The search is on.

You may not want to read my story. I was living a quiet and pleasant life. My husband and I made a strategic decision that I would not work outside the home. We value the fact that there is always someone in our extended family who can be available if needed.

My days are spent shuttling one set of grandchildren to preschool, tidying our house and then running over to tidy my son’s home after he and his wife have run out the door to work and deliver their children to school. I enjoy plenty of free time, but can also respond to that occasional errand or emergency that inevitably occurs when everyone else is at work.

I enjoy the freedom to be a blessing to myself and others. For example, when another son and his family got stranded with two hours until a tow truck was available, I drove over to rescue them from a long wait in the southern heat.  When a grandchild was sick at school, I picked him up and stayed with him until his mom got home from work. When a neighbor needed a ride to the doctor, I could help out. So, in this season of life my job title is basically, Available.

This job description gives me a lot of extra time to read, to focus on my health by exercising more and to test the limits of my creativity. I started taking piano lessons, tried out for and landed a role in a local play and still find time to read, sew and write.

This was all well and good until I started using my free time to investigate some theological questions that piqued my curiosity. Some of my findings challenge the facts I have previously learned. Not rushing out the door to work each morning has given me time to not only ask questions, but to research possible answers. Once I started this process however, I had no idea how deep the rabbit hole would go, or what I should do if I ever reach an end.

Sometimes I would love to discuss this research with a few more people, but that is a bit like stepping out on the high dive board at the pool. Scary. If you belly flop from that high it is really going to hurt. My husband and a couple others are willing to dialogue with me, but the sheer volume of material is hard to digest without hours of free time.

I am well aware that not all books, authors, websites or YouTube videos are reliable sources of information. Conflicting data makes me question whether our original sources of information were as reliable as we presume. Sometimes my searching for truth has led me into areas considered conspiracy theory and can sound pretty wild and crazy.  Then again, the book of Revelation can sound pretty wild and crazy. The rabbit hole is very deep and certain parts of the trail appear to connect to many others.

I am going to record my wandering around the maze in this blog.  At times I think I have been going in the right direction only to realize I have looped back or reached a dead end. I pray for guidance and then follow path of synchronicity, allowing current events, my interests or curiosity to lead the way. One verse I have always loved from the Bible is Proverbs 3:6 “In all thy ways acknowledge Him, and He will direct thy paths.” I am trusting God that I will eventually get to my destination and learn whatever I am supposed to learn along the way.

Since I believe that everything happens for a reason, I enjoy when people recommend books, or when I happen to be somewhere and something catches my eye. Russian themes tend to pop up frequently, since that was my major in college. People may make an interesting remark on a Facebook feed that I happen to catch. My grandchildren will often spout out bits of wisdom or spark a trail of questions.  And I remember the verses from Mark 10:14-16 “Suffer the little children to come unto me, and forbid them not: for of such is the kingdom of God. Verily I say unto you, Whosoever shall not receive the kingdom of God as a little child, he shall not enter therein. And he took them up in his arms, put his hands upon them, and blessed them.” So, yes, sometimes I let the children lead.

It is my hope that the end of the journey will lead me into the arms of a loving Father.

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A Journey of Faith

My faith journey has taken some unexpected twists and turns in the past seven years. I have been conflicted about how much to put in writing, but finally decided that the process of writing my thoughts out could be therapeutic and beneficial. Perhaps it may even help someone else going through similar confusion. I don’t pretend to have the answers.  I wish we could discuss some of this in the church, at a Bible study, or with other members of our congregations, but most of us have learned the hard way that asking questions that challenge the status quo does not win you sympathy or support. I do believe that God is not shocked, angry or disappointed by questions. He looks upon the heart, and He knows our innermost intention – whether it is simply to know the truth or to cause discention in the body.

In 1978 I was saved as the vocabulary of the era described my experience. I joyously came to a place where I was so grateful for what Jesus had accomplished on the cross that I was deeply moved to follow His example and serve God as He had done, even to death if so required. I witnessed lives of loved ones change profoundly for the better and was overwhelmed by the concepts of love and grace. Neither my gratitude or my desire to serve God has changed. Let me be clear about that.

During the thirty years my husband and I served with three extraordinary mission groups in various cultures, we learned a great many things. These experiences also raised a great many questions. We had the privilege of living outside of our culture and of reading the Scriptures in several different languages.

