Full-Time RVing – Reflections on Our First Eight Months

Today is our 8-month anniversary of being full-time RVers. We thought it might be a good time to reflect on our experiences so far, and answer some of the questions we’ve been asked.

What do you like best about being full-time RVers?

Lil Jan: All the different places we’ve seen and people we’ve met. I’ve learned so much about our country…its history and people. I’ve gotten to see places I have never been and re-connect with family and friends around the country.

Big Steve: After many years of having the Air Force tell me where to live, what to do, and what to wear, it’s been great being able to go where I want to go, do what I want to do, and wear what I want to wear. (Although Lil Jan still tries to tell me what to wear.) I’ve also enjoyed having time to write…and not having to weed around the yard.

What do you like least about being full-time RVers?

Lil Jan: The traffic is occasionally a pain. It’s sometimes hard for me to relax and enjoy the ride. I also miss taking baths on a regular basis. (I mean in a bathtub…I do still shower!)

Big Steve: Travelling through narrow construction zones…in cities…in traffic. I also miss teaching my Bible classes at FCA. Having to manage 18GB of monthly Internet data via a Jetpack (for 4 people) versus previously unlimited data at home has been tricky a few times.

Lil Jan: We’ve frequently taken advantage of the free Wi-Fi at McDonald’s, especially for heavy data items, like uploading pictures for the blog for Steve and watching movies and updating my Candy Crush game.

Big Steve: Suprisingly, I don’t miss cable. We had already weaned ourselves off of most TV. We have a Roku or get a Redbox to watch the occasional movie, and catch some sporting events on local channels or at a restaurant.

RV3

So are you retired?

Lil Jan: Yes, in a sense…at least temporarily. We may go back to work when the money runs out…or at least Steve will! We’ve read blogs of full-time RVers in their 70s and 80s. One of their biggest regrets is that they didn’t start sooner. Some of them can drive to the Grand Canyon and look at it, but their health doesn’t allow them to hike it. We want to do this while we can still hike it and really enjoy being there.

Big Steve: Yes, in that we’re not being paid to work and we don’t have a place of employment to report to every day. However, we’ll be doing a fair amount of unpaid, self-supporting mission/volunteer work in the next few years. That’s still working…or serving…just not getting paid. So I guess it depends on what you mean by retired. We’re certainly not sitting around twiddling our thumbs.  The recent Habitat work was physically more challenging than any of the paid work we’ve done over the past 2+ decades.

Chillin'
Chillin’

How many miles have you traveled so far?

Big Steve: Hmmm…close to 6000 in the RV, 2000 in the Fit, plus a few thousand on plane trips. We’ve also been on boats, trains, trolley cars, and dozens of hikes. So I really have no clue.

How do you make it work financially?

Lil Jan: We live frugally most of the time. We’ve had friends and family put us up occasionally, which helps…thank you Grandpa, Jas & Rach, Hamms, Butlers, DeBoefs, Madduxes, Wallaces, Fields, Diamonds and Stumnes! Staying at Wal-Mart parking lots occasionally and at less expensive state parks and military campgrounds also helps.  We don’t really have expensive hobbies, like golfing. Of course, we do LOVE to eat out, especially to enjoy whatever the local cuisine may be. So that can get a little pricey, but we just try to be smart about it and don’t eat out every day.

Big Steve: A government pension certainly helps…the reward, I suppose, for serving our great nation and being uprooted about every 2-3 years for the first 45 years of my life. Without the pension, it would still be doable, but I would need to find a way to work and make money while RVing, which many people do.

Lil Jan: We also are empty nesters, and our two sons’ projected college costs came in way under budget.  Without that, we wouldn’t be doing this…at least not yet.

Big Steve: Also, aside from gas and eating out a bit more, our living expenses are less than before…no lawn care, pest control, pool maintenance, cable bills, pet bills (Mandy’s dead), HOA fees, property taxes, etc. We store our few possessions at my dad’s condo and Janet’s sister graciously handles our mail…so no fees there. We have a loan payment for the RV, but it’s much less than our mortgage payment was. Our lone utility bill, propane gas, has run us about $11/month so far.

Lil Jan: We don’t spend much on “stuff”…because there’s no place to put it. The same goes for clothes, which for me is kind of a bummer.

Big Steve: If you look closely at our blog photos, you’ll notice I go through about the same 10 shirts. My plan is to give blood quarterly, get the free t-shirt, and thus upgrade 40% of my wardrobe annually!

H2O Time
H2O Time

How many nights have you spent in Wal-Mart parking lots, state parks, etc?

