a good laugh

The next day, Oliver asked Ryan, “Did you call Nana old?” To which Ryan replied, “Yes, it was an accident. But I don’t think she knows she is old!” Well, Ryan, it just takes a look in the mirror to remind me that I am indeed old. But how grateful I am to still have the opportunity to share cotton candy and walks with this funny little guy!

Next Stop: Asheville

We rotate Christmases between the three kids…and this year, the Seiferts had the pleasure of our company. (Still trying to determine if the they drew the long or short straw!) Although it was a brief visit, we made the most of it.

On Sunday we attended the Quaker Meeting (I’ve had to learn the terminology…”Meeting” instead of “Church”) and found great peace in the silence. It was a time to reflect on the beauty of the season and to take time to express my gratitude to God all He has done for us in 2018. The congregation is warm and friendly, and I understand why Jennifer’s family feels at home there.

We had seen “Mary Poppins Returns” in Ocala, but were happy to see it again with the Seifert clan. I found myself watching the grandkids’ faces as much as I was watching the screen. We all agreed that it was a feel-good film…evoking sweet memories of the original. Wasn’t it just yesterday that I watched our children’s faces light up to “Chim Chim Chiree? Seeing Dick VanDyke tap dance on top of the desk at made me channel Ryan: “I don’t think he knows he’s old!”

On the recommendation of friends, the Seiferts suggested we attend “The Black Nativity Liberation.” A local troupe had presented several performances throughout the week, with their final one scheduled at the historic YMI Cultural Theater. Since its founding in 1893 as the Young Men’s Institute, the YMI has been a hub of African-American culture in in Asheville. It was built when the Biltmore was being constructed to give the African American workers a place to gather. It is a multicultural center and serves all of Asheville’s diverse communities with celebrations of  culture and history. Touring the facility and museum before the program was worth the price of admission.

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Somehow, I was picturing the traditional Christmas story, featuring people of color depicting Mary, Joseph, etc.  Instead, we were treated to an evening of music, poetry slams, dramatic readings, dance and rap, as well as an explanation of Kwanza. (I had mistakingly thought Kwanza had made its way to American culture from Africa. A quick Google search revealed that it began in the US in 1966, as a way to combine African tradition with Christianity.) I may be old, Ryan, but I’ve still got lots to learn. In fact, I truly believe the older I get, the more I know how little I know.

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Oh, how I wish I had the soundtrack of this precious voice.

Christmas Eve found us loading up to attend a traditional Christmas Eve service at the Presbyterian Church. And although we got there before the service started, we found there was no seating available. The programs that had been handed to us had the words to a dozen Christmas carols, so we decided to sing them as we returned home. Or maybe I should say, Nuf, Pearl and I decided to sing them. The others in the van were our captive audience. On Christmas morning, we enjoyed seeing the kids exchange gifts with each other…and with us…many of them handmade. Pudge and I were thrilled with the gift that our three children gave us…DNA kits from “23 and Me”!! We now anxiously await the results. Christmas evening was concluded with the baking of a delicious (and beautiful) berry pie. Lacking a proper pie tin, Nuf used a Juno Pottery bowl for baking. I’m guessing a pie plate will now be a new item in her ever-expanding line of pottery.

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We packed up and scooted out the door early on the morning of the 27th…headed South, via a short stop in Ocala, to begin our NOMADs project in Homestead. Can’t wait to spend time with dear friends, old and new, and our “other church family” at Silver Palm UMC. Thank you, Seiferts, for a Christmas we’ll always remember.

 

 

 

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Camp NanaPudge ’18

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This was the year we were going to mix it up a bit. Several years on the beach left a few of our tribe itchy for change. And since we’re a family of campers, we thought, why not pitch our tents in the Smoky Mountains. We knew our usual Thanksgiving break get-together would be a little chilly, and with ten busy grandkids…plus their parents who have demands on their schedules, finding a compatible date for Camp NanaPudge ’18 was tricky. But from the day we decided on July 31-August 3, 2018…ideas began to percolate in our brains. Well at least in Pudge’s and mine! The parents have learned to just let us go on…and on…and on for months about what the tee-shirt color will be…what dollar-store goodies will go in the back packs, etc. (Of course, if they’d just move back to Tulsa, the problem would be solved. Camp NanaPudge would be an ongoing/never-ending event! And the parents wouldn’t even have to participate!) But I digress.

FIRST…find the perfect campsite! Finn (our 12 year old grandson from Asheville) had been to Rattler’s Ford in the Joyce Kilmer National Forest for a school retreat and knew about group campsites that would accommodate our crew…with swimming, fishing, hiking etc. It is a couple of hours from Jennifer’s house, and 30 minutes from the nearest store. But it wasn’t enough to know it was a beautiful place. (We did our research. Google is a wonderful thing!) We thought we ought to go check it out for ourselves. So last winter when we were in Asheville, we made a little trip to Rattler’s Ford, and just as Finn had told us, it was PERFECT!

We would feel remote, but close enough to civilization should we need to grab a couple loaves of bread. We figured having food for 18 people for 4 days would be a challenge, so we planned meals accordingly. We’d smoke pork for an army ahead of time, etc. etc. etc.

AND…when we weren’t fishing, hiking or swimming, wouldn’t it be a treat to rent a boat. No, wait. Two boats. A pontoon for half the crew to fish and swim from and a speed boat to pull a tube. We could just hear the grandkids squealing in delight! The fella at the boat rental must have thought we were crazy to call six months in advance to reserve the boats. Hey, this is Camp NanaPudge. There’s no such thing as over planning.