What you hear often from older people – the ranks of which I have now joined in my sixth decade – is that we have become wise enough to know what we don’t know.  Some of the facts I was taught and vehemently passed on in my own teaching, I have now come to question. Shocker! Perhaps I didn’t know everything I thought I knew! I do remember asking a few of my incessant why questions in one mission meeting and being firmly told to table them for later. My husband was then admonished to control his wife and answers never came as I was quietly shamed back into appropriate submission.

When it comes to matters of theology, religion, belief and faith, the older I get, the more I run into what I might refer to as disillusioned clergy. Quiet conversations with highly educated, caring  people that voice thoughts like, “Have you ever wondered if, why, or how?” Few, however, are willing to speak out publicly. There are many reasons, but most are related to fear. They question the value of rocking the boat. They have invested their entire lives being pastors, professors and teachers and fear losing their livelihood, credibility and reputations. Compound this with the reality that having serious questions about previous teachings does not mean definitive answers have been found to replace them. New theories may be developing, but they could be as flawed as past information. Hosea 4:6 warns us that God’s people perish due to lack of knowledge. I Corinthians 13:12 reminds us that we see dimly and know only in part while we are here on earth. It is definitely safer and easy to stick with the status quo.

Then there is the fear, taught for generations, that we are risking eternal damnation by seeking outside the permitted norms. We are warned that reading certain books, listening to unsanctioned speakers outside our denomination or relying on our feelings could be leading us along a slippery slope. As frightening as that is for oneself, it is even worse to think you might be guilty of leading another astray. It would be better to be thrown into the sea with a millstone tied around our neck. That’s huge; so if you have never had questions of your own, please don’t read any of mine!

No one who is seeking to know God more wants to risk putting even the slightest crack in someone else’s firm foundation – foundations that have been built and fortified for centuries.  What is the point of disturbing another person’s comfortable, padded and long held belief system with questions for which we have not found concrete answers? Sometimes it seems easier and safer to give it up and just rest in the comfortable old understanding because the new information is overwhelming – in volume and potential meaning.

But seekers seek! So, we continue along in silence – reading, questioning, researching and occasionally finding a fellow traveler from amidst the ranks who also says, Yes, I have wondered about that, to which we reply astonished, “You, too?”

It’s very difficult to know with whom it is safe to share or be vulnerable. We don’t really talk to our parents because that would be like challenging what they taught us, which can appear disrespectful.  So, even approaching them gently, acknowledging your desire for their opinion and wisdom, they may have reasons for not entering into a committed dialog. Their eyesight may prohibit reading all the books you have found and their relationship with technology may preclude sharing resources with them. If they are very elderly, health issues may leave them with barely the energy or desire to think any differently than has suited them for the past seventy or eighty years.

We hesitate to dialog with adult children because they may be living happily, confident and comfortable with the standards you passed down. In fact, it seems unfair to challenge the very standards they are in the midst of passing to their own children. The reality is they have little time or perhaps patience to question the rules you confidently and sometimes vehemently enforced upon them. This current generation is  usually so overworked and busy that they barely have time for rest, never mind time for reading or researching anything outside of the requirements of their regular job. Keeping their heads above water requires the attitude, if it ain’t broke don’t fix it.

Peers currently in church work are the most difficult. Certain questions, no matter how carefully worded, are considered inflammatory. Challenges to tradition or traditional understanding are rarely welcome. People who are currently working in the ministry are assumed to have answers to difficult questions. Many have memorized answers as taught rather that doing primary research. This is understandable as the history is long and the topics are vast.

There was a day however, that sticks out in my mind.  A pastor turned to me and said, “I don’t tell anyone Jesus loves them. I think that is inappropriate.” Then, like a lawyer, he made his case through Scripture. He spent the next several years requiring all people associated with the church to read certain books and learn to understand the Scriptures in this way. The movement he represents is growing and it alarms and saddens me.

I could not wrap my mind or my heart around that concept. I just knew in the center of my soul that I could not embrace a theology that led to that conclusion. I am thankful that I was old enough and finally confident enough to embrace I John 2:27 and realize that no man needs be my teacher when I have the Holy Spirit.

So, in retrospect, I am actually thankful for that pastor’s statement because it reignited the seeker in me. I stopped taking the party line for granted and began to seek and learn again. This has led to some amazing revelations and ever more questions. Why questions. How questions. In our current churches are we assisting people to be seekers after God or are we just telling them what they should find?

