Saturday, October 6, 2007

What God Did On Conference Day 3...

[I started writing this before passing out from exhaustion Friday night, so the "today" references are speaking about Friday when in regard to the conference. Some of what I say here is strong. It might step on some toes. I'm giving you fair warning! I'm so excited about how God used this "Hallway Encounter" to change my thinking about missions and my behaviour as a missionary. I'm wanting to challenge others to re-think their thought and behaviour patterns as well!]

What a week! The conference is over, and all who attended are left to try to process and absorb all of the teaching. As a volunteer my time was split between attending the conference sessions and manning my station...I was assigned to be a cashier at the upper Resource Station. I never did make it in to any of the sessions today...(I could have, but I felt like I was supposed to be out at my post the whole time) , but I'll be getting the CDs (which I just realized I never picked up after the event, because I was still working) AND the DVDs (which will be mailed to me probably in December.)

Now that I got all that out, I want to focus on how AMAZINGLY God works. I was so brought under conviction and to a deluge of tears earlier today. It was one of those divine appointments that Pastor's been teaching about.

Next to our Resource Station, was a booth that was set up by The Land of a 1000 Hills Coffee Ministry. The ministry is an outreach to Rwanda. What they have done is partnered with the people of Rwanda who grow coffee, and employed many of the poor, the widows, etc. at a very good wage...higher than what they would normally make, and they provide an outlet for those people to sell their quality products at a fair market value price and actually be able to support themselves.

One of the gentleman who works with them was standing there talking to one of the conference attendees. I was next to them pouring creamer into my coffee...minding my own business, and not prepared in the least for the paradigm shifting changes that God was getting ready to put in motion in my life in the next couple minutes. I'm tearing up even now as I think about it. Because I was positioned right next to the two men, I overheard their conversation. Boy, talk about "positioning yourself for change", Pastor!

The coffee man was sharing about when Americans go over to Rwanda (and other countries, as well) to "help the people" with their missions projects. We go over with our missions projects, our plans, our agendas, our programs, etc. And we say we want to make a difference. Now here's the part that started to really get my attention... Yet those same people will go to the markets, the souvenir places, etc. and try to talk them into charging Almost Nothing for their products. [Now he wasn't saying that it was wrong to bargain with them so long as it truly provides a win-win situation, so listen to the whole thing before you get offended!]

We who come from our society of affluence and the land that has sooo much...we get to a place where the people are just trying to survive, just trying to provide enough money to feed their families...and we'll talk them down from $5.00 to 0.50-cents and feel so good about ourselves. Yet, we may have just robbed them of the very opportunity to feed their children that day. [As I share this, the tone I'm using is actually a little stronger than what the coffee man was using. I'm conveying it the way it hit me.]

Some might say, "They didn't have to sell that item to me. I didn't force them to take my offer." Well, that might be true, but since there was no other guarantee of any income coming in, you may have been their only hope. If they didn't sell to you, there might not be another sale that day, or enough sales that day to support them. The man's point was that if we say that we're really interested in helping them, then why don't we treat them like the Word says.

I've gotten off his words a while back and I'm preaching now...I can't help it. As the man had been speak, my conversation of just 20 minutes prior to that flashed through my mind, and my heart broke. I had been talking about Sales to another Resource Center Volunteer. "Somehow" I had started talking about Uganda and our marketplace experiences. You know, "I was able to talk them down to...!" As I thought back to that the Holy Spirit brought such conviction on me, and the tears wouldn't stop.

The Word says about workers that, "the laborer is worthy of his hire," and tells us to, "not muzzle the ox." About the poor, he says, "He that has pity on the poor lendeth to the Lord, and him He will repay." Those of us from Valley Word who went to Uganda in February went there with a sincere desire to help the people. That's why we worked in the hospital and toiled to build the Chicken-Fish Pond Project. So that we could "Teach a Man to Fish." Yet, how would it be for THOSE people once they raise chickens, fish, eggs, and crops from the project if the buyers would only pay them far less than what they were worth, and maybe even at a loss to the sellers? If those were the only buyers, the chicken sellers couldn't say "no." What would they do with their chickens then?

There's no way that I can convey how all of what I've attempted to put into words has affected me and my mindset (1) as an ordinary traveler and (2) as a missionary. I re-read it, and it's so inadequate in conveying the impact that encounter had on me. In talking about it later that day with Pastor Doug, a pastor who I met there at the conference, he echoed my sentiments. He shared a story from the years he spent in South Africa as a missionary. He said that one of the most embarrassing experiences he'd had was when he had taken a visiting church group with him to the market area before they returned home.

The people who sold things in the market were the people to whom he'd been ministering and with whom he'd built relationships over a period of time. One in the group, a pastor as well, came up to Pastor Doug at the end of their shopping experience and bragged about how he'd gotten the seller to come down from the original price in Rand to a MUCH LOWER price in Rand. Basically he had talked the person down 80-90%. Pastor Doug turned to him and said, "Congratulations! You've just succeeded in taking the food out of the mouths of that person's children today! Enjoy your trinket!"

I want to challenge everyone out there who reads this. We can have our cute little slogans, like teach a man to fish, etc. But we can't empower him to do that if we want to take advantage of him in our marketplace dealings with him. If your boss walked in to you and said, "I don't want to pay you what you're making (or what you're worth). I want to get a bargain! I'm only willing to pay you half of what you're making now!" How would you react? Wouldn't be a pretty sight, I'm sure! Let's learn to empower people and allow them the dignity of earning an honest days wage for their work. My life will never be the same...I hope I've at least caused you to think about what I've shared.

Thursday, October 4, 2007

Continuation of LIVE BLOGGING from Catalyst 2007

These are raw notes, probably with spelling errors, formatting issues, etc., but it's what I can get down in print during the speaking.

Pastor Sunday Adelaja from the Ukraine. Founder and Senior Pastor of the largest Evangelical Charismatic Church in Europe.

Launching something Feb 8th to take back the US for the Kingdom of God. Do Church in a new way and go out and engage every area of culture/society: media, business, workplace, marketplace, politics, music, etc.

Speaker: Rick Warren

Stop praying, "God Bless Me," and start praying, "God help me to do what You are blessing."
Where is the Kingdom of God? It is wherever Jesus is King.
What is the Kingdom of God? God's people fulfilling God's purpose on God's planet for God's glory.
If you want Jesus to come back, just get out there and start sharing your faith. Because the end will not come until the Gospel has been preached to all people.
If you want God's blessing in your life you must get with God's agenda.

How would you feel if someone said to you, "I love you but I hate your wife."? Or, "I love you, but I hate your body."? You'd be offended.

God wants you to learn to love the real church, not the ideal church...with all it's failings and shortcomings.

The only thing that's going to last on this earth is God's family. The heavens are going to pass away. The earth is going to pass away. It's His family, that he created for himself that's going to last.

God to Moses: What's in your hand Moses? "A staff." Something that was dead became alive. Then when he picked it up again it was a stick.

When God asks you a question, it's not for His benefit.
Whenever God does a miracle it is to teach a truth.

The staff represented Moses' identity.
1. Represented who he was.
2. It represented his income or possessions. (They didn't have stocks, they had flocks! :D)
3. It represented his influence.

I want you to lay it down, your identity, your influence, your income and I'll make it alive. And every time you pick it up into your own hands again it will turn back into something dead again. From that point on it is no longer called Moses' Staff, but "The Rod of God!"

What is in YOUR hand? Your personality, your education, your position, your finances?

What did you do with my son, Jesus Christ? I hope it's that you made Him your Saviour, Lord, Master...we don't have a snowball's chance in hell without Him.

What did you do with what I put in your hands?

Forever changed and challenged by a church of 50 people in Africa "that was doing more for the poor than my Mega Church in California." That Pastor would walk 1.5 hours to the Post Office in S. Africa where there was internet, download Rick's sermons, then walk back 1.5 hours. He told Pastor Rick that HE WAS THE ONLY TRAINING he'd ever had! That challenged and brought tears to his eyes.

Purpose Driven Life..."I figured if 'it's not about me' then the money (10's of millions of dollars) wasn't for me either.

The spirit of Affluence vs. the spirit of Inflluence. Money vs. Fame. 1 Corinthians 9. Paul refused to take wages.

Stopped taking a salary from Saddleback Church. Added up all the money he'd been paid as a salary over 25 years, saved "$1000's of dollars not buying socks!" :D Became Reverse Tithers...give 90% and keep 10% to live on.

Designed a bumper sticker: "Tithe if you love Jesus, any fool can honk!"

Psalm 72 What did Solomon pray for and WHY? The Purpose of Influence is so YOU CAN SPEAK UP for those WHO HAVE NO INFLUENCE!

It's been 500 years since we've had a reformation in the church...the first one was about Creeds, the Second one needs to be about deeds. Not what the church knows, but what the church does! The arms and legs of the church have been amputated, and all that's been left is a BIG MOUTH!

1. ___________________
2. Corrupt Leadership. Don't let SERVICE become ServUs!
3. Poverty
4. Pandemic diseases. 500 million people will get Malaria this year...why do we still have that disease when we know how to get rid of it? 30,000 kids die every day of preventable diseases,
if we don't care we are saying that they can all just go to hell. Care for poor, educate the people, healed the sick, equip the next generation... [I missed a good part of this...he talked too fast]

"If we don't go out into the world where they are broken and hurting and pick up the cross...then I doubt our Christianity."