But what if there was an emergency. Pudge confirmed that ATT doesn’t have service where we were going but Verizon does! Jason’s phone is with Verizon but what if Jason is on the pontoon and there’s a reason he has to connect with Pudge with his useless ATT service? Better buy a one-month plan on Verizon…just in case. (Those who know Pudge are well aware that there is no stone that goes unturned when anticipating the worst case scenerio). I could go on about how he really wanted Joy to get a Verizon plan, too, just in case they had an issue on their way to the campsite and needed to call us. (I talked him down from that idea, assuring him it wouldn’t be possible to lose a vanload of Zedlers.)

So, the black storage box on wheels that holds all the recreational paraphernalia from year to year was packed. It had the bases for kick ball, the kites (still sandy from last year’s beach), rocks to paint and leave hidden at the campground, a deck of cards, Frisbees, a couple of footballs to toss around, and a last-minute addition this year: materials to make giant bubble wands, in case anyone gets bored.

Plus, I was determined that we would have each of the kids memorize one line of the poem “Trees” by Joyce Kilmer (Pudge and I would round out the 11th and 12th lines) and one night we would huddle around the campire cooking s’mores while reciting the poem together. It would be magical!

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You get the picture. We had thought of EVERYTHING! Right? What could possibly upend our perfectly planned do-dah.

We were watching the weather two weeks out….a chance of some clouds and scattered showers. Good! That will cool things off. Besides, it’s just a chance. One week out, it was looking a little more serious. 60% chance of scattered showers. Not to worry, the locals said. “They told us there was 100% chance a week ago last Saturday and it was blue skies all day.”

MONDAY:  One day out…in fact, Joy’s family was already headed our direction…90% chance of thunderstorms! WHAT? What happened to “scattered showers?” Our family knows from experience, there is little that is more miserable than camping in torrential rain.

What to do? Do we tell Joy’s family who were already on the road to turn around and go home? Do we tell Jason’s family to forget coming at all (since they hadn’t left yet)?

NO! It is Camp NanaPudge and the show must go on! Plan B began to take shape. Jennifer and Jeremy graciously offered to open their home to all. What would put most people into a harried frenzy didn’t seem to be a big deal to the Seiferts. To describe Jennifer as calm is an understatement. She has a peaceful countenance (even in full-blown labor…I know, I’ve seen her!)…and Jeremy is always up for an adventure. The more chaos, the merrier! So we pitched tents on their lawn and a friend of theirs delivered a little Scamp camper in case we needed it. We just had to keep the ice chests chilled for whatever we couldn’t cram into the refrigerator. And so it was that plans for Camp NanaPudge headed in a different direction – even though the sun was still shining!

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We canceled our reservations at the campground and for the boats that had been waiting with our name on them since January! We took a drive to Lake James State Park that had pavilions to rent…OR, if you were a risk-taker, you could just show up and take your chances there would be one available. As you can guess, Pudge was having none of that uncertainty. Plan A was already a bust, and he was taking no chances. We went by a boat rental place handy to the lake (that’s where we met the guy who assured us the weather men never know what they’re talking about), and he said to give him a call in the morning if we wanted to rent a pontoon to avoid paying the $100 non-returnable fee to reserve one. The Plan was beginning to take shape.

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Base Camp – neatly tucked by the trampoline and chicken coop! Let the fun begin!

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Camp NanaPudge’s own air bnb

TUESDAY:  The sun was out all day. Joy’s family arrived that afternoon, just as it was beginning to sprinkle. The kids immediately settled into doing what they love doing when they’re together in Asheville. Picking stuff from the garden, swinging on the giant rope swing in the front yard, hiking up the hill, jumping on the trampoline, plunking on the ukuleles, or playing secret agent with the walkie talkies.

But as much fun as they were having together, Camp NanaPudge only starts when the last carload of grandkids gets there. Jason’s family arrived just as some of the younger ones needed to go to bed, so CNP ’18 would officially begin Wednesday morning…at the Plan B pavilion. Before settling down, the cousins all had to stand back to back to see who had grown how much since the last time they were together. Jules has passed up all the men in the family…and four others are in a dead heat with each other. But regardless of how tall they are, we always see enormous growth in each of them, made more noticeable by the time lapses between visits.

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WEDNESDAY:  Most everyone was up bright and early…there was too much excitement in the air (mixed with a little rain) to be sleeping in. Pudge waited for the boat man to open at 8:30 so he could call and rent a pontoon. A friend of Jeremy’s loaned us an awesome tube and we imagined ourselves dodging the occasional showers, picnicking in the pavilion, fishing off the dock, and while some of the grandkids tubed behind the pontoon, others would be paddling canoes and kayaks. So imagine our surprise when the boat man blatantly announced that there were no boats available. WHAT? How can we disappoint the grandkids again? They already weren’t camping in Joyce Kilmer National Forest (although I don’t recall one complaint about that), and now we had to tell them there would be no boat. Jay was mad at himself for not reserving one, dreading the announcement he was about to make. He told them, and they all said, “OK! No problem. When do we leave?”

And that’s when I finally got it. Camp NanaPudge has very little to do with the Where and What, but more with the Who. And that’s what they all had. The Who: the cousins they had compared heights with year after year; the ones who shared memories of past Christmases and being scared by the fie fi fo fum monster aka Pudge; the ones who would always be the older ones clearing the path for the ones who would always be the younger ones; and the ones who share the bond of being family, even if they only see each other once a year.

So load up the cars…it’s time for Camp NanaPudge to begin.

By the time we arrived at the pavilion, it was raining pretty hard. Plan B was underway. Camp officially begins when we sing our camp song (some more enthusiastically than others) and distribute the camp backpacks, which are beginning to show quite a bit of wear and tear. (The younger campers wear them almost non-stop for days.) For some reason, I cannot get through this part without crying. It happens like clockwork every year. Jay has to step in and say what it is he thinks I’m trying to say. This year, he was a little slow to respond. Natalie…our newest family member…knows the routine. (This is her fourth year of CNP.) “Pudge,” she yelled. “Get up there!” And he did. I commended the kids (and their patient parents) for being so flexible, and told them how disappointed Pudge and I were that things weren’t going as planned. Then I asked them if they wanted to choose to make the most of it anyway, and it was unanimous. We were going to give it all we had…and the rain kept pouring.

