Learning Contentment

Several of my Northern friends have been asking me how I like living in Florida. I have answered, “It depends on the day. Weekends are great; weekdays, not so much.”

Living in a place is very different from vacationing in a place. On a vacation, there is relaxation, a step out of the ordinary routine of life, and usually a planned change of environment. There is a suspension of normal chores and dedicated time spent with one’s family or spouse. I like vacationing in Florida. What is not to like about palm trees, sun, sand and surf? When one lives in a place, however, life’s demands continue. There are meals to prepared, laundry and cleaning, and work. You get to do the same things you normally do, only you get to do them in a different place. And the sun, sand, and surf become nice weekend activities.

We are something of a hybrid in the Snow-birding world, being younger than all of the people we have met and at a different life-stage. They are truly retired and living on their savings and pensions, no longer punching a clock or having work dictate the hours of their days. The rhythm of their days is much different than ours.

My husband is still employed, and works remote from our motor home via the internet. His workdays are long, absorbed by meetings and phone calls, spent seated at his “desk,” interrupted only by three-step trips to the coffee pot and table for meals. He has made this sacrifice for me, to relocate me to a warmer climate and avoid more cold-induced asthma episodes from Michigan’s frigid winter weather.

My days have changed from full-time employment to having vast stretches of time on my hands – for study, for reading, for writing and whatever else I choose to do from the confines of the park, providing it is quiet and does not interrupt his workday.

Weekends feel much more like being on vacation. The laptops are put away, and we spend time together exploring the area, poking around antique shops, visiting the coast, and making the necessary weekly grocery run.

Do I like living in Florida? Not as much as I like vacationing in Florida. I miss my house, my family and friends, my job, and my life. But, the warmer climate is very nice and I love the freedom of being outside without needing to wear a cold-air mask; February in the Panhandle feels much like June in Northern Michigan. We have discovered a great Spirit-filled church that feels like “home,” and I am now volunteering some of my free time working at a local non-profit agency.

The Apostle Paul wrote in Philippians 4:11 “I have learned to be content whatever the circumstances.” I am sure he didn’t like all of the circumstances in which he found himself , but he learned to be content in them. I hope, like Paul, I am learning the secret to contentment during my tenure here in Florida. I would like to be able to echo his sentiment, that I have learned to be content whatever the circumstances.

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!

My “Fantasy Island”

I have a fantasy, which I visit when I feel I am being pulled in every direction and need a “Calgon Moment.” In my fantasy, I am spending the winter in a large summer “cottage” on the back-side of Michigan’s Mackinaw Island. The walls are made of golden pine logs, with original wood floors that are covered with worn Persian Rugs and hand-made rag rugs. The living room is furnished with a well-worn leather sofa and comfy over-stuffed chairs, complete with cozy red Native American wool blankets thrown over the sofa’s back. There is a wood-burning stove in the living room, topped with a simmering pot of soup.

In my fantasy, it is snowing outside, with big white, fluffy snowflakes drifting to earth, and the water of the lake outside the window is rough and grey, but inside the cottage, the light is golden and warm.

I am snowed in for the winter, armed with stacks of canvases and paints and I spend my days painting wonderful, artistic pictures. There is no television, no radio, and no internet. I am content to be snowed-in alone with my art.

This is totally a FANTASY! In reality, my cold-induced asthma would take me out the first time I had to reload the wood box. And, despite the pretty surroundings, they would become a lonely cage. I need to be involved with other people.

Nothing has brought that need for human interaction into crystal focus better than spending a few months in an RV park in northern Florida. Instead of being a “jeans and tee shirt” winter, it has been “sweater and jacket” weather. One night, the wind-chill was actually zero!

Winter weather here in the panhandle is cold and wet and people stay holed up inside their rigs most of the day. Temperatures may top out around 70 for about 30 minutes in the late afternoon, but quickly plummet once the sun start to set. Folks bundle up, walk the dog, and scurry back inside where it is warm. The best place for conversation and chance meetings seems to be the laundry facility.

There are only so many books one can read, so many pod-casts one can hear, and so many hours on Facebook before the need for human interaction drives you out. And rightly so! God created us for relationship, both with one another and with Him. We are called to be conduits of God’s blessings instead of reservoirs. Life is intended to be shared in fellowship.

Do you know people who are “shut-in” at home? It might be health issues, age, or a new baby in the home that confines a person to their house. When I was a young mom, at home with two little ones, I had a friend in a similar situation. When the Mr. Rogers television program came on, we had a scheduled daily thirty minute phone date that carried us through the rest of the day. Nearly thirty years later, and living in different states, we are still in contact and consider ourselves friends.

We are blessed when we bless others. Who is in your circle of influence that would be blessed by a visit, a phone call or a note? I encourage you to reach out, brighten someone’s day, and be a welcome blessing to someone else.

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!”