Live Blogging from Catalyst 2007, Day 2

Conference day 2. Live Blogging from Gwinnett Arena, Duluth, GA.

Speaker: Andy Stanley

The word Power...has become a new 4-letter word among leaders.
If you're in leadership you have power. You must use it in a way that glorifoes God.
Question: What do you do when it dawns on you that you're the most powerful person in the room? Confrence setting? Counseling session? Board of Directors Setting?
This is the moment in the life of a leader that shapes the character of a leader!
Youn have no idea how many people God wants to influence through you! You're fear of power might be the very thing that makes you a prime candidate for God to use you!

John 13:1-8, 12-17

1Before the Passover celebration, Jesus knew that his hour had come to leave this world and return to his Father. He now showed the disciples the full extent of his love. F65 2It was time for supper, and the Devil had already enticed Judas, son of Simon Iscariot, to carry out his plan to betray Jesus. 3Jesus knew that the Father had given him authority over everything and that he had come from God and would return to God. 4So he got up from the table, took off his robe, wrapped a towel around his waist, 5and poured water into a basin. Then he began to wash the disciples' feet and to wipe them with the towel he had around him.

What's your next move when it dawn's on you when you're the most important person in the room? What did Jesus do? He took off His robe, the symbol of His Authority, and leveraged His power for the sake of the others in the room...he stunned His disciples and made them uncomfortable at His place of humility!

6When he came to Simon Peter, Peter said to him, "Lord, why are you going to wash my feet?"

7Jesus replied, "You don't understand now why I am doing it; someday you will."

8"No," Peter protested, "you will never wash my feet!" Jesus replied, "But if I don't wash you, you won't belong to me."

12After washing their feet, he put on his robe again and sat down and asked, "Do you understand what I was doing? 13You call me 'Teacher' and 'Lord,' and you are right, because it is true. 14And since I, the Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you ought to wash each other's feet. 15I have given you an example to follow. Do as I have done to you. 16How true it is that a servant is not greater than the master. Nor are messengers more important than the one who sends them. 17You know these things—now do them! That is the path of blessing.

Jesus was saying, "There's coming a time when YOU will be the most influential person in the room, and this is what you need to do! In my moment of GREATEST RECOGNITION OF POWER...I took off my symbols of power and decided to leverage my power for the good of the people in the room."

The disciples GOT IT, they got the message in the upper room.

What's your next move when it dawn's on you when you're the most important person in the room?

You look around and leverage that power for the sake of the other people in the room! If you do anything other than what Jesus did...if you leverage your power for yourself, you're saying that you're greater than Jesus. And you're operating out of an actual weakness!

You HAVE TO ASK YOURSELF, "How can I leverage the influence that I already have for the good of the people in my sphere of influence?" As you do, you will also grow in influence. Doing this will define who you are, what the character is, of your leadership. I'M NOT GREATER THAN MY MASTER. I'M NOT GREATER THAN MY SAVIOUR. And if HIS first response was to humble Himself and leverage His power for the good of those in the room with Him...then who am I to do anything less?

Catalyst 2007 Conference Labs Highlights

WOW! What a day this has been! I'm here in Duluth, just outside Atlanta at the Catalyst 2007 Conference. There have been various Labs all day long, and, oh my gosh, they've been great. I don't have a way to share all that I heard, but I'm going to share a nugget from each lab.

The first one that I attended was called Intercultural Competency. One of the points that the speaker made was that we can't achieve an intercultural environment in our churches "just because we should," or because, "we'll look better," or because, "it would be nice." The only way we can achieve that is by realizing that we NEED an intercultural environment. She stated that if we aren't creating an environment where people are needed, feel needed, and there would be an empty hole if they weren't there, then people won't stay! If you say you want Hispanics or Asians in your church, do you really mean it? Are you reflecting a need for them to be there? And what are you doing to reach out to that ethnic group to draw them in? Any music geared toward them? Any speakers geared toward them? She made so many good points and challenged the listeners to the max!

The next Lab I attended was on Catalytic Thoughts that Catalytic Leaders Think. The speaker was the leader of the Axis Group at Willow Creek Church...a very large, growing church. One of the first questions that she asked the couple thousand listeners was, "Who is the most difficult person that you lead?" My immediate thought was, "myself!" And, lo and behold, that's what she said next. "The most difficult person that we lead is our self, and the most important person that we lead is our self!" And if we aren't leading out of a life that's overflowing with the life and vitality of God, we can't bring about change in other people's lives. There was so much that she went on to say...I wish I could just post all of my notes (but they're not real legible to most normal people :D ).

Then there was the Lab on Change Without Compromise. I don't even know where to start to share what that speaker said. I guess I'll echo his statement that, "Jesus was a walking Defining Moment, and He always called for transformation!" God is all about CHANGE. And he went on to say that when we have the attitude that CHANGE is a 4-letter word, we're actually going against God. There is one thing that CANNOT CHANGE, and that's the message, BUT the METHOD HAS TO CHANGE TO MEET THE AUDIENCE! One thing he said was that, "If the people cannot understand the truth [because of the way it is communicated] then it is irrelevant to them. In order for a truth to be relevant to someone, they MUST UNDERSTAND IT!

Well, it's late, and I have to get up in 3 1/2 hours. There's so much more to say....I'm at my CouchSurfing Hostess, Amy's, house right now. It's been awesome, because she spent 3 months in Israel this past summer and I've had a chance to look at pictures! :D :D Anyway, bed is calling!

Wednesday, October 3, 2007

On the Road Again!

Well, I don't have time for a long post (Go ahead, say it...Yeah, right! You don't know what a short post is!), but wanted to update everyone who cares...I'm on my way to Atlanta for the Catalyst Conference [], and I'm EXCITED! And, I'm in a weird mood, as my writing style, I'm sure, will reflect.

In typical Bird fashion, my trip didn't start out exactly as planned...What should have been a routine tire rotation before leaving Roanoke ended up being a 6 1/2 hour long process of getting a CV Shaft installed, and then...after breaking down on the off-ramp coming off of I-581 onto Orange Ave...realizing that the parts place sent them the WRONG PART.

Well, that shouldn't have been too big a deal, right? --oh, I seem to have gotten ahead of my story! Well, as I said, the car broke down on the off-ramp, just as I was merging onto Orange Ave. The LOUD GRINDING NOISE kinda gave me a hint that SOMETHING was wrong. Uhm, that doesn't sound too good...and then the fact that after a couple of jerking motions the axle froze...well that wasn't too good either. Even in my tired state I had a clue that something wasn't quite right!I called the shop (Merchant's Tire on Franklin Rd.) and after being lulled by their hold music I got a live person who offered to send a tow truck for me.

In the meantime, my best friend, Debbie, showed up to make sure I was OK (friend's are awesome!) and after about 20 minutes, 6 police officers in 4 squad cars also dropped by and protected me and my poorly positioned car from traffic. It was funny at the time, because there were so many of them that showed up...I kept thinking, "I hope no one from church drives by and thinks I'm being arrested or something"...yeah, tired minds think weird things! :D Well, the tow truck showed up (and so did another good friend..thanks Shelley!), and brought me and the Kia back to the shop. I sat down to wait...again.

Now the plan had been to be in Atlanta by 7pm Tuesday Night (you know...strange area..daylight...etc). I was going to look up my CouchSurfing host (Amy) where I'm staying Wed-Fri night to meet her in advance. By 12:15 I was getting the feeling that I might not make my plan happen...At some point after that I had a chance to ask the nice man (who seemed to have bad news for each customer) what the status was on my car. It was then that I learned that they were still waiting on the RIGHT part. It seems that every CV Shaft that was delivered was a repeat of the first incorrect one! The accuracy of their parts providers just exudes confidence in them!!! NOT!

Still...I had to laugh, as I am right now (at 5:10am in my hotel room in Statesville, NC multiple hours late for my 8:00am workshop in Duluth, GA. Only 5 hours away...I digress...) it was all very comical to me the whole time it was happening. That, of course, comes from the fact that when things start to happen I try to run to God first and trust in Him as my source (I think I've heard a wise man say something about that a time or two recently...thanks Pastor!). Well, several CV Shafts and several hours later, I finally rolled out of the Merchant's parking lot. It was only 3pm by that sweat! I still had about an hour or so worth of running to do before I could leave Roanoke, so I didn't actually leave town until close to 4:30pm. So much for making the Atlanta International Hostel for the night. Their Check-In Desk closes at midnight.

One fact I forgot to mention earlier is that I'd only had 1 hour sleep Monday night...go ahead, make that sarcastic comment. I know you want to! Anyway, by 4:30pm I wasn't the most rested person. I downed a bottle of the 5-hour Herbal "Keep You Awake" Stuff. Uhn-huh, sure! By the time I got to Statesville, NC my body was saying STOP! NOW! Which I did. Which is why I am here. I tried to log on to the free WiFi when I got here to send "a couple quick e-mails" (yeah...I know...), but it wouldn't let me online! Funny (yeah, Lord, funny!) when I got up at 2am it let me on without any problem...OK, so I needed the sleep.