Big Steve:  Our 238 nights as full-timers can be broken down as follows:

Nights with family members (including my parents while my mom was sick):  50

Nights in friends’ homes/guest houses:  46

Nights boon-docking (free, with no hookups), including Wal-Mart parking lots:  34

Nights at military RV campgrounds:  30

Nights at non-military RV campgrounds:  29

Nights at state parks:  27

Nights at dad’s condo:  14

Nights in a hotel/resort:  8

That means that we’ve only had to pay for lodging about 40% of the time.  Even then, the lodging is reasonable…around $20-$25 for state parks, a little less than that for military campgrounds, and even less than that when camping at sojourns and Habitat projects.

You’re in a 32’ RV. Don’t you get sick of each other?

Lil Jan: All the time

Big Steve: What?!

Lil Jan: Just kidding! Actually, this hasn’t been a problem at all. It helps when your spouse is your best friend and you get along. If I need some alone time, I go lie in the bed and close the sliding door. If he tries to enter, I dial 911.

Big Steve: It also helps that we stay active. We are rarely in the RV all day. And it’s just big enough that we can have separate living areas if needed, or sit out under the awning…or go fishing.

Lil Jan: Or go hike in the woods for six months.

Big Steve: Yea, that too.

Our Next RV
Our Next RV

Are you happy with your Thor Windsport 31S? Any problems with it?

Lil Jan: We’ve been really happy with it. There have been a few issues, but nothing too major. And it’s still under warranty so that helps. Any time you drive a house with thousands of parts and systems down an interstate at 65 mph, there will be some problems. They had to replace my side window because it whistled. And the wardrobe bar has broken twice…because the circle hook that holds it up is plastic…and Steve says I have too many clothes! We replaced it with a metal circle hook and that seems to be working so far.

Big Steve: I love the size and layout of the RV. It’s big enough to be comfortable, but small enough to be relatively nimble and fit into most campgrounds. We can sleep 7, even though I don’t think I’d want to do that often. I also like the tow package and towing the Fit. When we get somewhere, it’s easy to disconnect the Fit and get much better mileage in it around town and on side trips. The biggest problem occurred when we tried to plug the RV into a friend’s house’s electrical system…don’t do that unless it’s wired correctly. That fried some gadgets…fortunately under warranty…but that was on us. My biggest complaint is the locks on the side storage bins. I wish they were higher quality and more reliable. I may upgrade them. First world problem.

Funniest moment, so far?

Big Steve: When we left Florida, we spent our very first night in a Wal-Mart parking lot in Perry, Georgia. This was the first time we had spent the night at a Wal-Mart and we were a little anxious about it. We pulled into the mostly vacant side of the parking lot, with just a couple of truckers nearby. I awoke the next morning and went outside and discovered that we were part of the outer perimeter of a flea market! That’s right, some non-profit group apparently has a monthly flea market on Saturday mornings, and decided to use us to finish off their rectangular alignment. I started laughing and went inside and asked Lil Jan if she wanted to go to a flea market. She said, “Sure.” So I had her step outside and there it was and we were part of it. Good times!

Lil Jan: That same night, at the Wal-Mart parking, we had an incident involving a frog. It was quite hilarious. One of Steve’s earliest blogs was about that. You just never know what’s going to happen when you’re out on the road.

Big Steve: Recently, I asked a friend of ours, Caroline Diamond, to sew a mannequin torso for me, then add a Frankenstein head. We place it in the driver’s seat of the Fit while we’re towing it, with its hands attached to the steering wheel. That gets some good laughs and thumbs up from people as they drive by.

Franky in Tow
Franky in Tow
Tailgate Da Johnsons at your own risk
Tailgate Da Johnsons at your own risk

Worst moment, so far?

Lil Jan: We got lost while hiking at Maquoketah Caves State Park in Iowa. We were out of water, it was hot, there were no signs and I was about to enter my 5- mile complaint zone. That got a little dicey. The iPhone compass came in handy that day and my sweet husband became my hero as he led us out of the woods.

Big Steve: Obviously, the time we spent caring for my dying mother was very special, but very difficult. Had we not been full-time RVers, we wouldn’t have been able to help her and my dad for so long. God orchestrated all that.

Best moment, so far?

Lil Jan: A difficult question, as there have been many great moments. But I’d have to say our son Kyle’s engagement to Laci. That was an amazing day and an amazing moment. We were so pleased that he decided to include us in that special day!

Big Steve: Agree. It was special, and not just because of Lil Jan’s spandex pants.

Considering this Mod
Considering this Mod

That brings us to your blog. How’s that working out?

Lil Jan: It’s been a lot of fun. Steve writes most of them. He loves writing as much as I love reading. But I help him with suggestions and editing and write a few myself. He works really hard on them and I hope that people take the time to read and enjoy them. It’s interesting to read the comments on them and see how many “hits” they get.