Even the big kids humor me during the backpack ceremony!

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We took the camp group picture, which is usually an ordeal. But this year it was taken in record time with smiles all around! We had a quick picnic then headed for the beach. Everyone who wanted to paddled off in canoes and kayaks, landing on an island where they swam and applied mud facials in the rain (so I’m told…no pictures to prove it, as everyone was wise enough to leave their devices in the car). From all accounts, this was something fun…and special…and a memory that would not have been a part of Plan A.

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Meanwhile, Joy and Annabelle were enjoying some special mother/daughter bonding time, canoeing further than either one of them had planned, probably because the rain was making everything even more beautiful. As they rounded the bend, they experienced what Annabelle described as the second most wonderful thing she had ever felt…the first being the day she was born! A doe and her fawn were swimming in the lake across a narrow inlet, with the baby straining to keep it’s head above water. The sight of it was awe inspiring and brought Annabelle, always the nature lover, to tears. When they reached land, the fawn pranced around her mama playfully, bringing more happy tears as Annabelle shared this touching moment with her mother. She says she knows that she will never forget the experience.

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That night we carried out the only part of Plan A that survived. We surprised Pudge with an early 70th birthday celebration. It was amazing to have all 17 of us singing Happy Birthday to him TOGETHER. Then we presented him with a book of sentiments and photographs – a sort of “This Is Your Life.” It was so much fun to watch the grandkids hear what friends and family had to say about their Pudge, then add their own stories. There was a consistent theme…he is pretty special to lots of people.

THURSDAY:  Back to Plan B. The rains continued….harder than ever. The grandkids had options during the rainy day…between movies, a pinball museum (which I understand was way cool),

or just hanging out, working a puzzle, chalking hair, having Aunt Indy paint your toenails yellow,  swimming in the bathtub…

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OR blowing enormous bubbles. Aha! The last minute giant bubble wands were a hit.

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Dinner that night entailed defrosting some taco meat that I had brought from home per campsite cooking Plan A. I put it in the crockpot, adding half a jar of salsa as it warmed. (Here is where Divine Intervention comes in.) I was trying to remember where I had bought the salsa and it hit me. Sam’s. In the refrigerated section. But where had it been since that last-minute shopping trip in Tulsa? In a box. In the truck. YUCK! As much as I hate waste, I quickly dumped the five pounds of seasoned meat into the garbage…thus avoiding food poisoning those I love the most. Indy drove me to the local grocery to buy more ground beef and taco seasoning. Crisis averted.

That evening everyone chose an activity that suited them best. While Stephen stayed home with the littles while they watched a movie, Jason took Jules back-to-school shopping and Indy took Johanna and Annabelle out for ice cream. The rest of us drove to hear bluegrass music in nearby Marshal. During the 30-minute drive on a winding mountain road, the carload was treated to a concert by the Weinheimer sisters, singing their favorites from the 80s…everything from “More Than Words” by Extreme to “Powder Room Politics” by Leslie (Sam) Phillips…and all genres in between. That brought back some sweet memories and likely would not have happened with Plan A.

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We all sat on the floor of the packed coffee house to be entertained by award winning fiddler, 84-year-old Bobby Hicks and 12 others (including a three-piece band from Hawaii and a fiddle player and banjo player from Guthrie and Norman, OK respectively.) We were all spellbound…and I especially loved watching Finn, Scout, Ollie, and Sophie appreciate the talent. Music has a way of grabbing my emotions and I teared up watching an older man (maybe even as old as Pudge!) get up to dance with reckless abandon. Pudge said it looked like he was transported back to his youth as he clogged. (Appalacian Flatfooting, I later learned).

The final night of CNP found the cousins and uncles enjoying a late night viewing of “O Brother, Where Art Thou?” – a family favorite, while the mamas had a last night of sharing laughter and silliness…perhaps a result of being relieved that we had survived another CNP intact.

FRIDAY:  Taking down the tents…in the rain…was definitely not a part of Plan A but was somehow made more tolerable with the sound of Finn and Ollie strumming their ukes.

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Camp NanaPudge is officially over when we sing the camp song as the first family loads up to hit the road. And, I suppose, another part of the tradition is that I sing it through tears…hoping that each one of us will remember CNP ’18 fondly.

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It was nothing that we planned…                                                                                                         but so much more than we could have imagined.

Jeremy posted this picture as all of us were well on our way home!

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Jay & Jan’s Big Adventure – 2018

December 20, 2017.

“Look at us, two hours ahead of schedule!”

I’m deadline-driven and love being head of schedule, but those were the last words I uttered before our schedule was turned upside down.

Jay has a checklist and he starts ticking off items weeks before departure. This year was no different.

New towing mirrors put on the truck – check! (This investment was intended to help with the stressful chore of backing the RV into place.)

Tires checked to make sure they were road worthy – check!

Rig brought to the house for loading NOMADs tools – check! (This particular line item was scheduled around the frigid temperatures. Jay chose the warmest day predicted before our December 31st scheduled departure date.)

And so there we were, two hours ahead of schedule. We had checked out the low-hanging tree limbs on our street the day before – assuring that we wouldn’t have another “incident.” A little jog here and another jog there would allow us to avoid the menacing branches. In addition, Jay planned to take one of the tiny Christmas trees adorning our dining room table and stick it on the dashboard as a reminder …just in case.