Well, I've put in an hour and a half of work this morning and need to shut up and get on the road. So I'll update you all later on. Love to all my family and friends! Sandi

Monday, June 25, 2007

Sandi's Final Florida Vacation Entry

Well, I finally finished the Everglades entry, and...Praise God!...other than recuperating from the burns and bites we've had no major problems since then...well, except for May Ruth's two falls from that tree Friday...

When we left the Collier-Seminole it was already pretty late, and we were all exhausted. We hadn't planned on any hotel expenses, but due to the emotional and physical state we were all in, we spent the night in a hotel in the Naples area. We also got a good warm meal at Cracker Barrel. It wasn't until in the morning (Tuesday) that Rachael and I really realized how badly we had been burned. Neither one of us could hardly walk. Talk about pain! That was a week ago, and it wasn't until yesterday that we were able to stop taking pain meds every four hours around the clock. The makers of acetaminophen and ibuprofen made some money on the two of us and the kids.

There is a place called Dinosaur Playground in Naples. It is an incredible indoor playground for kids that even has a music room complete with a drum set and guitars. We took the kids there to try and make up for some of the pain and suffering they had endured the last couple days. They had a blast. Someone needs to build one up here in Roanoke or Salem. After we left there we headed towards Palmetto, FL. The boys had agreed to work with their dad one day to make an extra $100 each as our cash supply was somewhat low. We arrived at Sonny's without mishap. The guys went fishing that night and Rachael and I went to bed early. She and I spent much of the next day doing laundry...washing the swamp muck from our clothes and gear. I also had a chance to visit with my mother-in-law whom I hadn't seen in years...I guess it's been since before my divorce in 1998. She's as feisty as ever! :D It was really good to see her. I've missed her a lot, and we only talk occasionally by phone.

After the boys got done working that day we said goodbye to everyone (Mom, my-ex, and my sons' half-brother, Dakota) and headed towards Ft. DeSoto State Park. Oh my gosh! I've visited and camped in State Parks all across the USA, but this was the best one I've ever been to so far! The park covers five interconnected islands and is unspoiled by the commercialism of the nearby Tampa Bay area. It was pretty much perfect. We had two campsites the first two nights that we'd had to purchase back in January. They were the most sought after sites in the park and the Park Ranger who checked us in was stunned..."How did you get both of these sites? And for TWO NIGHTS!" Troy and I looked at him and simply said, "It was God." He looked back and said, "It HAD to be divine intervention, becasue NOBODY ever gets both of those sites at the same time and especially for more than one night!" We smiled. God is so faithful, even when we're less than obedient!

They save a few sites for walk-up registration for the weekends, and we wanted to stay Friday night as well. I got in line at 6:45 am and there were already over 20 people standing there hoping to get a site. I had to stand there over an hour with the biting no see 'um, but I got that third night! We had to move to a different site, but that was just fine. It was beautiful too. We spent our time there swimming, fishing, relaxing, and recovering from the first part of our trip. We have a lot of family within 30-90 minutes of Ft. Desoto, so we had a cookout Thursday night and invited all of our family to come out, but the only ones who actually came were Sonny and Dakota.

Saturday we packed up, toured the old Fort DeSoto, and began our trip home. We picked up a hitchhiker named Bill on I-4 and gave him a ride to the point where we were exiting the interstate. He'd hitched from California and was going to the Daytona area to do roofing work. We were glad we could offer him a ride, a cold drink, and a snack to eat. We made a detour to Apopka and swam in Wekiwa Springs, which was wonderfully refreshing. Florida Springs are beautiful. From there we headed home. I'd planned on driving all night to get home for church Sunday AM. I felt like I was starving for some good teaching. I got so sleepy, though, that I wasn't able to drive any more. Troy was exhausted as well, so I decided to suck it up and get a hotel room for the night. I was still in a lot of pain from where some skin had sloughed off of my leg and it was raw and oozing. I wanted a real bed. The Holy Spirit led us to an inexpensive, yet nice and clean hotel, and we all got some much needed rest. We got back to Roanoke late yesterday evening where my wonderful daughter, Zipporah, and her finacee, Thurston, had food ready to throw on the grill for us. It's good to be home!

Part 3- What Happens When You Ignore That Still Small Voice Inside?

When I left off on my last post I was talking about the swarm of bees around our screenroom. I know that Troy and Rachael have already given their accounts, but I've got to finish mine...because I'm back home now and if I don't finish it tonight it won't get done. And I've got so much to say!

Back to...the bees. You remember those cartoons you used to watch as a kid? The bees would swarm some cartoon character and form a big arrow as they chased the poor schmuck! That picture flashed across my mind briefly during this ordeal. That and one of those horrible movies that they used to come up with, you know "Attack of the _________" You fill in the blank with anything deadly or creepy and there's a movie out there somewhere with that name. Well, "Attack of the Bees" came to my was like a horror movie when they were swarming all around us, but there was this sick sense of comedy to the whole thing too. It was almost surrealistic.

Thank GOD for our screen room. I'm going to write to the company and let them know that their First-Up brand screen room saved our life! I had originally purchased one of those cheapie screen rooms from Kroger, but it broke on the first use the weekend prior to this trip. The boys and I had discussed going ahead and spending the money on a good one. One that was easily set up and much sturdier. It didn't come with the screen option. That was an afterthought during our last late-night Wal-Mart run before leaving for Florida. We grabbed it because of the mosquitoes (too bad we couldn't have used it in the boats!), and we've praised God for that $30 investment ever since.

It is so funny know as we look back at the scenario. I SO wish we'd had a way of filming the entire scene! Once someone got the idea (Troy, I believe) to slowly move our screenroom from under the bees' nest we moved all of our gear to the end of the room closest to the boats. Then we each picked up a corner--lifting very little--and walked the whole screen room several feet towards our escape vessels. It took a couple tries, but we finally managed to get over to relative (Ha ha!)safety where we could start to pack up the boats. By this time the bees had either gone away or back into their nest so the boys and I were able to venture out and begin packing our boats.

By the grace of God there were no more bee incidents as we were packing, and we were even able to engage in some interesting conversation with this really nice biologist who was studying marsh snakes. I thought it was funny...He's canoing around, HOPING that a snake WOULD fall out of the trees into his canoe, and all that last night in the dark as we kept dragging into the overhanging mangrove trees I was HOPING that a snake WOULD NOT fall into our raft. Again, by the grace of God, none did. The biologist, Kerry, had planned to stay where we were just leaving, so we warned him about the bees. He taught the kids a little about the different crabs and birds around us [and the history of the area where we were standing] while we got the rest of our gear loaded, and we were able to leave without further incident.

The Tide was with us on the way back towards Mud Bay. And a short way down the river we were able to catch a tow from some guys on a fishing boat. That rocked!!! Saved us probably 1 to 1 1/2 hours of return time! They towed us as far as mud Bay, which was too shallow for their size vessel to navigate, and we had a peaceful trip across the now beautiful area. We could even see the white PVC pipes we'd been searching for...imagine what a little daylight will do for you! :P Once we exited the Bay and entered Blackwater Creek again it was a little tougher going, for the boys that is, because they were pddling against the current again.

Oh, I forgot to mention the could I forget! We had all applied liberal amounts of SPF 30 sunscreen, but the sun was literally baking us. We had packed quickly, so hadn't thought to leave any cover out [and at 90+ degrees who wants to sit under covers?]. Rachael finally dug out a towel and threw it across us. We were pinned in one position for the several hours that it took us, so we couldn't move around to change which parts of our legs were exposed. The sunblock failed and we've got some nasty 2nd degree burns to show for it. In the SPF 30 vs FLA Sun, the sun was the definite winner. Mary Ruth has drawn a number of pictures since then where, as she explained, "this is us MELTING in the sun." KFC's extra crispy doesn't have anything up on us!

Only one more incident before getting back to the boat ramp...the horsefly that flew under Jed's $250 Ray Ban sunglasses...which now reside somewhere at the bottom of Blackwater Creek. If you've ever been bitten by a horsefly, you'll understandwhy he swatted at it. And, yes, he...all of us who wear glasses...should have had a strap on them. Another lesson learned the hard way. Jed tried diving for the glasses, but couldn't even get to the bottom. At least he didn't run into a gator while he was in that nasty brackish water. There's a reason for the name Blackwater Creek.

Back at the boat ramp we got our stuff loaded (as we fought with mosquitoes again!). Rachael was dehydrated. I hadn't realized that she wasn't drinking anything that day. We had plenty of water, but she was afraid she'd have to use the restroom along the way, and that was...uhm...somewhat difficult to do in a mangrove swamp. We insisted that she drink and sit while the kids played on the playground. After a lot of liquid she felt much better. We all made use of the campground shower facilities and then quickly left "The Real Florida" (see Troy's Post and picture from Thursday, June 21st).

Sunday, June 24, 2007

Part 3, LOST (actually stranded) the Everglades

So……did I say “get out of hell”? HA! Not too awful long after we left Mud Bay from being stuck, it had started to get light out. My first thought when I saw the sun was, “Oh my God, we’re going to burn to death and it’s going to get soooo hot.” Well, since it was still early in the morning, it was really not all that hot and the sun was not directly above us, so it was very bearable and actually quite nice. But it was basically mid-day now as we were setting out to leave Grocery Place, so the sun was set nicely almost directly above us. Joy!

