January 30, 2013
Our Story…. Well, it’s really more about our journey – not the one we’ve already had, but the one we are just beginning! One year on the road, Man, Woman & Dog aka Jeff, Kate & Bleu – add in a 40ft RV (Vinny) and Rubi the Rubicon with the dual mission of seeing as much of our glorious country while serving our way from one end to the other. We are certain of pretty much next to nothing other than keeping our arms and legs in the vehicle at all times because the ride is going to be wild. Packing up your entire life and downsizing from 3000 to 300 square feet, figuring out how to get your mail (still gotta pay those bills), get your house rented, keep the koi alive in the pond out back, stay connected to family and friends (thank you Apple Technology and SKYPE) not to mention learning all of the ins and outs of RV life while wrapping your brain around the fact that this is “vacation” and you won’t be going “home” any time soon!
We decided after packing up the house to head for a warmer climate (say good-bye to 15 degrees and HELLO to 75 degrees of sunshine with a slow cool breeze). The intent was rest and restoration as we acclimated to life on the road. That was our plan instead we got schooled in a few things: 1st lesson, who knew so many things can and WILL go wrong. Three weeks in and we have had 3 water fiascos (not bad, one a week) – bursting ice maker hose, a faulty sprinkler positioned strategically near an open window (down goes the dining room table) and then the BEST – Washer gets stuck, floods the gray water tank (stick with us and you will learn all about fresh, gray and black tanks) we arrive home to a torrent of water gushing out of the back half of our rig, except what that really means is our master bath and bedroom. So, do you call the plumber, the electrician, washer/dryer repairman or carpet guys to suck out all of smelly water? We settled on the carpet guys after a call to our friendly dealer for advice. All is well once again in this awesome home on wheels.
We’ve had some highlights and low lights (Loved our first RV Park in Naples, FL but less than impressed with our digs in Fort Lauderdale). 2nd lesson, never commit yourself to a long stay in a park that doesn’t offer a refund. Our stay in Aztec RV Resort felt more like we have been transported to high-class living where everyone was trying to out do their neighbor (check out the stone lion statues below). Out of 600+ sites available we have seen about 10 license plates from the US with the rest being from Quebec. Not a lot of smiles around this place – the smile is universal even if we do not speak French :-). But all was not lost, we had several great evening with Joel and Donna Piekarski – thank you for showing us the sites and sounds in your “hood” and being our very first dinner guests. Jeff probably could have done with out the deep-sea adventure, but he is pretty sure being a fishing boat captain is now definitely scratched off the list for future career options!
The other upside was our decision to take advantage of our extra time and start our serving.
Dignity – perfectly describes our impression of Boca Helping Hands. The first serving day provided us with trial by fire (so similar to our Intro to RV living). Immediately upon arriving for duty we were up to our armpits in cutting tomatoes and cantaloupes galore all the while meeting a steady stream of volunteers. For the most part we felt like the kids until late in the afternoon as most of our fellow volunteers revealed ages in the 70’s, 80’s and even Mel at 92! As we listened to their individual stories we found ourselves in utter admiration at the energy levels displayed – yep, we were shamed and up 30 minutes earlier the following day. We felt so fortunate to be out on the front line day one. Greeting our patrons, sharing a smile or friendly banter we realized very quickly that our service did more to fill our heart and lighten our spirit then probably any excursion we might have enjoyed in Florida that day. We were fortunate to get another day serving in the pantry portion the following day. I primarily worked with Carol and found out that she volunteers EVERY DAY – it was pretty tough work unloading pallets of boxes loaded down with every grocery store item known to mankind. Boca helping hands is fortunate to be located in an area with close access to Whole Foods, Publix and Winn Dixie – most items are donated free but other items are purchased at $.19/lb. This day of serving once again found me eating a fair bit of humble pie. The stuff I was unpacking would have been the very items I would consider “bad” and throw in the trash. Jeff experienced the same while putting together meat bags for distribution. I can honestly say I have made a few different decisions as a result of our experience – it helps that the refrigerator in our RV is about 1/3 the size our one at home!
We are pulling out of Florida tomorrow (1/31) and heading off to Hope Hull, AL for a week of serving at Chucks House which is a part of Christian Missions Unlimited (CMU). Jeff has been friends with Chuck Connor III (his Dad founded CMU) for quite a few years but this will be the first opportunity to come and check out his ministry and actually roll up our sleeves and do some work. We will be living on a Farm that is literally named “Chucks House” in honor of Chuck Connor II. We have no idea what our assignment will be but we are beginning to realize that is most likely going to be how it goes for the Simpsons. We are truly living out “The Difference a Day Can Make”!
(Still the 30th )
NAME THAT BLOG!
Jeff, Bleu and I are a little over three weeks into our yearlong adventure and are super close to launching our blog but would love our very creative friends and family to throw out some names. Our year on the road will include exploring as much of the US as we can, extended time with family/friends and serving within the communities we visit. Let those creative juices roll – winner winner will get a chicken dinner. Seriously, Jeff makes the BEST chicken on the Big Green Egg or the Baby Egg that we now travel with :-)) If we are not going to be in your neighborhood you can check the mail for your prize.
And the winning submission – Me, You and a Dog named Bleu (as submitted by Jamie Piekarski). It was pretty close on most of the entries but this was the first submission and we kept going back to it – once we saw the youtube video of “Me, You and a Dog named Boo” it was sealed!
