Watching COVID19 – Fleeing Florida

My husband and I spent the winter in Florida this year. We packed up our little 16 ft travel trailer and headed south shortly after Christmas. Virginia winters are chilly, sometimes there is even snow. We chose to escape winter for many reasons, one being the lure of summer-like temperatures.

First stop was a six week stay at a private campground in Florida City, the gateway to the Keys. Our Florida State Park pass gave us access to all of the State Parks in the Keys and we visited many of them, bicycling around the parks as well as the local communities. We soaked up sun, swam in the waters, and hung out enjoying the beautiful scenery and weather. At the private campground, we participated in many activities, made friends, and were very sad to leave when our time was done.

From there, we headed north for a two week stay at Jonathon Dickinson State Park by the Atlantic Ocean. Florida’s state parks are in high demand, despite their limit of two week stays. We were fortunate to get in at all, as reservations must be made 11 months ahead. We logged miles on our bicycles on the park’s many trails and enjoyed campfires and nature. Our time ended and we moved to a private resort in Ft. Myers for the final month of our trip.

By then, we were starting to see news stories about a killer virus in China. Then reports started targeting cases in Florida, all travel and cruise related. Florida takes the COVID19 virus very seriously and nightly news reports stated how many cases were identified, where they were contracted, where the people were recovering (hospital, nursing facility, or their homes) and how many cases were being monitored for development. We kept a social distance from folks we met and didn’t participate in any group activities. Florida’s first COVID19 death occurred in a local hospital.

Our daughter back in Virginia was very concerned, especially as the news reported more and more cases of COVID19 across many states. She wanted us home!

We, however, were enjoying the 85 degree sunshine and were reluctant to trade that for 50 degree drizzle in Virginia. Besides, our campsite was paid until the first of April, with no refunds. We figured we weren’t in any danger to just stay in place.

There were only a few cases of travel-related COVID19 in our area when my husband surprised me by asking me to write out a 4 week menu for the two of us using only shelf stable foods. I don’t usually cook with shelf stable food, and figured we could eventually use it for our hurricane supplies. I didn’t think we had any reason for concern. We then purchased this food and stored it in a big plastic bin in our van. His reasoning was that we might be quarantined in the campground for a month and this way we would be prepared. I keep a pantry at home, but certainly didn’t pack food for a 12 week trip in our little trailer. We tend to visit the grocery store every couple of days, picking up milk, bread, meat, and whatever else that is running low. The shelves were full, the store relatively empty, and we gathered our lengthy list with no problems.


One week ago today we were the lone mini golf players at the resort’s golf course, arguing with our daughter by phone, trying to convince her that we were fine as she was trying to convince us that we were not. We had plans to meet friends at a restaurant the following day, but that evening Florida announced its first community acquired case of COVID19 in our area.

We prayed for direction and peace. Odds are, this wasn’t a huge threat to us, and prepared to make the 45 minute drive to see our friends. As I was getting ready, not thinking about anything except applying make up and fixing my hair, the voice of God spoke to my spirit. Clearly, I heard, “It’s time. It’s time to go home.” and a peace flooded over me. I told my husband it was time to go home and he agreed that we would leave in the morning.

We headed out to meet our friends, and on the way I developed a raging sore throat. It was almost instantaneous. With only three miles to go, we cancelled, turned around, and headed back. My husband made one stop at a drug store to buy a numbing throat spray for me, and we quickly packed up our campsite and started the drive back at 2:30 pm.

On the road we learned that three more community acquired cases had been identified in our area. This is no longer a virus limited to those who caught it while traveling over seas; it is now real, it is a pandemic, and it is in our backyard!

Because we were coming from an active community acquired area, we began practicing self quarantine while on the trip home. Usually we stop and eat at restaurants, use the public facilities and take stretch breaks. This trip was different. We used the facilities in our trailer for bathroom and meals, avoiding people as much as possible. My husband used disposable gloves for pumping gas and copious amounts of hand cleaner.

We are home now, our trailer is unpacked and returned to storage, and we have settled in for a two week isolation. Every day on the news, we see stricter regulations from our government and watch more and more businesses close. Our daughter is working from home and her computer equipment is spread over our dining room table. My husband is working on the kitchen table, filing our taxes and watching the stock market tank. I am spending lots of time in my home office, reading the Bible, writing and praying.