Love was the main reason that I originally wanted to serve God on the mission field. When I was confronted with just how much God loves me, I wished everyone could have the opportunity to experience that kind of love. I wanted everyone to know that there is a God and that He loves us. That is Good News. I want to continue to help spread that awesome message.

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Find Your Expertise

Everyone has a gift. In reality everyone has multiple gifts, talents and abilities. Think of all the things that you know how to do. Can you take care of children? Can you cut grass? Have you ever washed dishes? Do you make your bed in the morning? Do you have a system to clean your house quickly? Do you like to cook? Perhaps you collect recipes. Have you ever spoken in front of a group? Are you good at meeting people? Do you dress well? Do you have a knack with make-up or fashion? Can you send emails? Do you know how to use a spreadsheet, a sewing machine or a radial arm saw?

People have started whole businesses from Daycare Centers to service industries to consulting based on those skills.  People write blogs, conduct seminars, make videos, and run crews offering these skills to others. It’s a great system when you think about it. We all have some things we are good at, and other things that we either dislike or just can’t seem to master. So, we pay money to purchase those skills we can’t or don’t want to tackle on our own. Everybody wins.

Funny thing is, we don’t actually need the money part of it. We could just barter like they did in the old days. I’ll cook for you if you clean my house. I’ll watch your kids while you mow my lawn. I’ll fix your car engine if you repair my leaky roof. There is somebody out there who has the skill you lack, or is willing to teach you if you want to learn.

In fact, on youtube, that’s what we are doing. You can find a class on just about anything you want to know. Coding, cooking, canning, candlestick making – it’s all there. What a fun time to live. We can try anything. If we find it isn’t our cup of tea; we can try something else.

Just don’t give up.  There are no limits. There is bound to be something that you will really enjoy. No longer must we stay committed to doing something we hate just to earn a living. There are no gold watches, guaranteed retirements or even reliable social security. So let’s play folks! Next time you think you want or need something, try bartering for it. I’m sure you have something someone else wants or needs! Let’s start doing less of what we dread and doing more of what we love! It will eventually turn the tide!

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Should I Stay or Should I Go – Hurricane Irma

We were here in central Florida during three back-to-back hurricanes Charlie, Francis and Ivan, not to mention the more recent, Matthew. We were very glad that we stayed. A tree branch pierced our roof during Francis and being here enabled us to move the furniture and block the hole, minimizing the damage. If we had evacuated, rain would have been able to pour into our home for the hours or days it may have taken to return.

Preparing for a hurricane is very similar to preparing to go camping. Just plan to glamp in your own home. If you approach preparation as an adventure and protect children from over dramatized news reports, your family will learn to prepare without stress.

We have always encouraged our four children not to panic. A person can be respectful and awed by storms without being afraid. That is probably why all of them naturally gravitated to jobs as first responders. Firefighter, EMT, Paramedic and RN abilities make them the people you want to have in your corner during an emergency.

So here are my top ten suggestions for how to prepare for Hurricane Irma:

  1. Water. If you have a tub, fill it. This is toilet water, to flush the toilet. If you don’t have a tub, grab some containers – 5 gal pail, several gallon jugs, whatever you can find. Before the storm you can buy containers if necessary. Fill them and leave them on the floor by the toilet. You will NOT flush every single time during this camping experience, save the water to flush when necessary. Also, fill drinking/cooking water containers. Some people will want to buy bottled water, but remember that if you drink your household water, you can also just fill containers with this water. A gal per person per day for three to four days worth is recommended. Freeze water in your deep freeze or refrigerator freezer and this will help the appliance stay cool when electricity goes out AND provide more water when it thaws. Remember that stores will reopen after the winds calm down. Life will return to normal and roads will eventually clear.

  2. Light. Solar lights, flashlights, batteries, candles. Whatever you are comfortable using, just have it easily accessible. That’s the key. You don’t want to be asking, “Where is the flashlight?” in the dark. You have plenty of time to check your light sources and place them in a convenient place.

  3. Clear debris. Walk around your house before the bad weather arrives and stow things that could fly – children’s outdoor toys, lawn furniture, your gas grill, trash cans, potted plants, etc. Bring them into the garage, or secure them so they will not become projectiles.

  4. Safe zone. Identify the safest spot in the house – an interior hall, bathroom, or place without windows. If the hurricane comes in the middle of the night when you should be sleeping, drag your mattresses and/or comforters to that spot and have a cozy camp out. Read aloud or play a board game with your kids. Parents should model how to remain calm in a storm.

