Week 23-  Feb 13 - 19 Week: Ups and Downs

This week started with the second half of our “Spring Break” in the Orlando area.  After we met up with the Burritt family last week, we planned to visit their winter church on Sunday.  The young church is called Celebrate Church in the Disney planned community called Celebration.  Creating the “perfect” town was one of Disney’s dreams and he worked to realize his dream in this town.  The service at Celebrate was upbeat and we soon realized that the tight worship band was led by music minister Andy Chrisman of the popular Christian group, 4Him. 

Nate especially enjoyed the Burritt’s son John, a home-schooled junior.  John’s dream is to write for a magazine that critiques electronic games.  Getting together with John a couple of times to talk computer games and link up their Gameboy computers was a special memory for him. 

We planned to have another down day enjoying a Sunday afternoon hanging around the Disney Fort Wilderness campground.  As we were heading to the tennis court, Leah got going too fast on the unicycle, fell forward hurting her arm, and scraped up various parts of her face and limbs.  As the arm swelled during the afternoon we decided we should check it out, and sure enough after a few hour waiting ordeal, the emergency room x-ray showed a fracture.  

One of the benefits of our adventure is that we have to practice flexibility almost every day and we are learning to deal with trials and emotional disappointments together.  This week provided several opportunities for practice with Leah’s accident and some disappointing news that Nate received from the home front.  It is a blessing to all be together for the kids to be able to learn from us and to learn to work together to support each other during trials! 

Monday and Tuesday were set aside for our last two days of visiting the theme parks.  After Monday morning at MGM, Brenda took Leah to get a permanent cast put on while the rest of us went to the Blizzard Beach water park.  (Leah wasn’t terribly interested in the water park anyway, so the whole arm ordeal had minimal affect on our plans!) 

We also set aside the evenings for the Magic Kingdom night parade and fireworks, then MGM Fantasmic shows on our last two days.  As we waited for the very efficient transportation system back to our camp, I was glad that this would be the last Disney crowd herding line we would have to endure!  Even though it was still a couple of weeks before high season, the crowds were still more than enough for my liking… 

We had a great time in Orlando, but were all ready to move on toward the Naples Gulf Coast area and get back to our adventure.  We stayed for a couple of days at Collier-Seminole State Park.  State Parks are usually beautiful, but we haven’t stayed at too many since they rarely have full hookups for the RV.  Also, State Park sites are more apt to be heavy wooded and block our satellite view for our precious internet connection!  Being in this part of Florida at this time of year, we were just fortunate to find any place to stay! 

The whole family enjoys beachcombing so we checked out beaches on Marco Island Wednesday afternoon and Sanibel Thursday after schooling.  We have several ocean and shell guides that the kids use to identify their prizes!  Brenda and I were excited to revisit Sanibel (our honeymooning spot sixteen years ago) and share it with the kids. 

The fall hurricanes hit Sanibel and the adjoining Captiva island especially violently.  While the community has worked hard to rebuild the buildings, Captiva still looks like a war zone in places.  The trees and plants will take many years to recover fully. 

One of the beaches we walked on Sanibel had experienced a red tide the day before.  A red tide is the result of a bloom of microscopic algae K. Brevis, that produces potent neurotoxins resulting in fish kills.  On this beach we got to see many types of the Sanibel ocean life that had succumbed to the toxins including flounder, shark, puffer fish, angel fish, and more.  Earlier in the trip Jenna had been keeping track of types of road kill we’ve seen, now we tried a different twist with sea kill… 

The red tide also affects people.  Even just being around the ocean air the day after, Leah, Jenna, and I immediately noticed a dry cough and shortness of breath.  As soon as we left the island, we were fine.  The whole phenomenon was fascinating.  

We headed east on Friday to make it to the Keys yet that day.  Instead of taking the famous “Alligator Alley” expressway across the state, we took the other, more southerly Highway 41.  The road was fine for Harvey, even though it is only two lanes, and went through the Big Cypress Reserve in the Everglades.  For miles we drove with waterways and swamp on both sides. 

We stopped at a boardwalk where there were a dozen alligators basking in the warm sun.  A National Park volunteer told us about alligators, and we enjoyed seeing cormorants, great blue herons, and anhinga (prehistoric looking birds) seemingly on every branch.  Nate later counted over two hundred alligators as we drove!  Alligators like the freshwater and the brackish water, and then as you head south into the saltwater Keys area, it switches to crocodiles. 

We arrived at the home of Roy and Sue Bogue on Plantation Key mid-afternoon… what a story of God’s provision: 

Our trip itinerary is very fluid, and we have always made reservations when we get into an area.  (The only exception was our Disney Fort Wilderness week which was made back in August.)  As we got closer to Florida, we soon realized that at this time of year the snowbird invasion was in full force and the RV parks had absolutely no vacancies. 

Enter Laura Hagen.  After the Star Tribune feature about our adventure, we received many e-mails, one from ex-Eden Prairie resident Laura.  A few years ago, her family decided to sell their home and bought a 43 foot boat on which they did a nautical version of our adventure.  They have since settled in the Keys and invited us to meet up with them on our journey.  When she found out we were having trouble finding a place to park our RV, she contacted the Bogues, friends from her church, and they graciously offered to have us park in their side yard for our days in the Keys!  The added bonus was they have four kids, and their two boys Jonathon and David are close to Nate’s age!  Roy is a deputy with the sheriff’s office and Sue is a teacher who left the profession to homeschool her own family.  We have already had some great discussions about education in its different forms! 

Once again we are humbled by the generosity of the people we meet on this adventure, and thankful for the special brotherhood and sisterhood of other believers around this country!

On Saturday, we enjoyed a leisurely morning with the two families playing together at the nearby high school fields.  Nate helped teach the boys how to fly our stunt kite and we enjoyed being out in the perfect Keys weather.  Later in the afternoon, Roy took us all by boat through the Keys out to Indian Key, an historic state park only accessible by boat.  As we boated nearly ten miles toward the island through the blue-green water we saw dolphins, rays, barracudas, and tarpon. 

In the 1830’s a Jacob Houseman established a town on Indian Key, a ten-acre island.  He used it as his headquarters for salvaging cargo from ships that wrecked on the dangerous reefs in the surrounding the Keys.  It was kind of a shady business, as they even put fake lighthouses out to increase their business… 

We returned that evening and Roy and I picked up some roasted chicken at a local Cuban grocery.  It was another one of those cultural highlights going into the store and getting our chicken from the Cuban deli guy as he danced to the blaring Salsa music from his radio, happy to be finishing his work on a Saturday night. 

The week was incredibly full, and even with some challenges, our family weathered the lows to enjoy a whole new set of highs!