Every day we see more and more reports of deaths from this virus, accelerating numbers of cases and growing restrictions. We were fortunate to arrive home before domestic travel bans are implemented for civilians and military families. We hear the ever expanding time lines of projections when this siege will end.

We join the rest of the world watching COVID19.

The Gypsy Life!

Life is fluid. Just when you think you have it figured out, it shifts and changes direction. Blessed are the flexible; they will bend but not be broken!

After nearly a year of life in Tennessee, we are moving again. We became Snowbirds and spent last winter in Florida, then became “Half-backers” when we moved half-way back to Michigan and tried life in Tennessee. Despite loving my position as Connections Pastor in Sweetwater, my body did not do well with Tennessee weather. I battled sinus infections all summer and lived on antibiotics and steroids. Once cold weather moved in, my asthma kicked up and I had to go back on the drugs! Enough is enough! You can’t live where you are sick all the time when there are other options.

Our options are many. My husband has retired now, so we are not locked into a location based on a job. We can go anywhere! We revisited our original plan of moving to Florida, and brainstormed over doing something wildly different for a season. We have chosen the wild way!

Our son’s family is in Michigan, and we have a house there. We will use it as a summer retreat and a place for the family to gather for the holidays. This way we can still be involved in our grandchildren’s lives and the lives of our parents and siblings who live in the Frozen Mitten.

Our daughter lives in Virginia so we will buy a condo there. Lots of people in Michigan have a small cottage up in the north woods for vacation get-aways. Our “small cottage” will be near our daughter and we will spend spring and fall in Virginia. And, we have the option to take the RV to Florida for the coldest 6 weeks of the winter and camp! For this season of life, we will be gypsies, traveling cross country, following the spring. We realize that this is for a season; someday we will be too old and feeble to chase the sun and will need to make a decision on a residence for our final years, but not yet!

The down-side of this plan is the inability to serve full time on a church staff, but we are trusting God to faithfully open up doors of ministry where ever we may be. It is the dawning of a new chapter and a new adventure. Life with the Lord is never boring!

A slice of life and morning coffee….

Since beginning our snow birding adventure, I am often asked about how the cats are adjusting to life in the RV. They are indoor animals and now, instead of having a big house to roam and a screened in room for fresh air, they are as cramped as we are in these tiny quarters. Surprisingly, they have adapted very well, possibly easier than we humans. Here they are allowed on most of the furniture and have their people underfoot at all times, answering to their every need. It is hard to forget to feed the cats when they trip you and yowl when they are hungry! There is no escape! They are here, there, and everywhere!

We share our RV with two cats; Boots and Buster. Boots was my daughter’s pet in her childhood and is the sweetest, best natured animal I have ever met. Now at 18 years old, he sleeps most of the time and weighs only 6 pounds, a purring, grey tiger and white fur-covered skeleton. His favorite spot tends to be anywhere that I am sitting, quickly occupying the space as soon as I stand up. Consequently, I have learned to look before I sit down, to avoid landing on him!

Buster is a 17 pound, red Maine Coon. He is still a kitten by Maine Coon standards, and acts like one, despite his size. He is a bundle of energy; jumping, pouncing, climbing, and leaping. These are all highly entertaining activities unless your living space is roughly the size of a hallway in a standard suburban house. His favorite spot is perched on the dashboard, stalking the squirrels that torment him through the glass.

Because of their age differences, the cats do not play together. Boots tolerates the kitten, but remains the boss. Buster is not allowed to sit in his cat bed, nor usurp which ever spot he happens to be enjoying at the moment. Despite this, they get along with one another and never fight; sometimes it feels as if they even work together to accomplish Boots’ goals.

For example, this morning I poured a cup of coffee and sat down at my laptop to read my email, my daily Bible devotion, and check Face book. Our space is restricted so the dinette table is stacked with books and electronics, including my laptop, I pad, phone, camera, and headphones. Buster decided to join me for coffee this morning, wanting to perch on the top of the pile, like Snoopy pretending to be a vulture on the corner of the doghouse. I don’t like cats on the table or the counters so I tried verbally shooing him off, and was ignored. After telling him, “Down” several times I picked up a pill bottle and shook it, commanding him “DOWN!”