  5. Shoes. Know where your shoes are. Just like a firefighter keeps his boots ready, you want to know where your shoes are. It is hard to run outside or address an emergency in flip flops.

  6. Food. Storms rarely last longer than 24 hours, so food during the storm is not all that important. Fun foods, peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, bagged popcorn or cookies can lighten the mood for children. If the electricity goes out, it’s a good time to eat the ice-cream! After the storm, however, more nutritious food will be desired. Think about camping foods for three to four days. If you are prepared to camp at home, this will help you stay off the roads and not add to the public chaos as clearing the storm debris begins. We have a camp stove and several propane tanks that allow us to cook right on the porch. It’s a great time to cook any freezer foods in danger of thawing!

  7. Cash. When the storm is over, stores may open, but restoring electricity takes time and ATM’s and store card readers may not work. Having some cash may help.

  8. Luxuries: These are not necessary for survival, but they help make glamping at home more fun. Wet-wipes- makes life easier and cleaner without using up your water. Books! Fully charged electronics – they might last until the electricity comes back on if you fully charge them beforehand! Games – especially nice with kids. Extra trash bags for when the clean-up starts.

  9. Gas. Again, you can live without gas, but it’s hard to go help someone else if you can’t get there. Top off your car’s tank if possible. We keep a gas can to be used with a generator as well. A generator is not a necessity for hurricane survival. Generators are great if you have a fridge full of food to try and save, someone with medical needs like oxygen, or if you need to run fans to cool frustrated tempers. For the most part, happily surviving without electricity is a learning experience that can benefit everyone. Generations of people grew up in Florida without electricity or AC – and thrived!

  10. Safety instructions:  When you exit your home for the first time after the storm, do so slowly and cautiously. LOOK around, be aware of leaning trees, downed electrical lines and potential dangers. Our older children loved this part of the adventure. They went out with tools and a chainsaw, rescuing people trapped inside their homes, or blocked from leaving their streets. This is when we get to see the best of humanity, people helping people.

We wish everyone a safe experience. If you must evacuate because you live below storm surge predictions or your home is surrounded by dangerous trees, than by all means go and be safe. If you live in an inland, higher elevation area, with newer trees that stand barely taller than your home, you may want to consider staying put and out of the way of those who truly have no other option than to leave. You may have to endure no electricity or AC for a time, but knowing that you let another in a more urgent situation (like the Keys or Miami) exit ahead of you, may turn your sacrifice into a blessing.

 

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Who holds the monopoly on your truth?

What? Whoa? What do you mean Jesus doesn’t love everyone?

Several years ago, I listened as a pastor of a church stated in complete seriousness, “I don’t tell anyone Jesus loves them. I think it is inappropriate.”

I don’t know about you, but my innermost being – Spirit/Heart/Soul – whatever you call that place where you-just-know – screamed out, “THAT IS SO WRONG!”

Over the next couple of years, this pastor led the church through a process of re-evaluating all the missionaries they supported, the materials used to teach both youth and adults and even selected new governing boards. He had books that he recommended and papers for each member to study. Like a lawyer, he walked all who were willing to listen through a carefully crafted systematic theology, proving his case to support the statement he had made to me earlier. It was amazing and frightening. Suffice it to say that we are no longer associated with that church.

I don’t doubt the man’s sincerity. For some time, insecure of my own incomplete theological education and swayed by his utter conviction, I listened. I really wanted to give his intellect and determination the benefit of the doubt. I rationalized his fervor, and subsequent insistent and unloving manner, to a heartfelt urgency to make up for coming into the ministry later in life and a previous career in quality control.

You keep using that word. I do not think it means what you think it means.

Truth is such an important concept. I realized as I listened and attempted to understand his interpretation of Scripture, that I also come to the Word with my own biases.  The way people think about any topic is a amazing blend of their acquired knowledge, vast or limited in scope, and their experiences, good, bad or non-existent. Each person brings that data into the committee meeting. No wonder there is not consensus!

Trying to comprehend a theology that concludes Jesus loves you to be an inappropriate statement made me wonder anew about the whole subject of theology. Since the first century there are almost 400 recognized theologians. Each one is noted for some thesis, paper or letter left to explain how we should all understand certain Scriptures and where we should stand on certain issues. Needless to say, they do not all agree. Several rose to prominence and then were burned at the stake. Only fifteen were women, leaving such weighty topics to be decided by only half the members of our species.