Big Steve: It’s probably my favorite hobby, along with hiking. I love researching places, talking to people, and trying to capture our experiences in a funny or engaging way. I don’t measure success by number of “hits”. However, I’ll admit it was really cool, and unexpected, to see the blog on racial harmony get over 5000 views. Apparently, someone announced it at my father-in-law’s church, and it went mini-viral from there. I don’t even know that many people. And the one on Kyle and Laci’s engagement got 1000 hits in less than 24 hours. That one was the most fun to write. Others, like the campground reviews, are more for us…just to document and score campgrounds we’ve stayed at for future reference or use by others considering visiting those places.  I wish so much that I had a “blog” or diaries of my great-grandparents or other ancestors.  So maybe our future generations will find some of our experiences somewhat interesting.

So will you turn the blogs into a book?

Lil Jan: He should. Several people have told him that. Most recently Damon Daniels, a friend of ours from Brandon, looked him in the eye after church and said, “You need to write a book.” He’s talked about writing a book for a long time even before he started blogging. The thought intrigues him…who knows maybe one day you’ll see his picture on a book at the bookstore!

Big Steve: Actually…I probably won’t. First off, I’m not sure the material is strong enough, and my grammar ain’t the best. English was my least favorite subject in school. While I love writing stories, I would hate the process of trying to get a book published. The editing, marketing, copyrighting processes…ugh! No thanks. I blog because I love writing, and hopefully can inform or encourage someone, or at least make them laugh. I’m not in it to make money, which is why you won’t see ads on our web page. So, while I won’t rule it out, I doubt seriously I’ll attempt to write a book.

IMG_2386

You recently traveled the entire length of the Mississippi River along the Great River Road. What’s next?

Lil Jan: Our first two months in the RV were mostly about caring for Steve’s mom and dad. The next phase was mostly about us…enjoying the sights and sounds along the Mississippi River. On December 6th, we entered a third phase, and our focus shifted more toward helping other people. We did some disaster relief with Habitat for Humanity in Tuscaloosa.

Big Steve: We are members of 3 groups: (1) the Sojourners, a mission of the churches of Christ. This is a group of mostly retired Christian RVers who travel the country and do mission work for small churches, Christian schools, children’s homes and church camps. I wrote a blog about that mission. (2) The RV Care-a-Vanners…a group of RVers who do Habitat for Humanity projects around the country. I’ve also written a blog about that. And (3) The church of Christ Disaster Assistance mission…a group of Christians who respond to natural disasters by compiling, boxing, shipping, and delivering relief supplies to disaster areas.

 Lil Jan: So we’ll be working on at least 3 missions with the Sojourners next year…2 in Florida in January and February, and 1 in Arkansas in September. Not sure when we’ll do our next Habitat project or if we’ll get in on helping the 3rd group with disaster relief next year…it kind of depends on when and where the disaster happens, and whether we’re available. Stay tuned.

 Big Steve: So between these three groups, occasionally checking in on our aging parents, and some overseas mission trips, we should stay pretty busy. If that’s being “retired”, so be it. But we’re going to be working pretty hard. We’re more like unpaid, working gypsies.

Anything else?

Big Steve: Oh yea! I’m going to attempt to thru-hike the Appalachian Trail next year, starting in mid-March. It’s been a major life-long dream and bucket list item. I’m excited and a bit anxious. Please pray for Janet and me as I take this on. More on that in a future blog.

Lil Jan: Yes, and while he’s out rummaging through the forest and trying to not get attacked by bears, I’ll be visiting family and friends around the country. Steve will come off the trail for a week in May for Kyle and Laci’s wedding and I plan to meet up with him a couple of times during his hike when he enters a trail town.

Big Steve: Just for conversation…purely platonic in nature.

Lil Jan: Right.

Will you shave when you come off the trail for the wedding?

Lil Jan: He better. He’ll be in wedding photos. Those photos will be forever!

Big Steve: There’s some debate over that. Kyle has suggested the photos would be more memorable if I have bushy hair; my sad, white, prickly mangy beard; and maybe even my backpack on. Lil Jan would like me to shave and clean up. I’ll probably ask Jason to cast the deciding vote.

Final question: how long will you live like gypsies?

Lil Jan: Good question. It’s difficult to say. Probably when it stops being fun. That could be a few years or several years.

Big Steve: I’ve given up trying to predict what path God will direct us to next. I suspect at some point we’ll re-establish ourselves in a community somewhere and go back to living like normal people…or as normal as Johnsons can get. That may take the form of a cabin on a pond or with a view of the Smoky Mountains. I also like the idea of having 4 seasons, but with winters that are not too long or brutal.  It also might be interesting to live among the Amish and churn butter and learn how to grow a beard.

 Lil Jan: It will also depend on where our sons end up living, and when the grandbabies come along. It will be tough going back to a normal 9 to 5 job.

Big Steve: And tough having the same view out the same back window every day, regardless of how nice the view is. But we’ll make it work.