Buster startles easily and did not expect to hear the rattle. He EXPLODED in a scrambling flurry of orange fur; feet clawing the air in every direction as he frantically tried to regain his balance. Books flew off the table, knocking over my full cup of hot coffee, and soaking everything! My husband and I sprang into action, scooping up soggy electronics, mopping up coffee, and rescuing books, the dinette cushions, and carpet below.

Buster retreated to the safety of the dashboard and Boots immediately hopped into my now vacant seat and began to purr.  Mission accomplished.

A Twist of Fate

I have been battling homesickness on this Snowbird journey, so I was elated when my husband announced that we needed to spend the following week in Michigan for an important work meeting. A week of living in a real house, seeing my friends and family and doing laundry in my own (free) machine was definitely worth a two day drive with drugged cats. My week’s activities were quickly planned and I was terribly disappointed when the meeting was suddenly cancelled.
That cancellation meant that instead of being on the road, we would now be spending the weekend in Florida and I didn’t like the weather forecast. The weatherman called for severe thunderstorms, gale force winds, and tornadoes. The thought of riding out a twister in a trailer park made that two day drive on winter roads all the more appealing.

Authorities tell you to go to a safe place in case of a tornado, only there are no safe places here. There are no basements because the water table is very high, and ditches quickly fill up with water, snakes, and gators. The desk attendant at the RV Park told us the standard procedure for dealing with tornadoes is “get in your car and try to outrun it.”

So, we prayed for God’s protection and sat and watched and waited. The sky turned black in mid-afternoon and the tall trees began to whip from the wind. The RV began to rock and shimmy. The torrential rain was so strong we couldn’t see outside of any of the windows.

At the peak of the storm’s fury, the RV sprung a leak. A seal on a stationary window gave way and water poured in and down the wall. It soaked the floor in the front third of the RV, including everything stored under the sofa and in front of the driver and passenger seats. We moved what we could to higher ground and went to bed.

The next morning we bought a shop-vac and pulled at least a quart of water from the carpet, washed the towels, and tried to dry out. We have been running electric heaters, the air conditioner and a small dehumidifier to dry out of the flooring before it grows mold and mildew. The window is now resealed and survived last night’s rainstorm, but the carpet is still damp three days after the flood.
I can only imagine the mess we would have walked into, had we followed our original plan and returned to Michigan for the week. The storm and flood would have hit on the first day of our absence. Outside temperatures are ranging in the mid seventies, which would have turned the inside of our soggy RV into a mold and mildew breeding ground. Chances are, the interior of the unit would have been destroyed.
Now I look at the cancelled meeting with grateful awe at God’s protection. Not only did He protect us from the storm itself, He protected us from the property loss that would have ensued had we been away.
And it makes me wonder how many times our plans don’t work out because a merciful God was protecting us from very unpleasant consequences. Yes, I am disappointed that my week at home didn’t happen, but I am ever so grateful for God’s providential intervention on my behalf!

What’s YOUR Story?

I am meeting new people on this snowbirding journey. Protocol for meeting new folks covers the same questions: “What’s your name?” “Where are you from?” “What do you do for a living ?” (Or “What did you do for a living?” – because most of the people I am meeting here are retired.) And, “Which rig is yours?”

There is the usual mental sizing up and rating system: Yankee vs. Confederate, blue collar vs. white collar, urban vs. country dweller, those who camp in huge, shiny RVs vs. those who stay in older ones. We tend to classify and pigeon-hole people as if we are scientists cataloguing plants. We smile and nod, are polite and play nicely, but it takes time and shared interests for real friendships to develop, so conversations rarely move on to deeper things.

People shut down if the conversation moves into tricky waters, such as religion or politics, too quickly. You look for little clues and nudge the conversation, all the while being ready to side-step the issue if they are not receptive to the nudge. So, we stay in the shallow end of the pool and tread water instead of diving in an risk alienating a potential friendship. Everybody has a story, but you have to build that bridge of trust before they are willing to share it with you. Trust takes time to develop. As a result, most stories remain untold.