Like I said before, the raft was incredibly hot, but we all had to just suck it up and take it. The kids didn’t really seem that bothered by it, but then again, nobody really complained about it out loud so maybe they didn’t realize they could, who knows??? So anyway we shoved off and started leaving hell behind. But it was pretty apparent after just a few minutes that hell was all around us anyway, in the form of a shiny yellow ball high in the sky. You’ve never felt hot or even helplessness until you’ve been stuck in a raft in the middle of a river with absolutely nowhere to go and nothing to shade yourself with or cool yourself off with—with three kids, who just don’t understand the situation. It was bad enough being stuffed in the raft overnight with them and trying to keep covered from the mosquitoes, but now we were broiling in the sun with no way to cover ourselves (it would have been too hot to put the tarp we used for the mosquitoes over us). Emma was squished between me and mom, and Layla was tired and cranky, and Mary Ruth was the only one of us who could move around at all, she sat on top of all our gear. But poor Emma and Layla were cranky and squished and HOT. Beads of sweat poured down all our faces for hours.

Thankfully not too long after we set out, there were a few guys in a motorboat fishing. I thought, “Oh, wouldn’t it be nice if they could tow us back to the van?” And it was right after that that Troy asked, “jokingly,” “Hey, could you guys give us a tow?” At first they thought we were really joking and took it as just that, a joke, and laughed a little bit. But then we started to paddle by them, and they got a really good look at us and saw the kids, and so one of the guys asked, “Do you guys really need a tow?” I was so overjoyed, because when they took it as a joke and laughed, I could have cried. I felt like screaming at them, “Hello!! Do you see us squished here and these kids bathed in sweat?? Do you feel how hot it is?? HELLO!!!!!!!” But I did keep my mouth shut even though inside I was boiling, but I was so happy that they saw that we really did need help.

So they towed us all the way back to where we had gotten stuck before, except the tide was in so there was enough water to get through. But we were all ever so grateful that they had towed us that far. It saved Troy and Jed a lot of work, and cut a lot of time off our trip back to the van. So then we started paddling again. Oh it was so hot. Layla was so unhappy. She was writhing and thrashing around, and I felt so utterly helpless because I couldn’t do anything for her. She finally fell asleep for some of the time, and I tried to cover her with a towel we had unearthed from all our gear. She sweated very badly under it, but at least she wouldn’t burn.

Emma also fell asleep after a while, and I looked at her poor little face and it was all swollen up from all the mosquito bites. And Mary Ruth was just as happy as she could be sitting on top of all the stuff. She was hot, I’m sure, but she never really did complain or cry that much, thank God. But she did have soooo many mosquito bites all over her entire body, and as much as I wanted to feel sorry for her, part of me did not because she would not stay under the cover. But anyway…so we’re sitting there. And sitting there. And sitting there some more, the sun beating down on us constantly with absolutely no relief, no break—just NONE whatsoever at any time for several hours. It was absolute torture. And I had not drank anything since before we got stuck in Mud Bay because I did not want to have to pee. So I was dehydrated and getting more and more dehydrated as we went along. My and mom’s legs were exposed to the sun—I mean, everything else was too, but usually your legs aren’t, so they are more sensitive than anything else. I mean, we were just sitting there, not moving around in the boat, with the sun literally baking us.

I don’t think I can possibly describe how it felt. There was just no reprieve. Just imagine the worst, and that’s about what it was. So anyway, other than it being incredibly and unbelievably hot, the rest of the way back to the van was pretty uneventful, thank God. We were ever so happy to see the van. It took us a long time to get everything packed up, and just like when were packing up the boats to go to the camp site, it was thunder storming, but it wasn’t as bad as before—just ironic. Well, right after we got back, we all went and used the bathroom at their bath house. I tried so hard to carry Layla over, but I was obviously very dehydrated and I couldn’t walk or see straight, and I felt kind of delusional. So mom took Layla from my hands, I went to the bathroom, and then had something to drink. And drink. And drink. Then I began to feel better.

The kids played on the little playground for a while and I watched them while everybody else put stuff away. Then finally we had everything put away and we went and took a shower, which felt ever so wonderful. And then we were out of there, on our way to the next place. Yes, we were finally out of hell. So by this point, all our original plans we had had gone down the drain, and our experience thus far had not been all that great. But from here on out things were going to get better. To be continued…

Part 2, An Overnight Trip Into Hell, Or..."Welcome to the Real Florida!"

I think it’s funny when you go through a horrendous experience, your mind automatically tries to wipe all memory from your thoughts. The past three days of sitting on the beach swimming, fishing, and just chilling have at least dulled the pain. Last time I left you, I was covered in stinking lake mud. Of course it was brackish water, which is semi-salty and very muddy. Sitting there I though how if Mary Ruth were to wake up to me at this moment she would probably think I was some kind of monster. Rachael thought I was a monster. I had a couple hours to sit and think things through. Jed was sleeping, mom and Rachael were trying to, and the kids evidently thought it was a nightmare they couldn’t wake up from…Which perhaps was an intuitive look at our present situation.

After hours, I vaguely thought I saw some difference in the distant blur that was the shore. It looked like water? Maybe? But I wanted to be sure. So I sat another twenty minutes. And waited. Yup it was water, slowly rising. How ever it occurred to me that there was no real point in saying anything to anyone, since it was obviously going to be another half an hour before it reached us at this rate. Finally Rachael said something about the water, and I mentioned I had been watching it come in. She sounded so happy, it made me want to cry. As the water rose we set out slowly, since we were still getting grounded in the mud quite a lot. At one point we decided to leave the raft floating and scout ahead. Though our canoe was by far heavier and sitting ridiculously low, it was so much easier to scout without the huge raft dragging us around with every current. We found the way out, then lost it again when we came back with the raft. Then we found a sand bar and stuck a Tiki torch in it as a marker. Which gave the girls a chance to get out and use the uh... facilities.

The water was rising fast so I drove the torch in deep and anchored the raft off to it as we once more set out to find the passage out. This time we found it, and I left Jed there with a light to mark the channel that had been cut into the sand bar with dredges. I must admit that the next leg of our journey is a little blurry. I had been concerned about conserving our drinking water while stranded in the mud, and so had chosen not to drink anything until I was sure we were going to get out as planned. Then of course there hadn’t really been much time to do it since. And I was suffering from exhaustion. As we entered the mouth of the river, exiting from the lake, the water was surging into the lake at an incredible rate. Unfortunately we either had to sit and wait it out for another two hours, or row “up hill” so to speak, against the current. Of course we chose to do this.

Like I said I don’t remember much except at one point we were next to a tree, and we couldn’t seem to pass it. Me and Jed kept pushing each other to row faster, but for several minutes we couldn’t beat the oncoming water. After two hours of rowing, {only about a mile and a half} we were searching for the camp spot on the LEFT side of the river. Mom was certain the ranger had told her it was on the left. Good thing that Rachael really didn’t have to do anything but sit and look at the scenery, or else we most likely would have passed right on by the darn thing. Yes… it was on the RIGHT side of the river, and actually we had already passed it a little when she chose to mention the, uh, sign. We were however overjoyed to have finally reached our destination.

As we rowed to the “beach,” which consisted of an in-cut pile of shells, I wondered if this place was really all I had been lead to believe. As we closed the last thirty or so feet I began to notice dozens and dozens of what looked like huge spiders sculling all over the beach and among the roots of the closely encroaching trees. As we neared, they all seemed to disappear into dens or burrows. As we stepped out onto the shore I was much relieved to realize from a couple of stragglers that they were, in fact, some kind of crab. Later I found out they were Mangrove crabs. The, err, campsite was, small. Really we had some great question on whether this could really sleep ten? But nonetheless we pulled out our handy quick setup screen room. And after a VERY short discussion decided that we would sleep a few hours, and go back to the van. This time we were going to ride the tide. {That’s using our brains}

I lay down on the ground and fell into a deep if strained sleep. I was awakened by a strange sound, a buzzing? My mind was still groggy, but it was definitely buzzing. I heard Mom shouting to the kids to get into the screen room. I opened my eyes and stared up out the back through the screen into the trees. Mom was shouting about a swarm of huge mosquitoes? It was all so weird. I saw the swarm way up in the air, it was huge. But it didn’t look right. Then my eyes focused in closer and I saw the large honey bee nest in the branch over our tent. Or rather I saw a mass of honey bees covering something which I assumed must be a nest. “So many,” I thought, then spoke out loud, “Yeah, uh, mom, they’re not mosquitoes.”

Then they started swarming our screen room. They would swarm for a few minutes, then stop. And come back a few minutes later. We would stand at the ready to kill any that made it through the gaps. Only a couple did. So we decided to accelerate our plan to leave. I mentioned that our pavilion was free standing, so we could theoretically move it from the inside. We began piling all our gear towards the river side, and after they quieted down for a second we moved it, then readjusted our stuff towards the river again. In this manner we made it to the river completely in the relative safety of our screen room. Funny, even at the time—which was rather tense, we were still laughing at the ridiculousness of what we were doing.