Riggs, who always gets a little nervous when we start loading up, hopped in the truck (relieved to be included just in case today was the day we were making the annual trip south)…and we pulled away from the curb, headed to storage, where our RV would be waiting for us to pick it up New Year’s Eve morning.

We eased away from our house, veering a bit to the left to avoid parked cars and tree limbs. As Jay glanced in the new handy dandy towing mirror he noticed something flapping near the rear of the RV. I jumped out to see what it was…and this is what I saw!

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Oops!

WHAT? We were less than a half block from home… had heard nothing…felt nothing. Both of us were in shock. Then we saw the culprit. Apparently the RV had grazed our brick mailbox, and it was hard to see which one of them had won.

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The mailbox…after the rebuild.

The eternal optimist (I had just bought myself a pair of rose-colored sunglasses), I tried to convince Jay a little duck tape and wire and we’d be on our way, as scheduled. He wasn’t buying it. It was the week before Christmas and we knew it was a long shot, but Jay called Dave’s RV and asked them if we could bring in our camper for repair. You see, we have a three-month trip planned and need to depart on December 31st. The man on the other end of the line (who I’m sorry to say has become very familiar with us over the years), said we could bring it in, but they were going to be closed the next week, so the 31st was out of the question.

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Even my rose-colored sunglasses couldn’t fix this!

I’ve been accused of being Pollyanna…but this situation was testing my rosy outlook. I dug deep and came up with this:

“Jay, you know that I’m the last one who likes to spend money…and you’re going to think I’m crazy…but maybe this is a sign that we should just trade in our RV and getting another one that has a little larger kitchen area and a lot quieter air conditioner.”

Jay is generous to a fault, and even though he knew I’d crossed the line on this one, he humored me anyway. We delivered the camper to the RV dealer and mentioned casually that we might be interested in another rig. The salesman, of course, accommodated us…and we spent the next three hours looking and dealing, promising to let him know first thing in the morning what our decision was. We returned to our truck, with a very confused dog sitting in the backseat. Before Jay turned the key in the ignition, we looked at each other and agreed that we weren’t in the market for another rig…and that our plans were going to be drastically changed.

I was raised to believe “Things always happen for a reason,” and I often go to that simplistic answer when I’m disappointed with the way things are going. When I used that phrase with Jay, he retorted: “Yes, and the reason it happened was because I pulled the RV into the mailbox!”

But in the days since that fateful December morning, we have understood that home was where we needed to be. We were able to change our plans so we can be where we are needed, (knowing the NOMAD projects will go on just fine without us), and have shared sorrows and joys with friends and family members. And when we announced to the kids that we weren’t going to be able to do NOMADs this year, we were assured there were projects available for us…should we decide to come take them on.

And so we’re on the road again – in the truck…with the dog…,but not pulling the RV.

First stop: Asheville, NC

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Mamas’ Getaway

Last year my girls (Joy, Jennifer and Indy) and I celebrated Joy’s 40th with a weekend retreat at Crystal River. It was apparent that we should have done it years before. And so it was that we put a date on the calendar to meet again in 2017 for a mamas’ getaway. Knowing that it would be impossible to repeat the experience (chronicled HERE), we couldn’t pass up the opportunity to return to the condo on Crystal River that was so generously donated to our cause. In our post-getaway review of last year’s experience, the only negative was that we just weren’t together long enough, so we expanded our time together to include a third night. Plus, Nuf and Indy would be flying in earlier on day one…albeit to two separate airports.

A couple of weeks before the planned reunion, texts started making the rounds, complete with countdown. All the dads were lined up to take charge for the weekend (God bless them), and Indy’s lesson plans were submitted for her sub. All was going smoothly.

But even the best-laid plans have to be tweaked at times. A job opportunity came up for Jeremy that would take him to Nepal for a week, and it was an offer he couldn’t refuse. So plan B was born. (This is where I learned why people buy trip insurance when booking flights. I’ll buy it next time!) Jennifer would drive the nine hours to Ocala with her kids and Pudge and Stephen would take on the challenge of wrangling the eight cousins for the weekend. Pudge seemed offended when I mentioned that I thought the responsibility might be above his pay grade. “No problem. I’ve got this!” became his mantra.

Nuf and the kids arrived Wednesday afternoon and stayed the night in the camper, with plans to surprise the Zedler kids with their presence the next day. Joy, Nuf and I headed to the Sanford/Orlando airport to retrieve Indy….and as always, she didn’t disappoint. Think Donald Trump descending the escalator the day he announced his candidacy. That was nothing compared to her entrance. The party could officially begin!

 

We had no agenda. No expectations. We even decided that if we didn’t see one manatee, it would be OK. The important thing was that we were together. Our first stop was a quaint café on the river in Sanford. Indy had already commented on the fact that the sisters all dress in the same casual style, complete with a hair band on the wrist, just in case they need it.

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Together again

So it shouldn’t have been a surprise when one of the customers in the café asked if we were all related. Discerning that it was a special occasion of some sort and that our attempts at a selfie were failing, she offered to snap our picture. For some reason, the resulting photograph caused us to dissolve in laughter. What on earth was I thinking..squatting there amid my girls like a ventriloquist’s dummy?

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Our hunger abated, we made the 2 ½ drive to the river. (We, as in Jennifer, who had driven from NC the day before and was continuing to be our chauffeur!) The condo was familiar and welcoming…and we settled in as though it was ours. Our plan was to go see if the manatee were in the spring and to enjoy the chance to catch up in such a beautiful setting. No manatee…but we were happy. I honestly can’t remember the content of our conversation that night as we sat on the dock, but I know there was lots of laughter…the contagious kind that is perpetuated by the mere joy of having time in a relaxed setting, surrounded by your people.

Sometime in our travels, I took a picture of this billboard. I can’t resist the urge to photograph misspellings and punctuation errors to add to Indy’s collection that she’s maintained over the years.