How can we determine truth?

I only know my answer to how I determine truth. It’s what drew me to attend seminary, attempt a deeper understanding of God and pursue desire to serve Him.  In a word – LOVE. Like much of the world, I had heard John 3:16 “For God so loved the world…” Then people I loved and trusted started showing that love. It was changing their lives, making them kinder, gentler, more peaceful. They explained that Jesus loved us all so much that He died for us. I saw evidence of this truth right before my very eyes. I wanted to be part of sharing that miraculous, life changing power.

I wish everyone could have a chance to experience that kind of love. I also believe they have a free choice to enjoy it and return it or not. If God is a loving Father, he does not force His children to love Him. Love not given freely isn’t real love. I know what I believe is influenced by my relationship with my earthly father, who encouraged me to think for myself and loved me enough to debate, but not force, my opinions and decisions.

For now we see through a glass, darkly.

What frightens me is that anyone can insist that they hold the monopoly on truth. A skilled lawyer can make a case and persuade people by intimidating and overwhelming them with pre-selected data. How sad to teach God’s wonderful love letter to His people as a document with which to judge and bludgeon each other.

I choose to believe there is Good News. There is Love without condition. (I John 4:8) There is Forgiveness for the unrepentant. (Luke 23:34) There is Mercy for the undeserving. (If they deserved it, it would be called justice). There is Grace for the unjust. (Matt 5:45). God is that loving, able and merciful. In fact, God is love.

We already know that we are imperfect people. We don’t need to be reminded of that every day. What if we treated our fellow human beings as if God’s Mercies were really new every morning? What would happen if we focused on what people did right instead of what they did wrong? What if we tried to learn where we agree instead of where we disagree? How much better could our world be if we loved, forgave, encouraged and built one another up instead of judging, chastising and tearing one another down?

 

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Are You In My Tribe?

I was reading another blog post about finding your tribe, those people with whom you resonate, who think and act in a similar manner as you do. First of course, you have to ask yourself, “What resonates with me? What excites me and makes me feel alive?” It takes a bit of introspection.

I love traveling. It’s not the mode of transportation, the airplanes, trains or vehicle that I enjoy. Sometimes that is the worst part! It’s the straining forward in the seat to see what is around the bend. I love that. I’m just curious. It’s getting out to see how other people live, what they eat, how they play, what and how they celebrate. It’s the joy of walking where they walk and seeing from a new perspective. That is so interesting to me.

I also love home, but it’s not an expansive mansion for me. I’m a cottage person, warm, tidy and cozy. I love tiny homes, hobbit holes or weird and exotic havens, filled with family laughing, talking and cuddling!

I love books, all kinds, well, most kinds, fact or fiction. I love to curl up in a comfy nook with a book and a green apple. There I travel to distant realms. I know that if actual travel ever becomes impossibly uncomfortable, I can still go to all the places I dream of in books. I love to read aloud to children and watch their eyes dance.

I love nature. Walking in the rain, strolling in the New England autumn colors, waterfalls, rivers, the oceans and beaches. Who couldn’t just gaze at these things and be mesmerized by the glory! I just can’t do HEAT – I need the shade!

I get restless easily. After I uncurl from my book reading, I need to move. I rearrange furniture, go bike riding, plan a trip, draw out a design for a house or a garden or a chair. Something creative and new. I go visit my grandchildren – that usually takes care of any excess energy I need to burn off!

So, to which Tribe do I belong? I couldn’t find one, so I decide to invent one. I’m calling it the KISS Tribe. That’s the Keep it Super Simple Tribe. It could be Supremely Simple or Seriously Simple – but I think that’s my Tribe.

Two sayings that have always followed me throughout my life are:

1. Live simply so others may simply live.

2. Use it up, wear it out, make it do, or do without.

They fit me like a favorite pair of shoes. Don’t get me wrong, I’m all for entrepreneurial endeavors, earning a comfortable living, affording your dreams and success. Just remember that success isn’t the same for everyone. The businesses we start or jobs we accept won’t look or run the same as others. The material possessions we care about won’t be identical. I have a pair of flip flops that I bought newly married;  they have traveled the world with me and are still going strong. New isn’t always better.

Keeping it simple for me means living life at your own pace. It means enjoying time with family and friends. It means sharing good books and having the time it takes to master new skills.(I have just begun piano lessons and it requires practice!) It means reading when you feel like it or being super active when you feel like it. And, not feeling guilty when you are not doing either!