Lil Jan: We never thought we’d be called to do this. So who knows what God might call us to do next? That is what makes life interesting.

Big Steve & Lil Jan

 

 

 

 

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H4H Tuscaloosa: Rollin’ with the Tide

“You cannot help with a burden unless you come close to burdened people.”

– Timothy Keller

“I’m in my car at corner on McFarland. Milo’s Hamburgers isn’t there anymore. Hobby Lobby is the only thing still standing at Woods Square Shopping Center. Big Lots, Full Moon Barbecue — piles of garbage where those places were.”

– Phil Owen, Tuscaloosa resident

Years ago, there was a small chapter of Habitat for Humanity in Tuscaloosa, Alabama. They built a couple of homes each year, making home ownership affordable for families who would otherwise find that out of reach. That all changed during the late afternoon of Wednesday, April 27, 2011, when a large, violent, multiple-vortex EF4 tornado struck Tuscaloosa, Birmingham, and small communities in between. The 1.5-mile wide tornado was one of 355 in the 2011 Super Outbreak, the largest in United States history. With estimated maximum sustained winds of 190 mph, the tornado cut through the heart of Tuscaloosa, devastating everything in its path. Along its 80.7-mile path of destruction, the tornado leveled subdivisions and businesses, killing 64 people and injuring 1,500 others. Among the 44 people killed in Tuscaloosa were six University of Alabama students. The $2.4 billion of property damage made it the costliest single tornado in United States history at that time. A month later, the Joplin, Missouri EF5 tornado caused $2.8 billion in damage.

Tornado Strikes Tuscaloosa
Tornado Strikes Tuscaloosa

After the first responders responded and the initial shock wore off, it was time for Tuscaloosa to rebuild. With this enormous need facing the community and an influx of donated money and grants, it was time for the sleepy little chapter of Habitat to put on its big boy pants. They added staff, ramped up their volunteer program, and began disaster relief on a large scale for such a small town. They began building homes in communities that had been leveled by the tornado. They did rehab and repair work on homes that could be salvaged. And they continued working in other areas of town where people needed a helping hand to be able to own their own home. Since the tornado, Habitat has had over 15,000 volunteers from 50 states and 6 continents join in on the rebuilding effort. They are now building 14-15 homes each year, and recently finished work on their 100th home.

Tornado Destruction
Tornado Destruction
Neighborhoods Leveled
Neighborhoods Leveled

We rolled into town as RV Care-A-Vanners, a group of RV-owning volunteers who travel the country working with local Habitat for Humanity affiliates. The organization has a nifty web site showing the location and dates of scheduled builds around the country, how many RVers are needed, and how to sign up. As Tennessee Volunteer fans, spending two weeks in Tuscaloosa is no easy task. It’s like having posters of the guy who stole your girlfriend all over your house. Tide fans have been on the mountaintop celebrating multiple national football championships for the past several years. Tennessee has won six national championships, but the last one came the year President Clinton was impeached. Alabama has beaten Tennessee nine straight times. For most Tide fans, football is not like religion…it is religion. There are mall stores dedicated to all things Crimson Tide…along with Tide clothing, bumper stickers, gas station signs, and dishwasher detergent. They greet each other with “Roll Tide” in the same way normal people would say, “Hello” or “Good afternoon, friend.” Coach Nick Saban, Alabama royalty, is paid $6.9 million per year, which comes out to $492,857 per game. To put that in perspective, he makes as much for one game as 22 Tuscaloosans earn, on average, for the entire year. Yes, football is a big deal here. Fortunately, two decades of my college and pro football teams being mediocre, and an increased emphasis on other pursuits, have caused sports to drop a notch or two on things I lose sleep over. While you’ll never catch us saying, “Roll Tide,” we don’t mind rolling with the Tide when it comes to disaster relief and helping a community get back on its feet.

Shanequah's New Home
Shenequah’s New Home

On a Habitat project, you never know what type of project you’ll work on, what tasks you’ll be assigned, or who else will join you on the team. We spent our first three days in west Tuscaloosa working on a house that was nearing completion. From the start, I could tell this Habitat affiliate had strong leadership, great teamwork, and its collective act together. Our team leader began with a prayer, and then told us about Habitat in general and this home in particular. The soon-to-be homeowner, a single mom with a young son, would receive the land for free and a zero-interest mortgage on the home itself. Future owners are required to work 250 hours on the project (or other Habitat projects), which helps involve them in the process and have a sense of pride and ownership with the finished product. In addition to the future homeowner, our team members included five young Mennonite men, an AmeriCorps worker, Alabama students, and the Habitat team leaders/staff members. There were other volunteers, although we were the only RV Care-a-Vanners. Lil Jan spent her time inside painting, cleaning, and putting the finishing touches on the interior of the home. I spent most of my time outside, laying sod and landscaping the yard. One of our co-workers was a lady who had received another Habitat home and was working to get her required hours. We learned that her home was leveled and she was tossed 25 yards across the street by the tornado. First responders found her unconscious, buried in rubble and just a few inches from a power line. Now blind in one eye, she spent a month in a coma and was the last storm victim to be released from the hospital. She told me she was just thankful to be alive, and realized she had been given a second shot at life.