We got to the shore and loaded our stuff hurriedly. After a few minutes a guy in a canoe paddled up and introduced himself as Kerry. He was a marine biologist studying river snakes in the everglades. He was also a very, very nice guy and talked to us for some time as we packed. He even let the kids look through his binoculars and gave lectures on the birds, fish, snakes, and yes, the crabs. When we finished, we said our goodbyes and began to retrace our steps of the morning. After only a few moments however, we rounded a bend and found three men fishing in a motor boat. I “jokingly” asked them if they would mind giving us a tow. At first they laughed, but then they asked us if we really wanted one. Normally I would consider this cheating. BUT, well, at this point I didn’t really care. Besides we really had earned a chance to relax.

Jed held onto a rope and the guys pulled us along. They took us to the edge of the Mud bay, which now was a beautiful lake. Other than having to tack back and forth into the wind to cross the lake, it was pretty uneventful and beautiful. The fish were insane leaping and jumping nearly into our boats. Did I mention the previous night when Jed and I had left to find the way…the second time? The entire time we had been paddling I had been in the stern providing the power, letting Jed sit in the bow steering. But for some reason I asked Jed to let me sit in the front. {I think it was so I could see} No sooner had we set out with me in the front than a school of jumping fish about 18 inches long came jumping across the surface. And one leapt right into my face. I ducked and barely managed to miss being creamed. Right after this I let Jed get back in the front. Anyway, we made it into the other river that emptied into the river leading back to the dock.

Things went well until disaster struck. A large horsefly {about the size of a peanut} flew into Jed’s face and went under his glasses, which resulted in exactly what one would think. Jed violently swatted at his face knocking his $250 Ray Ban prescription glasses off and into the water. What a sickening feeling watching them sink into the dark brown water. Jed tore off his life jacket and jumped into the swampy water, only to find it over 15 feet deep. Goodbye glasses. After that it was a more …mellow trip. We made it back to the van, and realized how badly mom and Rachael had gotten burned…2nd degree burns. It’s now four days latter and skin is falling off mom’s legs. Uh, yeah, it was that bad. The only real alligators we got to see were the ones who came to watch us pack our stuff back in the van.

Well, I think that about does it for that leg. I hope you have enjoyed reading my rather long account. I’m sorry…I think I make a better novelist than a blogger. Cheers!

Friday, June 22, 2007

Part 2, LOST (actually stranded) the Everglades

It’s the middle of the night now as we start to pull out of the mud. Troy and Jed finally realize that they’re really not sure where they’re going. So they kind of leave us sitting there and scout out ahead. Then they come back and we keep going, only to come to another spot that the tide had not filled with water yet. Troy stuck a Tiki torch in the sand here and anchored our raft to it and he and Jed waded around in the water trying to find the right way. Now, I had not peed since well before we set out on this journey, and I had to go REALLY bad. And so did everybody else. So we all got out and stood by the Tiki torch and peed. In the sand. With the mosquitoes biting our butts. But it still felt SOOOOO good to pee.

So then finally we knew where we were going, and off we went again. We just paddled and paddled until it became daylight. Oh, blessed daylight!!! The mosquitoes all got scared away by the daylight and we did not have to cover ourselves with the tarps anymore. And the kids were so very overjoyed by that, especially Layla. So now, with all of us except the kids getting hardly any sleep at all, we still had rowing to do to get to our lovely wonderful campsite. It was really quite uneventful as we searched for the site. I had taken my glasses off a while ago by now because they got so foggy and dirty and I couldn’t see through them anyway—remember that. So now we were looking for the sign for our campsite, called Grocery Place. Troy, Jed, and Sandi are all looking around for some sort of sign or something, and they are all completely missing the sign for the campsite.

[Admin note: Sandi thought the Ranger had said that the sign and campsite were on the left hand shore. Thus the people trying to find this sign/landing area were searching the left bank. The one person who wasn't paying attention to anything save sight-seeing happened to glance over to the right-bank, and lo, what light through yon window breaks? Blessed Grocery Place. Rather, Cursed Grocery Place!]

I saw it, but I couldn’t read it because I did not have my glasses on, so at first I didn’t say anything because I thought, ‘Surely they have seen the sign, and it was just not the right one.’ But I decided to say something. So I said, “Guys, a sign!” They all looked and were happy because, that was it! And I was like, “Well, the girl without the glasses on found the sign.” Yeah, it was funny at the time, it really was, I promise. Anyway, we paddled over to our campsite. As we neared the site, we started getting bitten again by mosquitoes AND gnats, or “no-see-ums.” The two combined were like hell, an itchy hell of which there was no reprieve. I would rather have been on fire because then at least I would know that I was going to die soon instead of have to wait for hours and HOURS in absolute agony for the mosquitoes and gnats to drink my blood and chew my flesh off.

So anyway, all three kids are sleeping so we leave them in the raft and everybody goes ashore to lovely ol’ Grocery Place.
The bugs are so bad that I am walking around whining and slapping my arms and face and flailing my arms every which way in an empty attempt to thwart these hellbugs from making me their dinner. It is not working AT ALL. So I duck inside the screenroom which thankfully has been put up by now. I feel like I’m about to cry and after I had just gone through I just wanted to break down. But all I did was look at Troy with a sad face and quietly say, “I want to go home.” But there was nothing he could do about it.

But we did all decide that we didn’t want to stay there that night, but Troy and Jed were completely exhausted from canoeing and staying up all night in the mud flat. So everyone except Sandi took naps in the screen room. She stayed awake to watch the kids. I was sleeping when I was awakened by Sandi telling me not to put my arms behind my chair because there was some sort of nasty flying creature right above me on the wall of the screen room. She killed it and all was well. I went back to sleep. Then was rudely awakened once again by everyone talking about the honey bees that were swarming around the screen room. There was a very loud hum of all the bees buzzing everywhere. Then I learned the sickening fact that their nest was right above the screen room. We watched in horror as clumps of them were just falling out of the nest onto the ceiling, and my stomach was in a knot knowing that if we didn’t have the screen room, we could all be dead because the bees would have stung us so bad and there would have been nowhere to go. Finally they all flew away for a little while, but then they came back about ten minutes later.

It was that we decided the next time they went away that we would need to get the heck out of there. So we packed everything up that we had taken into the screen room and moved it to the front of it. Then we picked up the four poles of it and moved it up so the back touched the stuff we had put in the front. We did that a couple times until the screen room was at the edge of the campsite at the water. Then we proceeded to pack everything back up into the boats. Then a guy named Kerry came along and talked to us for a bit while we packed up. He was trying to research water snakes for college. He let the girls look through his binoculars at stuff. He was pretty cool. So then we piled into our boats, and the raft was REALLY hot because it had been sitting in the sun. But I dealt with it, and then finally we were out of there, to row back to the van and get out of hell… To be continued…

Quick Catchup

Not going to give a lot of info here, yet, but figured I needed to post something.

So far, on this trip, we have survived Mom's driving, being stuck in the sand in the middle of no where (In the van), being stuck in the mudflats all night (In a canoe), millions of mosquitoes, killer bees, hours of paddling a canoe up river with a sail (AKA Raft) full of people and gear dragging behind catching current/wind, bad sunburns, and a couple beautiful days on the beach. Those were tough.

Anyway, will detail further at a later date. Adios!

Thursday, June 21, 2007

Part 2- What Happens When You Ignore That Still Small Voice Inside?

OK, so it's Thursday now, and I'd planned on finishing my last post much sooner than this...sorry! I've been silently agonizing over the 2nd degree (sun)burn on my legs. It's blistering up now...maybe it will go away soon? [whimper, whine, moan...] And is it time for more Tylenol or Ibuprofen yet? Sorry, no, I don't want any cheese with that WHINE, but the almost constant pain has brought me to tears more than a few times. If KFC got a hold of my legs, they'd be tossed in the Extra Crispy pile!! Ahhh, the price of enjoying another Bird Family Vacation...brings back such good memories... :D [If you haven't already noticed, one predominant trait of the Bird Family is that we're really good at laughing at our own stupid mistakes...It does more good than the alternative! :0)] I actually tried to start this post last night sitting in the screen room on our BEAUTIFUL little corner of the island in Ft. Desoto State Park near St. Petersburg, FL. We didn't stay here the whole time for what reason?!? Well back to my account of our Everglades Travels...By now Troy and Rachael have gotten a little farther along in their accounts, but I'll go back to where I left off, because we each have our own viewpoint. I hope that all who are vicariously experiencing Florida with us are enjoying your "journey!" Be glad you weren't here in person for this particular leg of the trip. Only the strong survive! When I last posted we had just climbed into the boats (one canoe and one 6-person raft.) We set out at around 9 PM-ish. It was pretty well dark and WAY too late to start...duh! My hulking sons, Troy and Jed, had the unfortunate job of not only paddling their own canoe (full of gear), but TOWING our raft with the rest of our crew and gear. Because of the way things had to be packed (and our unwillingness to do "minimalist" camping for a couple nights) and the fact that the kids had to be piled on top of Rachael and I. I was the only one who could even attempt to paddle, and that wasn't working real well either.