Thursday ~ January 31, 2013
All Roads Lead to Montgomery, Alabama
No one ever said it was going to be smooth sailing however. On the morning of our departure a cable snaps in the Jeep and renders it un-towable. Patience and a good attitude is all we can cling to at this point – refusing to believe in bad mojo :-). Although the fix for Rubi delayed our departure by 5 hours we were OTR once again. Driving was smooth sailing and all went well for our nights stay in Walmart (yes, folks we can officially share that when traveling from one destination to the next we squat for the night in Walmart parking lots).
Friday ~ February 1, 2013
King of the Road
We had a great day of driving listening to 60’s and 70’s on XM. As we are taking in the sights and sounds of Alabama we are realizing things are just a little different – people think we have an accent!
We arrive at “Chucks Place” and get a quick lay of the land. Although there is a house open to us we opt to stick it out in Vinny. Bleu immediately transitions from RV dog to Farm dog and begins to explore and pee on everything he can – 150 acres worth – yeah that is a lot of liquid!
Brrrrr the temperature is dropping…actually it was a record low of 22 last night and of course our precision temp unit goes belly up (that would be what produces the heat). We at first do not know what the problem is but we do know that the heat is not kicking on but my MacGyver like husband cranks up the burners on the stove and warms Vinny right up….2nd service man is heading on out to the Farm. Turned out to take a week to fix but except for sleep we move into the farm-house that is a balmy 70 degrees so who can complain.
We pretty much just spend the next few days settling in and learning more about Christian Missions Unlimted (CMU), Chucks House, Common Ground and House to House. Common Ground and House to House will be our main service projects for the week; two organizations literally based within the projects, in one of the poorest neighborhoods of Montgomery – Washington Park. We learn that our mornings will be spent on a work site that consists of three houses being demoed and rebuilt and our afternoons will be spent at Common Ground in their afterschool program.
How handy are your painting skills? For the people in my life that understand my big bold statements and God in all of his Grace and Humor (yes, Humor) this will bring a smile to your face. During my last painting adventure of a bathroom that should have taken 2 days and stretched to several weeks –I said to Jeff, “I HATE painting and I will NEVER do it again. Anything else in this house that needs painting, plan on hiring someone”. Yep, out of 4 days of serving I had a paintbrush in my hand for every one of them! Take away – never say never because it will most likely happen.
House to House (http://h2hwp.org/housing/) is a great organization with a heart for building community to evoke lasting change. They build or rebuild homes and then make them available to a family in need for 1 year. During that year the family is mentored on how to balance their household budget and pay their bills on time and upon successful completion they will be able to secure a loan and buy the home. H2H is not only putting family’s back in homes but is also equipping them to become a mentor family themselves. It was quite a privilege to see first hand how they are transforming Washington Park neighborhood one house at a time.
Are you smarter than a 5th Grader? The answer is, not really :-). Math hurdles aside, working with the kids brought a beautiful mix of challenge, joy & heartache. We learned that of 100 students served each day only 1 student has a 2-parent household and all others are being raised in single parent homes. Seeing the male students gravitate rapidly towards Jeff somewhat answered my yet to be asked question as to which parent was most frequently absent. By the end of the first afternoon they were requesting Jeff flex his muscles and challenge them to a push up contents.
In my short time of working in the first grade classroom I learned very quickly that scholastic enrichment is not all that is taking place, as each day ended with the affirmation taken from the movie The Help, “you is kind, you is smart, you is important”. Depending on the day, once class was over it was off to either Bible study or an elective that may include painting, basketball, gymnastics, ballet, martial arts or guitar. I had the pleasure of observing the ballet class – bundles of sweetness dancing around in their pink tutu’s and in that moment I truly hoped they felt important! The purpose of each section of their program is geared towards building character, social and life training skills and I thought “for six-year olds” but I learned very quickly that even at six they are being lured by the drug dealers to house parties that have hot dogs, bouncy houses and an intro to selling drugs – HEARTACHE.
It does feel overwhelming when I try to sit back and soak it all in, but in reflecting on how each program worked it was never just one person trying to solve every problem, but instead an incredible group of dedicated workers and volunteers choosing to put a stake in the ground and trust that no matter how small or large their individual effort will work towards lasting change.
From Montgomery, AL to Montgomery, TX
How many days in a row will it rain 6…4 of which were days BEHIND for heading out to Texas. Didn’t make any sense to head out when the storm was originating in Houston. Not to mention that where we were parked on the farm we were starting to sink in just a bit and any movement could have Vinny stuck in the mud – that would be considered a “bad” adventure! Our delay though unexpected allowed us to attend church in Pratville, AL and see Chuck play the drums during worship. Jeff and I realized how much we are missing community (that would be all of you)! God must have know how much we needed to share in fellowship as we enjoyed long discussions over leisurely breakfasts with Chuck and a few nights with his lovely wife Rachel joining in. Since 1970 CMU has built over 300 churches in Brazil and they are now expanding into the Dominican Republic and Mexico. Hmm next adventure for the Simpsons…we’ll have to see about that!
We do eventually make it out of Alabama and into Louisiana and ultimately Texas but we definitely have had some adventures along the way, stay tuned. Its our plan to update weekly moving forward. Thanks for all of the encouragement, I can now catch up on Facebook and stop dodging all of the “where’s the blog” comments :-).