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So it is that we no longer “judge” …but “jude” instead. Or, we attempt to not jude, lest we be juded. I’m guessing this will forever be a part of the Weinheimer lexicon…at least among the mamas.

Friday morning we ate sticky buns, drank coffee, and went in search of manatee. Finding none, we decided to go to Hermosassa Springs, where we were guaranteed to see some, even if some are in a rehab facility. (Our other consideration was going to a mermaid show at Weeki Wachee Springs, but considering that we would only be going there to “jude” them, we chose Hermosassa).

We saw manatee in their natural habitat, as well as ones that had been injured and were being rehabbed. We marveled at the unique types of fish and beautiful birds, and even witnessed pelicans mating. While somewhat educational, I must admit I’ve attempted to unsee it. To date, I’ve failed.

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Peace

As we stood on a dock taking in the wonder of it all and imagining how much the grandchildren would love a visit here (if we could convince Pudge and Stephen to bring the tribe Saturday as they tended the brood), I pondered how fortunate we were to all be enjoying the day…exactly as it was.

 

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Photobombed at the Freezer Tiki Bar

We left the island and in search of “The Freezer,” a Tiki bar that was highly recommended by some NOMAD friends. It was mid-day Friday, so we thought we would certainly avoid the noontime rush as well as the dinner crowds. But you know what they say about assumptions. The line wound around outside the back of the thatched-roofed hut that appeared to be alive with loud music and animated conversation. We had nothing but time on our hands, so we found the end of the line and determined we’d have a bit of a wait. As the line continued to build, the fella directly behind Joy asked if she minded if he smoked. Not one to boldly speak her mind (God help him if Indy had been in Joy’s place), Joy said she’d rather he wouldn’t, as she is sensitive to smoke. But then, of course, she felt guilty.

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Worth the wait

Which brings up the topic of personality types. We all agreed that it would be fun to further explore each of ours…and we did. Ad nauseum. All weekend. Myers Briggs was the personality test of choice…with a little xxx thrown in. While Joy, Nuf and I are INFPs…Indy is clearly xxx ESFJ! Nothing like having a psychology major in the mix.

Back to the Freezer. It lived up to the hype…and we enjoyed a late lunch/early dinner of steamed shrimp, smoked mullet dip (Hey, don’t jude till you’ve tasted it), and a pitcher of cider.

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Nary a one of them was ID’d

Somehow the subject of “The Villages” had never come up with Indy and Nuf, so Joy felt it would be beneficial for them to see for themselves this little bit of Florida lore. Although we didn’t see it in its entirety, our little mini-introduction had Indy Googling “The Villages” to see if what we were telling her was remotely true. Turns out, we hadn’t scratched the surface. A more expansive visit will top the agenda the next time we’re in the area.

The girls were itching to get on the river, so we returned to the condo where they grabbed the kayaks and paddle board and made their way (through the elusive manatee) to the appropriate destination of Three Sisters Spring. I resisted the invitation to join them, and instead watched as they paddled away in the distance.

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Three sisters heading to Three Sisters Spring

After a full day, Friday night was a little less energetic. We managed to discuss the art of organizing, as put forth by Marie Kondo. Joy has begun organizing her house by this method, and I plan on doing the same when I return home. After all, if after living three months in a tin can pulled behind the truck doesn’t convince you of what you do and do not need, I don’t know what will.

 

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A little Marie Kondo inspiration – “Does it spark joy?”

Kondo’s basis for keeping things is, “Does this thing spark joy?” She also ascribes human characteristics to inanimate objects. Whacky as it sounds, it just might work. I’ll let you know!

Our plan Saturday was to enjoy the river then meet up with Pudge and Stephen and the cousins for ice cream late in the afternoon. Because Indy’s plane was leaving from the airport 2 ½ hours away at 7:30 am, we made the very wise decision to stay close to the Sanford/Orlando airport.

This is where our perfectly executed weekend began to unravel. I’m known in the family for planning waaayyy out. It’s necessary, for instance, to do so if we’re going to assemble the family for Camp NanaPudge. Wrangling 18 people takes some forethought. So it was that my darling daughters assumed that I had already made plans for us for that evening’s lodging. And certainly, they thought, if I hadn’t taken care of it weeks in advance, Pudge would have. Right? Wrong! As we began to coordinate times with the fellas as to where and when we’d meet for ice cream, I mentioned to the girls that I needed to find us a place to stay that night. I had assumed that with their experience with Expedia, Travelocity, etc., they’d help me navigate the web to find a perfect place, close to the airport, at a low-low price. Unfortunately, I had forgotten to figure in the little detail that the Sanford/Orlando airport sits smack dab in the middle of Disney Mania, and that the hotels just might be full on a Saturday night. Or if their WAS a vacancy, there would be no bargains to be found at the last minute. And so it was, I had to admit defeat and pay the (very high) price for my lack of planning.

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Within seconds of reserving a room at Comfort Suites just minutes from the airport, Jay called to see if we were on our way to meet the kids for ice cream. So we packed up quickly, jumped into Nuf’s car, and headed to the ice cream parlor where we met up with these kiddos:

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What perfectly behaved children

Pudge and Stephen seemed pretty calm under the circumstances, and we tried to hide the giddiness that had hung over our heads for the previous couple of days. It was obvious some (not all) of the grands had on the same clothes that they were wearing the day we kissed them goodbye. And some of them may or may not have combed their hair that day – or the day before. We mamas stood by our commitment to not jude.

Our rowdy group filled the small ice cream parlor. When a group of senior citizens arrived (probably from The Villages), we realized our activity and noise level might be disruptive.   We were definitely feeling juded at this point. So we went outside to finish our treats and to give hugs and kisses. I took Pudge aside and told him that I would take one for the team and stay back with them if needed. As attractive as my offer may have been to him at the time, he encouraged me to finish out the weekend. I rejoiced on the inside as I said, furrowing my brow, “Are you sure?” I turned, not waiting for the answer, lest he reconsider.