Now Troy and Jed are experienced canoeists, and the distance that we had to travel (approx. 5 miles) would not have taken them very long if it were just their canoe. BUT, towing an 11-foot raft laden with at least 800 lbs of people and gear complicated matters just a lit....LOT! If it would have just been a river trail it would have been great, but our path took us down Blackwater Creek through the mangroves to Mud Bay. There is a (BIG) reason that this seemingly beautiful Bay is called Mud Bay. When the tide is high it's gorgeous. But during low tide, most of the water leaves, exposing open, muddy flat areas (a.k.a. mudflats) over much of the "Bay". It took us over an hour to get to Mud Bay from where we put in at the boat ramp. Remember, we left after 9 pm. Low tide was supposed to be at 10 something!

When we got to Mud Bay we were supposed to be looking for three landmarks that are quite visible in the daytime, but at night it is almost impossible to find them. White PVC pipes sticking up out of the at each entry/exit point and one in the middle. Yeah, well... From the satellite map that the park ranger gave us we gathered that we were supposed to skirt the left edge of the Bay and go over halfway around it before finding the correct outlet. That was VERY important, because there are LOTS of inlets and outlets in the mangroves.

We knew we were having some potential issues when we kept bottoming out in the raft and the canoe. And there was no way to find the channel in the dark. Oh, and how could I have forgotten to mention the mosquitos before now? By this time they were ferocious. As I stated in Part 1 of this post, we were armed with mosquito repellent: including Deep Woods 100% DEET, Children's Mosquito Repellant, cans of mosquito repellant for our gear [the "lasts 2 weeks" kind], and even 3 Tiki torches with citronella in them. The Children's Strength Repellent (20% DEET) didn't do squat! We really didn't want to spray 100% DEET on the kids, but had no choice...well, that didn't work either! We rapidly experienced what it felt like to be at the BOTTOM of the FOOD CHAIN!!! We tried spraying the cans of Outdoor Gear Mosquito Repellent on us...that worked for a minute or so longer than the non-effective DEET.

Remember the tide I mentioned? Well, it went out completely. We were "grounded" in the middle of the mudflat. But this isn't just mud. It's the kind of mud that you sink thigh + deep in when you try to get out of the boat...just ask Troy and Jed. They tried it. We were stuck until the tide came back in! Now if it hadn't been for the mosquitoes, it really would have been pretty nice. There was this awesome alignment of the crescent moon with three really bright stars/planets. Of course the camera was buried where it couldn't be gotten to very easily in the dark. Troy's post talks about the shrimp, the blue crab, and the fish, so I won't go in to those, but there were some really cool things out there. There are pictures on the Online Photo Album.

After what felt like an absolute eternity, the water started to come back into the Bay. [God really amazes me with things like the ebb and flow of the tide and how it affects so many things.] As our vessels started to regain buoyancy we all rejoiced. It was such an awesome feeling to not be "grounded" any more. Troy and Jed unhooked the tow rope from the raft and paddled around to find the correct channel to exit the Bay. They located a sandbar that had semi-solid sand [I only sunk calf-deep a few times!]

They came back and towed our raft over to the sandbar so we could get out, stretch, and create our own little puddles (8 hours of “holding it” in a raft…oh yeah!) After a short time the guys found the marker for the correct outlet, and we walked our raft out as far as we could before getting back into it. The sandbar that we’d been standing on was already under water. It was not yet daylight, but we were at least back on our way towards our goal. The Grocery Place campsite…still about 1 and 1/2 miles down the river! I felt SO TERRIBLE for Troy and Jed. They now were not only paddling their own overloaded canoe, and pulling us in our raft; they were also paddling AGAINST the incoming tide! Joy, JOY! I only saw one alligator on that part of the trip (the boys had seen one earlier as the canoe went over it in the water.) The one I saw had just the top of its head above the water. I watched it turn and follow us for a short distance, and then it disappeared into the murky water.

Around 8 AM we finally pulled up to the one piece of real ground to camp on and drug our vessels up onto the tiny beach. The guys were physically wiped out from all the paddling, so as soon as we put up our screen room, I told them and Rachael to take a long nap in the screen room. THANK GOD for the screen room!!! I had just finished cleaning the mud out of the canoe, and the girls and I were catching mangrove crabs. I heard a loud humming noise above the tree that was over the screen room. I looked up and thought that there was a swarm of mosquitoes above us. I thought, “Great, here we go again!” Then that still small voice said, “Get the kids in the screen room, NOW!” This time I listened, and I’m so glad I did! I pushed them in, and tossed much of our equipment and supplies too. As I yelled to troy to let him knoe w that there were mosquitoes swarming, he looked up and said, “Those aren’t mosquitoes, those are honey bees. They have a nest right above our screen room!” Suddenly the area around the screen room was full of bees…it was like a scene out of a horror flick! And screen rooms don’t have floors. So we were trying to put things on the bottom of the screen panels to prevent the bees from getting in and watching the top where the screen and the canopy meet.

I’m falling asleep typing, so I’ll have to leave you hanging there. Sorry. I haven’t been able to sleep this past night because of the sunburn. Maybe it will stop hurting long enough now to get a quick nap!

An Overnight Trip Into Hell, or “Welcome To The Real Florida!” Part 1

My, my… sometimes hindsight is twenty-twenty, but, then again, you can’t see the past for the black eye it gave you the first time around. Now I know it’s been a couple days since I have written. But I honestly feel like I have more than adequate excu- errr reasons for my hiatus. June 17th was my 7th anniversary. I had originally planed to spend it doing something romantic with my loving wife Rachael. Instead we drove. We were supposed to camp out in Collier-Seminole State Park on an island camp spot called Grocery Place.

When we got to the park no one would rent us another canoe. After some thought, we rushed back up the interstate and purchased a six man raft from Bass Pro Shop. As we drove into the park I read the sign: “Welcome to the real Florida”, at which I turned and smartly quipped my wife, “Now you get to see the REAL Florida.”

By the time we had managed to get the raft inflated, all our gear packed, loaded, and in the boat it was nine at night…… yes, like idiots we decided to go ahead anyway. You see to get to our camp spot on the island we had to traverse several miles of mangrove swamps and salt marshes…And cross an inland tidal mudflat. Then only a couple of more miles of mangroves…sorry, I am fighting nausea at the memory.

First off, we quickly figured out that the raft wouldn’t even dream about keeping up with our canoe {which was so heavily laden it was barely afloat} so we took a tow rope from our van and towed the raft behind us—All 800 pounds of people and equipment. After two hours we actually found our way through the mangrove swamps, into Mud Bay. What we didn’t know until right before we started our journey, was that this whole swamp and basin was controlled by the tide. Yes, you guessed it, we have great timing!!! The water went out in a hurry and left us sitting in the middle of a “dried up lake”. And by “dry” I mean no water and four feet of mud. The helpful ranger had given us a tide chart that informed us we only had six hours to go before it came back in. Joy!!!!

So, to recap: me, my brother—Jed, my mother, my wife, my five-year-old, my four-year-old, and my not-quite-two-year-old daughter, are now stuck out on stinking mudflat at 11:00 at night. We just so happened to have Tiki torches with us, so I lit them and stuck them in the muck all around our canoe and raft. It was a sight to see, I’m sure. But, then there were the mosquitoes. We came prepared—we thought—with four types of repellent. That included the much vaunted “100% DEET.” Six hours of hell. I swear the things were catching a buzz off the stuff.

We kept using the stuff, and after a while I was afraid to use any more, for fear of using everyone else’s. So, after much thought, I asked my self, “What would an animal do?” The answer was obvious, “Mud, an animal would roll in the mud if it was being attacked by vicious bugs.” So I began the task of covering myself with copious amounts of mud, dredged from the sticky lake bottom located just an arms-width away. While I was doing this I discovered many interesting things in the mud. A shrimp jumped into my boat. And by the peak of low tide there were thousands of shrimp crowded around our boat. I also caught a crab about ten inches across scuttling near my craft. All this wonderment wouldn’t have been quite so bad if it weren’t for my three children who were having one of the worst nights of there short lives.

It was almost 90 degrees but we had tried to keep a tarp over then. However, they didn’t understand that they had to keep the tarp over them to keep from being eaten alive by the mosquitoes. Mary Ruth especially would not keep it over her. Consequently, she has so many bites on her we seriously considered taking her to the emergency room when we finally made it back. I am tired now but in the morning I will write the rest of our misadventures in the Everglades. It should suffice to say I am sitting on the beach, relaxing in a cool gulf breeze, and drinking iced tea. Oh yeah, life is good…. That is when it doesn’t suck like a fricker……anyway, there is much, much more to be told, so tune in next time to hear about:
• Being trapped on our island camp spot in a screen room by killer bees.
• Meeting the snake man.
• Paddling three hours “uphill.”
• And much more.
Oh yes, it’s my birthday now. I’m 25. And I often wonder how I get myself into these situations. Being on vacation is so much work!