I have learned from my mistakes and feel like that is my new mission in this season of my life – reminding people to keep things simple. Don’t over complicate your life. In this day and age when people are encouraged to do it all and feel totally stressed out, I am here to say don’t do it all, do every thing you want, one thing at a time. Take your time, breathe, look up and enjoy the process.

So, if you want to join my KISS TRIBE, you are welcome. We can encourage one another to Keep It Super Simple. We can absolve one another from undeserved and unnecessary guilt.  We can remind one another that life does not need to be complicated. We can share the blessings of friendship, family and fun. That’s my kind of tribal success!

Sending my love,

Melody

P.S. There are no requirements to join. If you want in, you’re in! If you want to let me know, you can, but like I said – there’s no requirement!

 

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Don’t Wait – Take Time Now!

My husband and I decided to take a year off. Our decision was prompted and encouraged by the heartbreaking news that several of our classmates went to their heavenly retirement before they were old enough to enjoy their earthly benefits. In addition to those sobering events, several close family members experienced serious illness. What a reminder that life is fragile and tomorrow is not guaranteed!

So, since life is for the living, we threw caution to the wind and decided to go camping. For a year! We didn’t have a huge budget for this. We didn’t own a camper. No matter! We decided to build one.

Here are the photos of our truck camper that cost approximately $350. To be clear, we already owned the truck!  We determined to use what we already had and go as far and as long as the money allowed. The truck already had over 250,000 miles!

Truck  camper in process. Making the frame and fitting our exiting top.

Truck camper in process. Making the frame and fitting our existing top.

Making a little side opening for Tom to stretch out his legs!

Making a little side opening for Tom to stretch out his legs! He did have rain and mosquito coverage. Like having your bed in an attic!

Here are the wings that allow us to stand upright when the camper is open!

Here are the wings that allow us to stand upright when the camper is open! Sorry, tilt your head – I have tried everything to get this photo straight but – no go!

Here we are near the Jersey Boardwalk with the camper closed.

Here we are near the Jersey Boardwalk with the camper closed. See the post On the Boardwalk to hear about the side blowing out!

This is on site in NC in the open position!

This is on site in NC in the open position! We had cooking gear, a porta-potty, and even our Ipad to watch movies! Helps to park on a level spot though!

We called it our sabbatical year,  to do whatever we wished and go wherever the mood took us. We were in all the New England states and out as far as Colorado. We got to visit people we love and care about, but seldom see. We even took time off from camping to join friends in Europe for two weeks. (The economics of camping allowed us to afford the flight to Europe!)

We took our time, and when the weather grew too hot for camping, we returned to our home with AC and puttered through some of the projects we had been putting on the back burner. We read books. We hiked. We biked. We swung in the hammock. It was wonderful.

What added confirmation to our crazy plan was how often we ran into people who saw what we were doing and sighed, “I wish we could do that, too!”  We felt it was our mission to tell them, “You can!”

Anyone can. You just make a decision and do it!  It has consequences like every decision in life. Maybe you won’t be adding anything to your IRA or ROTH during that time. Maybe you’ll even have to leave your job. It’s up to you. You do have choices in this life. You can make your own path. Maybe it seems scary. There will be a score of people who will advise you against it and list hundreds of reasons you shouldn’t do whatever crazy plan you dream up. You don’t have to listen to them. We didn’t. We’re still here. We had a blast! There are still jobs to be had, always work to be done.  And we don’t regret not waiting until retirement. In fact, we may even do it again!

Whatever you decide – enjoy it!

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Why I Love Social Media

I love the fact that social media connects us. It is like we all live together in one big house. When we write a post or a tweet it is like being in one of the common areas of the house, like the kitchen or living room where many conversations are usually taking place. We express our thought. Maybe someone in the family is listening. Maybe they are engaged in another conversation across the room. Anyone can participate who wants to, or not.

My nephew in California can send a thumbs up to my cousin in Minnesota who just completed another 5K race. Grandpa in Massachusetts can challenge grandsons in Colorado to a snow angel making contest and relatives in Florida can vote for the best photo! We can send our congratulations and our condolences no matter the time or the distance. We can rejoice together over a new birth and cry together over a bad diagnosis. We can Go Fund one another’s projects. We can invite one person into a quiet room and private message each other for deeper conversations about relationship woes or crazy new business ideas. We can talk to our siblings in Zagreb, Croatia or Riyadh, Saudi Arabia and even if our language is a little rusty – Google will translate the post for us! And, if we need time alone, we can simply turn off the device, like at home when we went to our room and shut the door to indicate we were not available right now.