We headed to our destination, stopped at a WaWa (the Florida answer to Quick Trip and to be honest, it’s pretty nice) and bought a bottle of wine to have with the snacks we brought for dinner.

There was one teeny detail that I feel I must confess. I had registered two occupants when looking for a “good deal,” for Saturday night lodging. Therefore, we entered and left the premises two by two…just in case. I was banking on the fact that all three of the girls look enough alike to confuse the hotel police, should there be any. There, I feel better.

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Twenty minutes after getting to the room, and downing said wine and snacks, we decided to go explore what was going on locally. We decided to check out a classic car show in downtown Sanford. It was closing down when we got there, but we still enjoyed what we saw…and appreciated one last shared experience before we parted ways.

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Maybe a little “juding” going on here before bedtime

We left the hotel at 6:30 am…but only two of us ate at the free breakfast…just in case. We dropped Indy off and headed on down the highway back to reality.

 

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Home Sweet Homestead

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It was our fourth year to travel to Homestead, FL to serve at Silver Palm UMC. Ordinarily, it would be routine; but this year was different. One of the reasons we love to go to Homestead is because we have bonded with the pastor, Diane Gutierrez, and her husband, Louie. Three weeks before our arrival, their daughter died unexpectedly. We arrived with heavy hearts, knowing that having “company” virtually parked in their back yard, (the parsonage is on the church property), could cause even more stress during their time of mourning and adjustment).

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Pastor Diane and Louie Gutierrez

In addition, Jay and I were going to be heading the project (our first time to lead) and we were anxious to do so with as few surprises as possible. Leaders are typically charged with the task of team building and making sure daily assignments are made and appropriate supplies are available to meet the expectations of the host church.

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Our team – Ken and Karen, Bob and Carol, Ron and Martha, Jay and Jan, Mary Jewell and Bob

But we couldn’t have asked for a better group of people to share the experience. Bob and Mary Jewell, a retired pediatrician, are from Benton, Arkansas – practically neighbors. They were the one couple that was new to us. And, of course, now we consider them old friends! Living and working alongside folks for 21 days will do that. We had served with “the other” Bob (a retired Methodist pastor) and Carol on three other occasions, and since they are Floridians, we’ve kept in touch during our visits between projects. Plans are already underway to work with them again next year. We had met Ron and Martha two years ago and became fast friends. We lovingly refer to Ron and Jay as Thing One and Thing Two as they tackle jobs together. Ron is quite handy and was often called upon to help solve the problems that undoubtedly happen with RV life. We were thrilled when they came through Tulsa last year for a visit. Now they can boast that they have witnessed The Golden Driller and plan to revisit him (and us) in the spring of 2018!

Ken and Karen are from Ashville, Ohio. The parents of seven, Ken is a retired educator, master furniture maker and story teller extraordinaire! Karen is a patient listener and generously shared some of her canning with us, as well as one of Ken’s works of art…a handcrafted cutting board. Ken made a point to ask about our friends, Jan and Roger. He had remembered me speaking of their daughter, Sarah, in a devotional shortly after her death three years ago. Sarah’s life story inspires and is remembered by so many, even though they’d never met her.

We thought we were going to be painting the exterior of the church building. But the team that had been at Silver Palm three weeks prior to our arrival had completed the task, leaving us to scramble to find enough work to fill our time there. Nothing frustrates NOMADS more than to not be busy! Typically, we work hard Monday-Thursday, 8:00 am – 4:00 pm…then spend the three-day weekends recharging.

The first week at Silver Palm was spent trimming palm trees, striping the parking lot, tinting windows in one of the structures on the church property that is home to four young women who do ministry in the area, and tackling various electrical and maintenance projects.

 

Although a relatively small, aging congregation, Silver Palm is a lighthouse in the Homestead community, opening her doors daily to various agencies. We noticed that the parking was always abuzz with people coming and going, whether it was for a home school co-op, an active Boy Scout group, a community food pantry or an after-school tutoring ministry. In addition, various youth and college groups know that they have a place to stay if they are in Homestead overnight or for a extended stay working in the community. Maybe that’s why we feel so connected to Silver Palm. Hospitality is a core value.

Three of our team members sang in the choir each Sunday and two of them performed in the annual talent show. For one, in particular, it was a very special blessing to do so. In the 1950s, Mary Jewell’s father was the pastor at Silver Palm, and she lived in the parsonage that is still on the church grounds. As a teenager, she sang her very first solo in the sanctuary of Silver Palm. We watched as she reconnected with her childhood as we passed familiar landmarks and as she visited with church members who were in the youth group with her. I shared with her that our recent trip to Phoenix had caused memories and emotions to bubble up to the surface, and she agreed being in Homestead had done the same for her. I suppose aging has a way of causing us to look back and remember.

Because of Homestead’s inclusive spirit, team members enjoy jumping into whatever is going on. In addition to singing in the choir, team members participated weekly in the adult Sunday School class. One Sunday, Jay was asked to be the liturgist for the worship service. It seemed so natural for him to be at the podium as the faces in the congregation are now so familiar to us.

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At home at Silver Palm

Which brings me to this: Every year we say it is the LAST YEAR we’ll serve at Homestead. It’s a long way to the tip of Florida, dragging our house behind us. But after about three days there, we begin stalking the NOMADS website, looking to see if/when the following year’s project is posted. Because of its extravagant hospitality and beautiful setting, Silver Palm usually fills up within hours of appearing on the sign-up sheet. To have a chance to serve there, one has to check the website several times a day – a year ahead. So, yes, we’re returning to Silver Palm UMC next year, God willing, and plan to celebrate with Pastor Diane as she faces her retirement in the spring of 2018.