LOST (actually stranded) the Everglades, Part 1 of Rachael's Viewpoint

Well, I last left you with my experience being stuck in the sand waiting for Troy and Jed to find rescue. Not long after I wrote the blog, they came with four “rednecky” type people in a big old pick-up truck and they pulled us out. When they first got to us, they drove their truck in a marsh and spun out their tires, and I was like, “Oh my God, this can not be happening! Our help can not have gotten themselves stuck!!” But they quickly got their truck unstuck and pulled us out. And guess what? We were not hardly far away at all from the big road on the tiny little road we were on. Isn’t that nice? So anyway, we got out, and we swam in a water hole that Troy and Jed and Sandi swam in a long time ago, so it was kind of nostalgic for them.

And the girls had played in the sand while we were waiting, and it looked like they had basically rolled in it, so we stripped them down naked and threw them in the hole. They at first were not too happy about that, but then Mary Ruth loved it, and Emma and Layla were okay until Layla fell down and submerged her head, which freaked her out, and then Emma did the same thing like two minutes later, and Layla fell asleep on me, naked (Layla, not me), in the swimming hole, and Emma clung to Gramma almost the whole time. But all in all, the swim felt SOOO good after waiting so long in the hot van.

So anyway, after we left the swimming hole, we went on our search for a campground. We were supposed to stay at the campground near where we got our van stuck, but it was closed, and after that experience, we really didn’t want to stay there anymore anyway! So off we went down the road, searching for campgrounds. We visited about three of them, and after Sandi decided they all cost too much money, we kept on looking. We finally found one for a reasonable price, and that’s where we stayed. It was nice, not really any bugs, and it was just pretty nice. Troy and Sandi made a Wal-Mart run for some food. I put the kids to bed, and then I chilled in the enclosed canopy thingie with a notebook and wrote some stuff while Jed played on the computer. And then after a little while Jed and I just sat and talked, waiting and waiting for Troy and Sandi to come back. Then we made sandwiches and went to bed. Little did we know that was probably going to be the most uneventful night we’d have…..

So in the morning we packed up to get the heck out of there and drive to Naples to go to Collier Seminole State Park. Well, on the way there, it was decided that we were going to eat some pizza. We spent like almost an hour searching for a pizza place, ending up in Marcos Island, some VERY rich Florida city, and they had one pizza place and it was closed because it was Sunday. We went back and forth several times through the same cities, before finally finding a Pizza Hut. Now, time was very important today, so please note the time we got to Pizza Hut at 4:00 (roundabout). We were supposed to rent a canoe, because the plan was to have two canoes and canoe down a river to a secluded campsite. So sitting in Pizza Hut we made call after call to try to find somewhere that would rent us a canoe over night. No one did.

So we had seen a Bass Pro Shops 30 freaking miles back, and decided we were going to go there and buy a raft instead of a canoe, because if we didn’t do something, our plans were shot. So they closed at 7:00 and we left at 5:30 from Pizza Hut to get there to buy a raft. So we go, we buy the raft, and then we drive to the State Park to canoe out to our campsite. By now it’s about 7:00 or something, and the sun is obviously wanting to start setting. So, time was very important to us. So we get there with our canoe and our raft and start packing up. And a thunderstorm comes. So here we are trying to get all our stuff packed in these two watercraft and there’s lightning all around and wind blowing. And I’m thinking, “Is this really safe?”

Everybody assures me that it’s completely fine. Well, we take an awful long time to get all our stuff packed, and it is almost dark by the time we set out. The campsite is about five or so miles away. So guess what we are doing? That’s right—we are canoeing in the dark through waters we’ve never been in to a campsite we have no idea where it is!! Sound fun? Okay, well add the fact that Troy and Jed had to tow our raft behind in them, because I couldn’t help paddle because the kids were all stuffed in the raft with me and Sandi. And then add the tide going out (this river feeds right in the sea). And then add the mosquitoes. Ohhhhhhhhh, the mosquitoes. So anyway, here we are paddling down this river in the middle of the night, dodging the branches hanging out over the shoreline, trying to keep the raft straight so it doesn’t pull too hard on the canoe. And trying every so desperately to keep the kids happy. HA!

Eventually the mosquitoes got so bad that Sandi gave me a tarp to cover up me and the girls with. Well, the girls did not like being covered up by the tarp because it made them sweaty, but they also whined and complained about the mosquitoes.
And Layla—ohhhhhhhhhhhhhh, Layla. She was tired, being eaten alive by mosquitoes, did NOT like the tarp being over her, so I had to endure the mosquitoes without the tarp until she fell asleep so I could put it back over us, and then when she woke up from SOMEthing, God knows what, she would writhe around and scream and scream and SCREEEEEEEEEAAAAAMMMMM!!!!!!!!! Until she got so exhausted from that that she would just stop in some random position and sleep. It was NOT fun. For me or for her.

And poor Emma suffered in silence. Every time I looked at her, she had a bad face on and tears were rolling down her cheeks, but she was trying to so hard to keep quiet. And Sandi had the huge job of keeping the raft straight, and the girls talking and crying and moving around so much were really getting on our nerves, and we both lost our tempers quite a few times, including me screaming at Layla and threatening to throw her overboard, to which she responded to me with more screaming, to which I responded to her with a huge hug and tears because I had gotten that mad.

Then finally, there was a lull. All three kids were asleep and we were covered with the tarp so the mosquitoes wouldn’t get us. I tried to get a few winks of sleep, but it was nearly impossible in the uncomfortable, twisted up position I was in with three kids laying all over me. But I did, just a little. And then I realized we had stopped. And Troy and Sandi were talking about a sand bar. I woke up and realized that we were actually stuck in the middle of a large part of the river in the sand. We had left too late and the tide was now going out. We had run aground. Which meant only one thing—we were going to have sit there in the mud and wait until the tide came back. I couldn’t believe it.

So I watched as the water continued to leave the river, feeling this sick hopelessness deep inside me. Then, the mosquitoes came. Oh, we thought they were bad before… HAHAHAHAHAHA!!!!!!!. There were literally MILLIONS of them and each one that came up to us MUST have been going home and telling all their friends and family about the marvelous cook-out they were having in the middle of the river. The mosquitoes were literally eating us alive. Sure, you’ve heard that expression before, but this was the real thing. We were doing our best to keep us and the kids underneath the tarp, but they still didn’t like it and Layla threw a fit every time she realized it was over her. But we couldn’t let them stay out of the tarp because as soon as you lifted it off, you were covered in at least 20 mosquitoes in a second, and more several seconds later.

So here we are in the middle of this river in our canoe and our raft, trying to stay covered with tarps so the mosquitoes didn’t eat us alive, our three Tiki torches stuck in the mud to try to ward off the mosquitoes, Jed completely covered in his sleeping bag and curled up in a ball in the end of the canoe, and Troy, who did not have a tarp to keep safe from the mosquitoes, covered himself with the mud from the exposed mudflat. He didn’t know what else to do, so that’s what he did. He also wore mosquito netting over his head, too. So, needless to say, he looked pretty scary! And we had to wait until 4:00 in the morning for the water to start coming back before we could go anywhere. It was the longest wait of my entire life. We waited for about five and a half hours, just sitting there like that, with the mosquitoes getting angrier and angrier as they realized they could not get us because we were covering ourselves. They were!!! Their buzzing was so obviously an irritated and annoying and angry buzz. They were dive-bombing our tarps, trying to get in!!! So then finally the tide started to come back in, and we were able to pull out. Only to discover that we did not really know where we were going…

To be continued…

Tuesday, June 19, 2007

What Happens When You Ignore That Still Small Voice Inside?

Well, it's Tuesday, and we're all just getting a chance to post today. I'm sitting in a Super 8 motel room after a good night's sleep...A great change from the night before! [Before I go into any details, I want to assure everyone that we all made it back OUT of the Everglades in one piece. No snake bites, no alligator bites.] As the title of my post should imply...things have not all gone well in Paradise (a.k.a. our Florida vacation). As many of you know, we had planned for months to include a canoe trip and camping in the Everglades as a part of our vacation. And, before I go into the now somewhat humorous, but at times nightmarish journey, let me preface what I'm about to share with the following: I would certainly go canoing down here again, BUT [all VWM people will know what that word means :0) without children along for the journey and with something a whole lot stronger than the 100% DEET that we had with us.

We thought we'd done some decent planning for this part of the trip. We'd researched online, bought a book that included a section about the Collier-Seminole Stae Park, and even made phone calls to them. And, other than knowing that we'd need to rent another watercraft once down here, we thought we'd brought the supplies we'd need. Those supplies includedDeep Woods 100% DEET, cans mosquito repellant for our gear [the "lasts 2 weeks" kind], and even had Tiki torches with citronella in them. We also had a 10 x 10 screen room [more about that lifesaving piece of equipment later...]

We arrived in the Naples area early enough in the day that things SHOULD have gone well. But in trying to locate a place that would agree to overnight canoe rentals we ran into a snag. Now, back in the Roanoke area there are places that will rent canoes and kayaks overnight without any question. Not the places in the Naples, FL area though! We finally ended up driving back up I-75 almost to Ft. Myers to the Bass Pro Shop we'd passed to buy a 6-Person Raft. By the time we got to the State Park a storm was rolling through (imagine that in Florida!) and it was getting close to dark. The park officer told us that is was pretty late to be starting out, not only because it was a long (~5 mile) canoe ride, but also that a part of the canoe trail ran through Mud Bay (shudder...) and when the tide when out the bad would dry up into a mud flat. I was feeling sa growing sense of uneasiness as we were loading our canoe and raft. Those of you who know the Lord (and attend VWM) will understand what I mean when I say that I got that "scratchy feeling" inside. And I really felt impressed that we weren't supposed to head out that night. BUT...there's that "but" word again! BUT, not being willing to spoil (haaa!) the trip for others, I quietly voiced concern and loaded up into the raft anyway. (Can all VWM Family say, DUH to that brilliant move?!)