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During introductions, it was mildly awkward going after the Mennonites who, among other beliefs, are staunchly pacifist. They don’t believe in war as a solution to any problem under any circumstance. I resisted the urge to introduce myself as, “Steve Johnson, Air Force Retired, third-generation warmonger.” Actually, after an experience I had being screened for jury duty in Tampa a few years back, it was kind of nice falling on the war-fighting end of the spectrum. Queue the flashback… Our case involved a crime committed with a handgun, and the prosecuting attorney asked each prospective juror whether they owned a gun. As a gun owner (sort of), I raised my hand along with about 15 or so of the 30 people being screened. The attorney then went down the line asking each of us who had raised our hand to describe our weapons. The first guy mentioned several shotguns used for hunting. The next guy mentioned a bow, a shotgun, and a variety of pistols used for protection and targeting practice. One guy had a few assault rifles. One lady had a 9 mil and a couple of rifles. Another guy had a small armory and took a solid two minutes going over his arsenal of weapons. With each prospective juror, the numbers and calibers of weapons seemed to escalate, and they were all pretty proud of their collections. And then it came to prospective juror #11, Mr. Steven Johnson, who answered, “I have a high-powered pellet gun.” My answer was met with laughter by the other jury contestants, both attorneys, the judge, and even the 17-year-old defendant. In an attempt to defend my honor and avoid having to surrender a man card, I offered, “It has a scope.” More laughter. More humiliation. The defendant, facing prison time, laughed so hard he leaned forward and put his head on the table. So, needless to say, I was okay being a non-pacifist on our Habitat team, someone willing to fight and die for his country…or at least shoot the enemy’s eye out.

Lil Insulator
Lil Insulator

Actually, the Mennonite guys were extremely cool…friendly, hard working, and lots of fun. They are in Tuscaloosa specifically to do volunteer work, with Habitat and the local hospital, on 6-month rotations. They have a local Mennonite host family that supports them, and then they return home (to Canada, Idaho, and other locations) and are replaced by someone else. It’s a volunteer program, done out of the goodness of their hearts, and not mandated by their religion. It’s a pretty neat system, and Lil Jan and I enjoyed working with them and getting to know them.

Habitat Handshake
Habitat Handshake

Our second project was to overhaul and straighten up the bone yard, a Habitat field headquarters full of lumber, scraps, siding, signs, etc. We basically chased away four mice and a few hundred roaches while turning a giant mess into what could be described as an outdoor Lowes. Future teams working in that tornado-decimated neighborhood should have a much easier time finding what they’re looking for.

Miss Annie
Miss Annie

Our third project was to replace a failing roof for Annie, a nearly 93-year-old widow living on the west side of town. She told us she doesn’t have much time left on this earth, and that she doesn’t like having rain come down in her bedroom. That’s pretty motivating. With the help of young people from Northridge High School in Tuscaloosa and students from the University of Georgia, we helped ensure Annie would stay dry for however long she has left.

On this project, our team leader was Peter, a master carpenter/handyman and quite frankly, one of the most interesting and talented people we’ve met this year. I admire people who are really good at what they do, whether that’s singing, shooting a 3-pointer or building something. Peter can look at a construction challenge and in a matter of seconds, know what to do, how to do it, and which tools are needed. On top of that, he has considerable people skills, a necessity when working with various volunteer groups of all shapes and sizes. He patiently taught us a variety of new skills, including setting up scaffolding, working various power tools, framing a porch, tearing off the old roof, and laying the new one. After using a nail gun for the first time, it’s only a matter of time that Lil Jan will ask for one for Christmas. Peter used to do high-end construction projects for wealthy clients like Celine Dion, Versace and Sylvester Stallone. Once, while he was working on Stallone’s $17 million home, a delivery truck arrived from a taxidermist with a real, stuffed 17-foot giraffe. While all that was interesting, Peter’s life changed while building homes in Biloxi, Mississippi post-Hurricane Katrina. He realized his true calling was not high-end construction for fancy celebrity homes, but rather constructing and repairing homes for people truly in need. So he ended up working for Habitat Tuscaloosa and they are all the better because of it.