The second and third weeks in Homestead were devoted to working at Touching Miami with Love (formerly Open House Ministries) that provides after school programming for disadvantaged children, activities for teenagers in the evening, and counseling for families who are struggling. It is an amazing ministry sponsored by the Cooperative Baptist Association. The Director, Wanda, has become a friend over the years and often quips that the term “cooperative Baptist” sound like an oxymoron! TMWL has been around 15 years and one of the beautiful things we appreciate about it is that many of their paid staff came up through the program and are now passing along encouragement to a new generation of children.

Each day we watched as up to 186 children came through the doors with big smiles on their faces, eager to spend the afternoon being tutored, participating in sports, and enjoying a place that accepted them completely. It was obvious to us that the staff had been trained to meet the unique needs of the children, many who are being raised by their immigrant parents who work in the fields of southern Florida. Each child was greeted by name and with an encouraging comment or warm touch from the director. Many children were eager to show the progress they had made on the report cards from the nearby elementary school they attend. We concluded that each child who entered the building seemed to feel safe and respected and each one had a voice. So I wasn’t surprised to learn that the staff was using TBRI – Trust Based Relationship Intervention, the technique Jay and I have received training in through Empowered to Connect seminars and at Tulsa Hills Youth Ranch. No wonder our hearts are so drawn to that place.

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Wanda – Our cooperative Baptist friend! 

The final day we did some fence mending – literally. The chain link fence that surrounds the campus of Touching Miami with Love needed some attention. Martha and I teamed up to see what we could do and I had a visual of what it means to do relational fence mending. It truly took both of us to do the job. If one of us didn’t hold the fence taut enough or the other one didn’t bend the wire just so, the gaps could not be repaired. There’s a lesson to be learned, I believe. As we work to mend broken relationships, it takes commitment and effort from both parties. Not to mention…it’s best if we care for the fence (or relationship) before it’s completely destroyed.

One of the benefits of being a NOMAD is having the opportunity to explore new places on our days off. We visited the expansive market one Saturday, sharing a lunch table with Ron and Martha and a wonderful couple who invited us to join them in the crowded pavilion. Gloria and Herman are from the Dayton, Ohio area and winter in Florida. Originally from Colombia, they came to the States fifty years ago. After retiring from National Cash Register, Herman, along with Gloria, opened a small eating establishment with six tables. Today, the restaurant seats 600 people. Their children and grandchildren are involved in the day-to-day business and in addition, they operate six food trucks used for catering and serving lunch to businesses in downtown Dayton. People text their orders to the mobile units. Then the food is delivered to their offices via bicycle. As we explore the subject of immigration during this time in American history, I like to think about Gloria and Herman and the lives they have provided for their children, grandchildren and for the generations to come. Little encounters like these seem somehow magical. We have a standing invitation to dine as their guests if we’re ever in the Dayton area. And who knows? We just might do it!

We made a day trip to Key West where we dined at a rooftop restaurant, walked the grounds of Ernest Hemmingway’s home, and ambled through the shops of Mallory Square where we saw manatee swimming in the beautiful turquois water of the Keys. Another day we went on an airboat ride in the Everglades. While I wasn’t sure the experience was going to live up to the hype, we were not disappointed. The guide gave us cottonballs for our ears to block the loud noise of the motor; but they also served to eliminate the distraction of idle conversation that might have interfered with the sheer visual beauty of the experience. In addition, our daily drive to and from our work site exposed us to acres and acres of fresh produce and breathtaking flowers. Each outing was a reminder of what an awesome world we live in…and how much we’ve yet to encounter.

Laughter seemed to be the soundtrack of our time in Homestead…and one time, in particular, has been deposited into my memory bank and given us a euphemism that will forever be a part of us. We became friends with Ron and Martha two years ago serving on a project at the Life Enrichment Center in Fruitland Park, FL. We’ve kept in touch regularly and made a point to sign up with them this winter for both projects, giving us six weeks to work alongside them. They are from Michigan (the place of my birth) and I love hearing them banter back in forth in the accent that is strangely familiar to me, even though I moved to Oklahoma as an infant. On our outing to Key West Martha and I were yakking in the back seat while the guys were in the front, solving all of the world’s problems. I wasn’t sure what they were talking about, but suffice it to say…it was animated. Then I heard Ron say (loud enough to get my attention), “Well THAT chicken is dead!” I had never heard that phrase before and asked him if it was a colloquialism native to Michigan. “Nope,” he replied. “There’s a dead chicken in the street.” For some reason, we all found the exchange to be hilarious and decided that henceforth, forevermore…”Well, THAT chicken is dead” will be what we say when we want to end a discussion or make a point that we’re just done! We must have said it a hundred times since. And each time it brings a smile. Wish I could figure out how to add a dead chicken emoji to my phone for the back and forth texts that Martha and I enjoy.

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Our final night in Homestead, Pastor Diane thought we should experience an authentic Cuban cuisine. Her husband, Louie, is Cuban and has very particular opinions about who does it best. Although he couldn’t join us that evening, he recommended a restaurant that was well worth the 30-minute drive. It was obvious Diane and Louie were regulars and we received five-star treatment by the staff, along with a delicious meal. The locally-owned restaurant has several locations in the area…each owned by one of the founder’s five daughters, represented in the painting below. There was a sweet spirit around the table that night as we lingered over Cuban coffee and flan. We had laughed together – cried together – prayed together… and were bonded by a common love of service and shared experiences. It was a perfect conclusion to our time together.

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As each RV departed the church grounds the next morning, we vowed to stay in touch. Traveling down the highway, text messages were copious as we updated each other as to where we were, the cost of fuel, and reviews of RV parks along the way.