Time snuck up on me, it's time to check out of this haven...more later. Someone else will probably get to this before me, but I'll finish my account later today.

Sunday, June 17, 2007

The Fourth Gospel (Day 2, through Troy's eyes)

Wow, so yesterday was the first day down here, and what a day it was. To start with, I’m not a big fan of mapquest. And after yesterday I'm REALY not a big fan.After being lead down a series of progressively less navigatible “Roads” we eventually got to the soon to be NFS 51. if any of you have ever driven in sand dunes, up and down side to side, then you will be able to picture the driving condition. “But wait, there’s more!!!!” now add palmetto’s and scrub brush so close to the side of the road, that at several points we simply had to gun it to force our way though. These are full sized tree’s mind you. Still in all for the majority of this section it was fun. Our huge 16 passenger van sits so high, that we rocked and pitched like some tiny ship in a tempest, or a friggin awesome rollercoaster. I was feeling pretty confident in moms driving, and was impressed with how she had handled some of the tight spaces {though a bit over cautiously} so I was about five seconds to late to ask, when she merrily plowed into the deceptively calm looking sand pit. “Mom, do you uhh….remember how to drive in sand?” {whump} back axle hits ground. “No I don’t” well in the end we only spent a few hours stranded there, Jed and I decided to head for the primitive campground we were supposed to be heading for. And hopefully find some to pull us out. After all we were only .25 miles from it!!!! Curse you mapquest! three and a half miles later, we finally reached said camp. And were greeted with a sign proclaiming “Open October 1- June 1” it being the 16th of June we were…. Disheartened. No biggie, we’ll just walk back the 3.5 errmmmm .25 miles and tell every one. Well we prayed that god would send us some one to pull us out. We had no signal on any of the three phones in our group no signal on the computer, and figured we would be out here some time if we had to wait for some one to find us. As we walked Jed pointed excitedly is that a Truck? And sure enough we could see the back end of a truck sitting on the side of the road. “Yes! Proclaimed some one there will have to ba able to help us.” When we got there it was rather bazaar. After taking a closer look it appeared that some time the night before someone {insert drunken redneck name here} had been traveling down this road at a ….high rate of speed. At this speed they didn’t see the 36” diameter log laying across the road, which they hit at said high rate of speed. The end result was they snapped off the log with enough force to completely snap off there front end in the process, and pushed the log some forty feet. Then bounced over the log and slid sidways another 40-50 feet be for coming to a stop 16 inches from yet another fallen tree that surly would have skewered the vehicle. The note read, in scrawl. “ChArlY _____ Be bAcK In tHe MorNin!

Well no rescue there but shortly after that we heard the roar of a ridiculously over powered engine and new help was on the way. {or maybe charly} we were rescued by four guys in a huge jacked up truck, who seemed to think it was quite funny that we had some how gotten our massively over laden Van down NFS 51 “Why did you ever go down there?” well in the end it was fine, Rachael and mom had a good time typing, and the kids played with there buckets and shovel in the sand. After we got pulled out we got to swim in the blue hole. A local swimming hole spring, that was more black than blue.

But the awesome thing about that, was that the last time we had been there was 1989 when I was a mere 7! Wow it was really cool to see it again, I Remember catching a tiny turtle about the size of a quarter. Once again God kept us safe {in spite of the devil and all his wiles…. Mapquest} and we had a very enjoyable time. Anything less than this would be …. Well boring. And to any of you who know our family, this is all routine. At least it didn’t happen in a 72 datsun pickup that runs on propane, right after a hurricane….. today we head down to our next destination. As Jed so affectionately put it. Florida’s very own alligator petting zoo. The Everglades oohhhhh yeah!!!!!

Day 2- From Rachael's Viewpoint

This is my first entry into our blog, and I’m typing it up in the van like everybody else has done, except we are sitting here “stranded” after Sandi tried to drive through some sand, but she didn’t make it. Troy tried to ask her if she remembered how to drive through sand, but he asked her a little too late, as she drove right through and got stuck. But it’s all good, I mean, it’s funny, in kind of an ironic way. I just got back from taking a number two in the woods, bringing my toilet paper with me in a Ziploc baggie and a big knife in case I had to cut a snake in two if it tried to bite my exposed buttocks. Oh yeah and then I had the joy of burying my poo—yippeee!!! But please don’t mistake my sarcasm for disdain at the current situation. I am still having fun. The girls are playing in the sand behind the van, and Mary Ruth was rolling in it and they’re all pretty much covered in sand. It’s hot as hell (well, maybe not, but it’s pretty hot) but there is still a nice breeze every once in a while that keeps us fairly cool. Now, let me tell you the story of how we got here. Soooooo we Map-quested Hopkins Prairie, which is where we were going to camp for a couple days of our vacation. Well, DON’T EVER MAPQUEST SOMETHING MORE THAN 100 MILES AWAY FROM WHERE YOU LIVE. Because… took us the back way on a dirt road for 3 and a half miles, and then we turned down another dirt, uh, road that was filled with bumps and tree trunks and all that sort of thing. We’re driving through trees and our van is barely making between them. And actually it was all really fun and the kids were having a blast, but then, yeah, we hit the sand and poof! We’re stuck. Sooooooooo, yeah. But, it’s all good, not a big deal. The only people who are probably not having a lot of fun right now are Troy and Jed, because they had to walk to the campsite we’re trying to get to to see if there’s anybody there who could come help pull us out of the sand. They’ve been gone for about an hour, and they had to walk in the sandy trail in the sun, not even knowing how far we really are away from the campsite. So they’re probably not having a whole lot of fun. But anyway, so far, our trip had been pretty uneventful until this, and I anticipate many more wonderful adventures in the next eight days!! :O) HOORAY FOR BIRD VACATIONS!!!!!!! :O)

Day 2...Sandi's Version

Well, it's Day 2 of our trip. We got as far as the Florida State Line EARLY this morning and then had to stop for a few hours for a nap in one of the the always safe Florida Rest Areas. I awoke to the gentle (Haa!) snoring of my eldest child. The sun had just risen, and it was a beautiful sunny morning. We've made great time despite leaving home so late. We had a yummy breakfast of Krystals and are getting ready to get back on the road.

Kickin' back, chillin' in the van. It's noon right now and really hot.(Yeah, I know I just said I was chillin'. That was figuratively.) Remember that old saying that starts out, "The best laid plans of mice and men..."? Things were going REAL good, TOO GOOD, up until aout an hour ago. We were driving along the dirt "road" that is called NFR 51 (you'll have to check out the pictures!) dodging tree limbs, tree trunks, fallen trees, biting deer flies, and so forth. You know..the usual Bird Outing type of things. We came out of the woods and into the sandy part of the road through Hopkins Prairie. Just as we hit a really soft, sandy spot in the road, Troy thought to ask me if I remembered how to drive in the sand...wish he'd asked me that a couple minutes earlier--before I buried the rear tires in the sand! Oh, did I mention that there's no cellphone or Wireless signal out here? Yeah...and no people either. For a long way away! So what do you do in the middle of nowhere when your van is stuck in the sand? Throw up a tarp for shade, let the kids play with their bucket and shovel in the sand...(Maybe they can dig us out?) and do some writing for the blog. Sure, I can't upload it right now, but it's a great time to put my thoughts down while they're still fresh! Aside from that, our trips are always an adventure, so there's no telling what might happen next! I wouldn't want to get behind in writing!

The guys have set out to try to find help. We're hoping that there is someone at the campground (a very PRIMITIVE campground) that might be able to pull us out. Until then...we just wait! It's actually comical...and we've had vehicles stuck in much worse places in the past! Hope you enjoy the pics when we finally get back to civilization to upload! Things could be a whole lot worse. :0)
Addendum: Well, we're sitting at a campground right now. The boys' entries will fill you in on the rest of the story from earlier.

Friday, June 15, 2007

On our way!

Ohh yeah! how sweet it is to finally see months worth of planning and anticipation coming to fruition. this afternoon after attending Mary Ruth's graduation, we finally managed to get out of Roanoke. In true Bird family fashion....several hours behind schedule. Some how I, being the most grammatically and phonetically inept, get put on blogger duty. No prob, i like to talk! So far we have had a very {and thinking back to many many many trips} very good trip. mom is apparently the only person allowed to drive our new van. Which I've affectionately dubbed "The Flaming Bird Wagon" Or "Ark" for short. I guess my Commercial drivers license and years of experience don't count. Its ok though, other than getting lost in a Burger king parking lot. we have had no "Navigational" errors. And other then being 7 hours late, we seem to be right on schedule. I'm sending up a pic that Jed's boss John, so nicely snapped of us as we left. I look forward to sending a stream of pic's, movies and blogg entries. I'm gonna hop off here for now. see you guys later!