It reminds me of the Bible verse, John 14:2, “My Father’s house are many rooms, if it were not so, I would have told you. I go to prepare a place for you.”

When we add a photo, it is like giving the person a glimpse into our room. Usually we have it all tidied up and nice, but not all the siblings care if the background looks good before they share their latest accomplishment, joke, invention, need or opinion. When there is a video it is like when your sibling bursts into your room, grabs your hand and says with urgency, “Come with me, you gotta see this!”  Sometimes, it’s worth it. You get to know which siblings to rush out of the room for and which ones to humor.

Some of the siblings are a little cruder than others. Sometimes we shake our head and wonder how that person ever got to be a member of this family! They do the same about us, wondering how up-tight, rule followers have any fun at all. We don’t agree religiously, politically or morally. Still, we share the same living space.  There are some siblings we are more willing to share a room with than others, but when we have to share with the difficult ones, something happens – we grow, we stretch, we practice patience, unconditional love, tolerance, self-control and even long-suffering.  We don’t kill them even when we are tempted to!

I think social media allows us to keep talking to each other late into the night, crossing borders, generations, cultures and all other boundaries. I just hope that Mom and Dad don’t shut it down, ordering us all to shut up and go back to sleep!

 

 

 

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Experiencing Airbnb

If you are on the fence about whether to try the Airbnb app, go for it!  We had such a wonderful experience on our recent trip that I wanted to share it with you.

Despite our rave reviews, I would like to issue a slight warning. Examine your expectations! If you take one vacation a year, are used to five-star hotels, a staff to serve you and have no interest in knowing how people in the area really live and spend their days, then Airbnb is probably not for you.  If, however, you are like me, and you peek into people’s windows while passing and imagine what they are watching on TV or what they are discussing at their dinner table, then Airbnb is, most likely, your cup of tea!

You have to think of Airbnb as staying with friends that you haven’t met yet. Just like your current friends, some will have rooms more graciously appointed than others. Some will offer you a beverage and want to sit down for a conversation and others will be scooting out the door on their way to work and wave you to help yourself.  It varies.  Often they follow whatever cues you send them about your desire for conversation or sleep. It helps if you are easy going and flexible.
Our very first Airbnb was in Leicester, England (pronounced Lester, despite those extra letters).  Steve and Jenny were our hosts and they were the best.  Hospitable and warm, they confirmed the fact that those who get into Airbnb do so because they enjoy meeting people. We were treated like welcome friends. Their home was lovely and comfortable. Although fairly unassuming from the front, their back yard was a garden oasis that they were proud to share. Their second floor guest room had obviously been decorated for the comfort of guests. It was spotless, nicely painted with calm, soothing colors and the comfortable bed had a fluffy white duvet. Curtains on the windows could be drawn or left open. There was a television and even a fireplace. We were right next to their room and we shared a bathroom. Steve went so far as to go out and get the world’s best fish and chips for us and bring it home where we were welcomed to join the family in the dining room. This was totally above and beyond since this is a bed and breakfast only, but that is just an example of how nice the people are that you meet through Airbnb. We also enjoyed our tea and breakfast toast out in the beautiful garden in the morning finding we had so much in common that we had to tear ourselves away from conversation to make our next stop!  (Thank you Steve and Jenny!)

The second Airbnb was in Bacup, England. We had expected a farmhouse, but were a little surprised that it was located right on the sidewalk by a main road, with the actual farmland on the opposite side of the street. I was imagining a dirt driveway where I could practice driving the British car with the steering wheel on the wrong side, but space to safely try that wasn’t to be found anyway on our trip! The available parking was tighter than we imagined, right up on the sidewalk. We were glad we had rented a Fiat!  The lady of this house was a busy young mom. She pointed out where all the essentials were located, welcomed us to make ourselves at home and was off and running. She had explained that it was a house in renovation, so we not too surprised that we had to snuggle under the comforter when four inches of snow fell outside the window and the temperature dropped. The room itself had nice old farmhouse squeaky floors and a cat that was a bit perturbed at our not sharing. The bed was soft and warm and we could watch the snow falling out the window, beautifully past the street lights.  Wi-fi was available, so we could catch up on our communications back home as well. We eased out in the morning amidst the hustle of getting the little boy ready for school. As we were invited into people’s homes, our goal was always to be a welcome and unintrusive guest.