Last night I had a dream about heaven. I was with a huge crowd of people, from all ethnic backgrounds. We were all wearing whatever “street clothes” our culture or time period deemed, and we were all roughly the same age. There were no children, teens, or elderly in the group. Folks were clad in jeans and tee shirts, prairie dresses, sari’s, buckskin, and silks – a wide assortment of humanity, both men and women,

There were people standing shoulder to shoulder as far as the eye could see in any direction. We were all facing the same direction, and way off in the distance was an elevated platform with some people seated in fancy chairs. We in the crowd were all very excited to be there, and were eagerly sharing our stories with those standing near us.

These stories were intense, personal, and vivid. There was no reference to names, places, jobs, or titles.. Instead, the question was, “How did you meet Him? How did you meet Jesus?” And, we talked, sharing our stories in heartfelt, deep details, giving glory to Jesus for His grace to touch our lives. There were no half-hearted, “Well, my grandma used to take me to Sunday School, so I decided I was a Christian” or “Well, my family all went forward on an altar call when I was little and I didn’t want to stay in my pew, so I guess I’m a Christian.” stories. These stories were rich, detailed, personal, and powerful.

There was no classifying, no judging, no rating system of who had the “best” story. Instead, there was a deep excitement, acceptance, and overwhelming joy. Everyone had a story and everyone was intensely interested in hearing what anyone had to say.

One day we will all be called to tell our story, to give a personal account for our life. What will your story be?

Discoveries on the journey…

I met a woman yesterday who spends her winters here at the park. She is retired and lives in a 19 foot long travel trailer. When I asked if living in such a small space bothered her, she replied that she only sleeps inside the trailer; she spends all of her time outside. Her “living room and dining room” are under the canopy, on her patio slab. Which is fine, if you don’t mind wind, rain and chilly temperatures. She bundles up and sits in her lawn chair all day long, watching camp life happen around her.

Winters are still nippy in Northern Florida. Last night the temperature dipped to 27 degrees. We were warned by a neighboring camper to disconnect the water hose to our unit so it wouldn’t freeze and break the brass fittings. Now, at 9 am, the sun is streaming into the windows and the outside temperature is up to a balmy 39 degrees. This is a temporary cold snap; the locals reassure us that we will be topping out in the 70’s again by the end of the week. For the next few days, I will be holed up inside the RV.

We have had to make adjustments to life in small spaces. I am not willing to spend my days wrapped in blankets to sit outdoors during the cold snaps. That defeats our purpose of coming to Florida to escape the cold weather!

Getting the RV road-worthy was only the beginning! We find ourselves adding to our list of missing essentials on a daily basis, as we adjust to this new life-style. We have already added three electric space heaters, one for the bedroom, bathroom, and main living quarters. These RVs are not well insulated and must be driven to the refill station to refill an empty propane tank. Heating by electricity is the easier choice. We will find out how pricey the electricity is when our bill arrives at the end of the month.

Other discoveries:

After years of living with an automatic ice-maker in my refrigerator, I needed to buy an ice-cube tray. Simple pleasures of life; ice in your drinks.

Our motor home was stocked with a set of unbreakable Melmac dishes. We have seen them for sale at Camper’s World stores, hawked as the best camping dishes on the market. I remember Melmac dishes from my childhood. They truly are unbreakable and are a nice alternative to paper plates, but I have discovered that they do not hold up well in a microwave! They melt! Off we went to Wal-Mart for a 4 pack of Corelle dishes.

The glass tray in the microwave oven is a perfect fit for my frying pan. Of course, there is no handle so a lid to fit the frying pan is on my list for a future trip!

Our coffee-maker sprung a leak early in this journey and we replaced it for less than $20, at Wal-Mart.

The air quality is greatly improved since switching to unscented kitty litter. We are glad Wal-Mart also carries pet supplies.

Cooking presents another challenge because my little kitchen only has a 12 inch span of counter space. It is manageable, but meals are by no means elaborate or complicated. Space is at a premium so most of my kitchen tools stayed at home. The process of meal prep reminds me of the years I spent living in a college dorm, fixing weekend meals in my room. At least I have a small stove here, and don’t have to figure out how to cook everything in my popcorn popper!

My daughter jokes that we really are “retired” despite my husband’s job allowing him to commute to work by phone. It seems that every time she phones us, we are at Wal-Mart, picking up groceries or those missing essentials to make life easier. And, if I get too bored, maybe I can apply for a job! I can smile and say, “Hello, welcome to Wal-Mart!”