Our sixth year of NOMADing proved to be as special as that first year, and we are already looking forward to 2018.

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Such a “good tired” at the end of the day. Never feel better. So grateful for the opportunity to do what we love. 

 

 

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Big Adventure – Rockledge

Rolling from the Rockledge parking lot, heading to Homestead, it occurred to me that this project…one of the least physically demanding we’ve done over the years…provided a beautiful time for reflection and personal preparation for the year ahead. Living several months in an RV has a way of sparking the desire to minimalize once we return home. Maybe this will be the year. (I ordered a copy of Marie Kondo’s “The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up: The Japanese Art of Decluttering and Organizing.” We’ll see how that goes!)

Last year when we pulled into Rockledge, we had survived a blow out and four hour wait on the highway. Our goal was to get there before dark, and in our haste, we got an early start on trimming the trees…one of the things on the NOMADs’ To Do List…sacrificing our roof, air conditioner and vents, not to mention the poor squirrel that was killed by the spray of Freon that ensued. So THIS YEAR, Pudge had one of those stinky pine air fresheners hanging on the rear-view mirror as a reminder to avoid the low hanging branches. So it was that we arrived without incident! Hurrah! Good start!

 

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A friendly reminder

There were four couples on the team, including brand new friends who introduced us to the Quaker religion. The sum total of what I knew before was that Quakers are peaceful…and that one of them graced the cylindrical box of oats we’ve all come to know and love. Which brings me to one of the great Weinheimer family stories.

Many years ago, when Annabelle was just a tot, she and Joy were shopping at our neighborhood grocery…close to our home, but several miles for theirs. Annabelle about came out of her grocery cart, insisting that she had seen Pudge. “Puh. Puh. Puh,” she repeated while pointing to aisle they had just gone down. Assuming Pudge was in the store somewhere, Joy returned to the previous aisle, where Annabelle excitedly pointed to an image she perceived to be her beloved grandfather, Pudge. Yup. The Quaker Oats Man! But I digress.

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During our first team meeting, our fearless leaders, Lindell and Linda from Wisconsin, explained that the church had a new alarm system and that it was VERY IMPORTANT that we not set it off – lets the police would be called and the church would be charged $25. We all promised to be careful and then took some side bets which one of us would be responsible for setting it off accidentally. Well, it wasn’t ten minutes later that Lindell was taking us on a tour of the building that it happened. Not once, but twice! Thus our introduction to the Rockledge Police Department.

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Our fearless leader, Lindell…and two of Rockledge’s finest

During our time at Rockledge, we witnessed the peaceful transition of power while folding clothes at the “Lost Sock Laundry” and observed powerful ministry quietly transpire between the church’s youth pastor and a young man he is faithfully discipling. Pastor Josh, a slightly-built, forty-something Hispanic minister, has taken an interest in Edwin, a 6’ 7”, 17 year-old African American who lives a few blocks from the church. By his own admission, Edwin, who is living with his grandfather while his mother raises his four sisters in a nearby city, was headed down the wrong path. Now he is a staple at the church, spending all of his free time there, where he has discovered “family” among the aging Caucasian congregation. He was one of the first to greet us when we arrived, offering to help us in any way he could. And on Sundays, there was Edwin, passing out bulletins and serving communion. He aspires to be a chef one day and we’re betting that he reaches his goal with a little help from the lovely people of Rockledge.

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Edwin, Pastor Josh and Pastor Todd

 

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Edwin feeling like one of the guys.

Pastor Josh began his ministry to the children and youth of Rockledge in June in hopes of expanding the church’s outreach to the Hispanic community. One day he received a call from a mom who had been asked to pick up her toddler from daycare. Little Brandon was running a fever and had a terrible cough. The mom works night and day to provide for her five children, leaving the 13 year-old daughter, a member of the church’s youth group, in charge of caring for her younger siblings. Josh to the rescue…assisted by Edwin. Neither of the guys had a clue what to do with the little fella. They stopped to buy him medicine, put it in Pepsi and stood by helplessly as Brandon (in their words) had a blow out. Not knowing how to change a diaper, Josh sent Edwin to find help. NOMADS would surely have experience changing diapers, right? Our new friend, Tim, cleaned up Brandon while Josh scrubbed the youth room. If it had not been so sad, it would have made a great situation comedy. Two (Clueless) Men and a Baby!

A highlight of our time in Rockledge was reconnecting with Blanche. We met her last year when we painted a couple of rooms in her home. She cares for her invalid husband, and now, her bedfast mother. Her strength and positive outlook are such an inspiration, and we were humbled that she wanted to prepare a lovely home-cooked meal for us.

Blanche’s brother was in town in his beautiful ’57 Chevy…and Jay got to experience a flashback from his childhood.

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A trip down memory lane

One Sunday afternoon after church we met Joy’s family at a wonderful Children’s Museum in Daytona Beach. There was plenty to do…but who could resist the opportunity to measure the speed of one’s pitching arm? Pudge, with delusional memories of a 95-mph fastball, watched as Ollie threw 31–32-36 mph. “Let me show you how to do it,” Pudge boasted. Blame it on arthritis. Burcitis. Frozen Elbow. Whatever. But he never got that tennis ball to travel more than 35 mph! Raucous laughter erupted! What the heck? Stephen thought he might as well give it a try….then whoosh! 44 mph! Congratulations, Stephen!

 

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As always with NOMADS, we leave a little bit of our hearts at Rockledge, taking with us lifelong memories. The three weeks there provided a diversity of wonderful experiences…from the peaceful Taize services on Wednesday nights to the spectacular launch of Atlas 5 from Cape Canaveral. Not to mention that we consumed more than our fair share of delicious seafood.

Next Stop: Homestead

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