We saw the family briefly the next morning, but for the most part they were located in another part of the house and we had our own space.

The third was a quaint cottage with English charm in a difficult to find village in the country.  The owner was away, so his neighbor kindly took our repeated calls for directions and met us with key and house instructions.  It was a stereotypical bachelor pad in that things were not as tidy as a hotel might be, but the room where we slept was clean, with fresh linens laid out and the bathroom was spacious and clean.

It was nice to have the whole place to ourselves and the area was quintessential British countryside. It was quiet, breathtakingly beautiful with the Spring flowers, horses and sheep.

The final Airbnb room was rented by a lad who lived with his Mom. She is the one who met us at the door and served us a cup of tea. It was a small room on the third floor with a shared bathroom. We arrived later in the evening and were tired from all our walking, so we went right to bed. We left the next morning early without seeing anyone.

The Airbnb app allows you to rate your host and they also rate you as a guest. This way people get a pretty accurate feel as to whether they want to stay at a certain place or allow a certain guest. It’s a fairly foolproof system and we will definitely do it again!

 

 

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The World’s Largest Peanut, Sam’s Tree House and The Rock Garden

It was so worth stopping to see the world’s largest peanut in Ashburn, Georgia – if only for the look on the hotel manager’s and my husband’s faces when I said to the manager, “We came here because we heard that you have the world’s largest peanut!” Do all men have hearing problems?

“Yes,” he blushed, but quickly regained his composure while my husband attempted to mask his guffaws with a sudden coughing fit. “It’s a block up the street and it’s lit up at night.”

I thanked him and before we settled in our hotel room we took the short drive up the service road to see the giant peanut! Sure enough, there it was! Mounted at the top of a tall tower, it was certainly large and shone proudly in the twinkling spotlights. I think it is made of some kind of papier mache.World's Largest Peanut  I can check it off my bucket list now! It looked even less impressive the next morning in the cruel light of day.

Next stop was Sam’s Tree House, another 3.5 hours from the giant peanut, at 360 Piedmont Street, Calhoun, Georgia. We found it as described, behind a Mexican restaurant. It was, at one time, owned built and lived it by Sam Edwards, a former aide to President Jimmy Carter. Apparently, we should have called ahead because there is nobody living in it now. The Mexican restaurant doesn’t seem to benefit from its location next to such a famous address. When asking a guy walking into the store next door if he knew anything about the tree house he answered, “What tree house? Sorry, I’m just making a delivery. I live the next town over.”

Sam's Tree house 1

So, not being the well known tourist attraction we anticipated, we just plunged onto the abandoned looking private property and took a few photos. It must have been quite a fun place to live back in the day. It just goes to prove that people in the USA can come up with some pretty inventive ideas for housing, but even being a presidential aide can’t get you the permit to keep it open!

Next stop on our tour of novel Americana was The Rock Garden off highway 53 in Calhoun, GA behind the Seventh Day Adventist Church. Just  a short ride from the tree house, it is a delightful array of American folk art. Created by what must be an army of volunteers, each structure is modeled from cement, stones, shells and bits and pieces. We spent almost two hours wandering from castle to castle, peering into the miniature scenes in turrets and towers. One pebbled path leads to a structure that is a replica of the famous Notre Dame Cathedral in Paris, France! It is nearly my height. There are bridges and moats, Scriptures and miniature people looking out at you from the doorways and windows. I kept thinking that my grandchildren would be enthralled.

Rock Garden 5 The Rock Garden 1

In this fairy tale garden, we met a wonderful pair of ladies, a mother and daughter, who had come down to check and see if the castles were okay since they had heard that the river had risen. They wanted to make sure none of the structures had been washed away. They said, “We live right over on the other side of this mountain. You are welcome to stop by.” Either Tom and I look like very non-threatening people, or these two should not be allowed to go traipsing about by themselves. They are entirely too trusting! Or perhaps, old-fashioned, Southern hospitality is accompanied by a large dose of discernment!Rock Garden 2Rock Garden 4

I would highly recommend this as a place to visit if you have gentle young daughters who love miniatures. I would be more hesitant to bring some of my more robust grandsons who may want to check the tensile strength of the roofs or inspect how well the jewels are attached to the parapets! There is a place to leave a donation for repairs, upkeep and expansion. Definitely stop to see it, if you get the chance!

 

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