Peter, Master Builder
Peter, Master Builder & Cook

The Habitat team was a blast to work with and made us feel right at home. In fact, we were invited to a graduation party for an Alabama student who has volunteered with Habitat for several years. The Mennonite guys were there too, along with more than a dozen of their fellow Mennonites from a nearby Mennonite community. We devoured some Alabama barbecue and listened to the Mennonite team sing Christmas carols. Then, on our last night in town, Peter had us over for some excellent Korean food and games of banana-grams. To top off all that kindness, our RV park neighbor brought me over a belt with a giant “S” on the large buckle, because he knew my name was Steve. Although the belt is over 50 inches long, I appreciated his gesture. That night, I tried the belt on for Janet, who commented, “That’s a Big S belt,” not realizing that phrase sounds borderline inappropriate when spoken.

Roof Monkey
Big Roof Monkey
Lil Roof Monkey
Lil Roof Monkey

It was great learning several new skills on a variety of projects while helping those in need…even if they are Crimson Tide fans. It was also pretty neat seeing people from different generations, genders, ethnic backgrounds, and religions team up to be part of the solution.  The tornado dealt a heavy blow to Tuscaloosa and knocked it down, but it got back on its feet and is courageously putting the pieces back together. We thoroughly enjoyed our time rolling with Habitat and the Tide fans in Alabama, and plan to return some day. But at our core, we remain just volunteers…Tennessee Volunteers! So Merry Christmas…and Go Vols!

Big Steve

Team Boneyard
Team Boneyard

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Merry Christmas 2015!

Johnson Newsletter, Volume 28

It has been an exciting, sad, crazy, and adventurous year! But what else would you expect from the Johnsons? In lieu of mailing our regular Christmas letter, we decided to just write an “End of Year” blog with a few highlights from the year.

Spring Breakers
Spring Breakers

The first big highlight was in March when Kyle rolled into town on his final college Spring Break with 10 friends…a conglomeration of roommates, girlfriends, ex-girlfriends, and people who sunburn easily. It reminded me of a shortened season of Big Brother, minus the in-house cameras and weekly evictions. They packed a lot into the week, including deep-sea fishing and a day at Universal Studios. They are a super group of youngsters…the kind you’d want your child to bring home from college.

Catching Supper
Catching Supper
Living Near the Butlers
Living Near the Butlers

In April we sold our house, unloaded most of our belongings, and took possession of our new RV. Yes, it was time to move full-speed ahead on our dream to travel the country as full-timers. We are nomadic by nature, a by-product of being a tad adventurous and a second-generation military family. So, after 7 quite wonderful years in Florida, it was time to continue exploring that great big world out there. Ken and Syndi Butler, our friends, were kind enough to let us park the RV on their property for the remainder of the school year. They also let us stay with them for several nights as we had some work done on the RV. We learned that Ken is quite the prankster, as we were regularly met with golf balls in the bed, monsters outside windows and around corners, and other shenanigans. Just when we thought we had successfully navigated the house without being pranked, there was a bleeding, severed foot in the shower. Syndi would then comfort us and calm our nerves with a tub of buttered popcorn and a cheesy Hallmark movie (spoiler alert: they always kiss at the end).  After finishing up the school year, saying goodbye to our friends and enjoying a wonderful final send-off party, we set off on our journey.

Peggy Johnson, 1937-2015
Peggy “MeMe” Johnson, 1937-2015

Sadly, our first mission was to head to Tennessee to help my dad, sisters, and others care for my dying mom, who had been diagnosed with advanced bile duct cancer in January. We are thankful we were in a position to help and encourage them after all that they have done for us. It was also a blessing to be able to say all those things you want to say to a loved one who is nearing the end of their journey. Her love for her family, and many years of taking in people with physical and mental disabilities, has left a legacy that will long be remembered. After my mom’s funeral, we headed north for Minnesota, in order to begin an incredible journey down the Great River Road. To read more about our experiences with my mom, along the Great River Road, and since then, be sure to check out our blog at bigsteveandliljan.com. We have appreciated the 24K+ views and positive comments the blog has gotten, and based on that feedback…I guess we’ll keep telling our story.

Our New Home
Our New Home

As for Jason and Rachel, they are enjoying life in Dallas, Texas, where Jason is pursuing a graduate degree in Prosthetics-Orthotics at UT Southwestern Medical Center’s School of Health Professions. Kyle and I regularly encourage Jason in his studies with really bad and inappropriate puns about artificial limbs. Seriously, though, we’ve got to hand it to him for getting a foot in the door in his new profession. Meanwhile, Rachel is a Speech Pathologist Assistant and has several students that she works with. For more on their marriage, experiences in Dallas, and raising cats, check out the blog we did on them…A Leg Up in Big D.

Jas & Rach
Jas & Rach

Kyle is in his senior year at Harding University, where he has kept busy finishing up his Bible degree and serving as the Student Association President. The highlight of his year was taking young Miss Laci Genry of Helena, Alabama, to the summit of Sugarloaf Mountain and asking her to be his wife. To learn about her response and other partially accurate details of their courtship and engagement, be sure to check out our blog, The Great River Road, Part 17, Kyle-Laci Engagement, An Oral History. (Spoiler alert: their wedding is May 14th!) Needless to say, we are so excited to be adding another awesome daughter to our family!

She Said Yes!
She Said Yes!

Without a doubt, the best part about being full-time RVers is being able to re-connect with family and friends around the country, and we’ve done a lot of that this year. This Thanksgiving was especially nice spending time with our sons, their wife/fiancé, their in-laws/future in-laws, and the amazing Brad and Jenny Diamond family. The Diamonds are one of those joyous, loving, giving families that really epitomize the Christmas spirit, even when it’s not Christmas. Spend a week with them and you’ll not only hear the sound of world-class singing and the hum of the blender (at almost every meal), you’ll be reminded of the good in the world…despite all the negativity on the news.

Thanksgiving at the Diamonds
Thanksgiving at the Diamonds

As for our upcoming plans, we’ll spend next week in South Carolina with Janet’s family…and then spend the week after Christmas in Destin, Florida with Steve’s family. We’ll spend most of January and February in central Florida on sojourns. What’s a sojourn? Check out our blog…Mission Possible: The Sojourners. Then, on March 12, at about 9 o’clock in the morning, Steve plans to depart Springer Mountain, Georgia on a 2190-mile thru-hike of the Appalachian Trail. As you might expect, there will be blogs related to that…at least until he’s eaten by a bear. Stay tuned.

Hiking with the Genrys, Oak Mountain State Park
Hiking with the Genrys, Oak Mountain State Park
Hiking with the Diamond ladies
Hiking with the Diamond ladies

This year, we’ve experienced some heartache, as we’ve said goodbye to Steve’s mom, learned of terrorist attacks, and seen a divided nation and world become seemingly less dependent on God and farther away from Him. At the same time, we’ve also been reminded of the good out there…friends and family who have shown hospitality to us and strangers we’ve gotten to know at campsites, on hikes, at Habitat builds, and elsewhere. Despite the tough times, heartaches, and endless cycles of bad news, we’re reminded that this world is not our home and is temporary. A much, much better place awaits us and draws closer every day. That hope of something bigger and better, a place of happiness and peace, is a result of the saving work of a loving God, and the selfless sacrifice of his son, Jesus. He’s not just the reason for this season, but for every season. Our prayer for 2016 is that we will draw closer to Him, and in doing so encourage others to do the same.

So, from a van down by the river, we wish you a very Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year!

We Da Johnsons

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Gypsies of the Caribbean

“Mark well what ye saw here today, mateys, and always remember this as the day you sail with Captain Jack Sparrow.”   – Talking Skull

October 29 – November 7, 2015

Sometimes an unexpected surprise can drop right into your lap. After my mom passed away, my dad decided that he no longer wanted to pay for the Bahamas time-share that the two of them had enjoyed for many years. While calling to cancel his membership, I learned that they were already paid-in-full for 2015 and so he had one more trip coming. He decided he would make the trip so we helped him book a flight and make all the arrangements. A few weeks later he said he’d only go if we went with him, so we agreed to join him. A few weeks after booking our own flight, he decided he really didn’t feel up to going at all without my mom. Thus, we were left holding tickets for a week at a Bahamian resort. Darn the luck!

Ranchhand
Ranchhand

But first, we had some business to take care of back at our old Florida stomping grounds. Our friends, Clare and Kelley DeBoef, were kind enough to let us stay at their guesthouse, where I got to haul some wood, feed horses, and help build a porch. The guesthouse came with nice furnishings, a hot shower, free Wi-Fi, bagels and coffee, and a wild boar’s head above the commode. First item on the itinerary was to return to Foundation Christian Academy and visit our friends and my former students. We received a couple hundred hugs and toured the campus, which is undergoing major renovations and improvements. They were also kind enough to let me speak in chapel. Love that place! Next up, we resumed our 4-year long weekly hand-n-foot card night with John and Laurie Walsh…one of the traditions we miss most from our time in Florida.

What God Has Joined Together
What God Has Joined Together

Our primary reason for coming to Florida, though, was to officiate the wedding for Kristen Walsh, a family friend and former youth group member, and her fiancée, Louis. I’ve done one other wedding and three funerals…just infrequently enough to not really know what I’m doing. Fortunately, it all came together, people cried, and it was a beautiful ceremony. The following weekend, just prior to departing for the Bahamas, we had the added bonus of being invited to the surprise engagement of Brittni Walsh (Kristen’s sister) to her boyfriend, Bobby Wilkinson. He proposed in a hot air balloon over Orlando, at the same time Mike Rowe (of Dirty Jobs fame) was filming an episode of his show Somebody’s Got to Do It. So apparently Rowe may somehow incorporate them into an episode. It was a really special day and we were glad to be there to celebrate with them at the landing zone. I can only hope the video shows that when Bobby asked Brittni to be his wife, she shrugged and answered, “Somebody’s got to do it!”

Somebody's Got To Do It
Somebody’s Got To Do It

November 8-15, 2015

Our Bahamas trip got off to a rough start.   We boarded a small plane in Fort Lauderdale and sat on the very last row. Just in front of us sat a tall man of European origin with unbelievably bad body odor. I think it was the worse thing I’ve ever smelled. Worse than Boys Cabin 9 at Florida Bible Camp on day 6 after two days of rain. Worse than the bucket of spittoon juice and Limburger cheese I had to bob apples from during pledge week in college. It was so bad that I took out Janet’s scented Chap Stick and applied it to both inner-nostrils, and then we both buried our heads in her jacket for the thankfully short flight. At one point she observed, “I think he might have a problem.” I replied, “His problem is that he smells like raw sewage full of dead, rotting fish.”

Island Seas Resort
Island Seas Resort

After safely landing, my next big challenge was driving the Bahamian rental car. It seems everyone in the country drives on the wrong side of the road…an unfortunate practice established by their former colonial master, Great Britain. Apparently the islanders never got word that the right-side-of-the-road driving United States won the Revolutionary War. For me, that meant thirty-two years of driving reflexes were suddenly rendered useless. It was a terrifying 20-minute drive in the dark to the resort, with cars zooming towards us at high speeds in the “wrong” lane. I grabbed the wheel at 10 and 2, applied more Chap Stick to both nostrils, and kept reminding myself, “Stay left…stay left…stay left.”

Pool, Hot Tub, & Swim-Up Bar
Pool, Hot Tub, & Swim-Up Bar

Fortunately, we pulled into Island Seas Resort without incident and began a fun and interesting week on Grand Bahama Island. The island is one of 700 that comprise The Bahamas. The Siboney Indians originally settled it some 7000 years ago, and the Lucayan Indians superseded them between 5 and 7,000 years ago. There were about 4,000 Lucayans on the island when Christopher Columbus arrived, at which point they were enslaved and transported to work the gold and silver mines of Hispaniola and Cuba. After claiming the island, the Spanish largely ignored it, perhaps due to the treacherous shallow reefs that made landfall dangerous. The British claimed the Islands of the Bahamas in 1670 and eventually took control of it from Blackbeard and other pirates who used the reefs to run vessels aground. The pace began to pick up on the sleepy island when the American Civil War broke out. With a Union blockade and embargo in place, The Confederacy received smuggled goods from the West End of Grand Bahama. The next smuggling boon, during the Prohibition era, involved West Enders smuggling alcohol 56 miles to the coast of Florida. In the mid-1950s, a concerted effort was made to turn the island into a tropical Caribbean playground…no easy feat considering the country is technically not in the Caribbean.

Now after that history lesson, here are our Top 10 share-able memories from our time in this tropical Caribbean playground…

  1. Once again feeling the need to take a road all the way to the end, we decided to head east until the road and the island ran out. Our first stop was beautiful Lucayan National Park, home to one of the largest underwater cave systems in the world. We hiked the park and looked in the mouth of the caves, but decided not to underwater spelunk them because we didn’t want to die.
Gold Rock Beach
Gold Rock Beach
  1. One scenic Lucayan National Park trail took us to Gold Rock Beach, considered the best beach on Grand Bahama. It was stunning, incredibly scenic, and mostly deserted. We learned that it was one of the filming locations used in the movie Pirates of the Caribbean. As we walked along the beach, I began channeling my inner-Johnny Depp. I soon realized it’s nearly impossible to have deep, meaningful, borderline romantic conversation while talking like a pirate… “I love ya, matey! I’ve sailed the seven seas, and you’re the sleekest schooner I’ve ever sighted! Aaaaargh!”
Gypsies on Gold Rock
Gypsies on Gold Rock
  1. At the East End, we ate at Bishop’s Beach Bar, which came highly recommended by the locals. They were correct! The grouper fingers were delicious and turned out to be the single best meal of the week. After lunch, I saw the nearby beach hammock and yelled, “Blimey! Let’s dance the hempen jig!”
Is It Still a Hammock if Your Butts Touch the Ground?
Is It Still a Hammock if Your Butts Touch the Ground?
  1. We travelled to the Port Lucaya Marketplace, which is full of souvenir stands and restaurants, and home to UNEXSO (Underwater Explorer Society). After walking around in the sun for several hours, we stopped for some ice cream. Unfortunately, Lil Jan over-heated, turned pale, and vomited the ice cream in the Port Lucaya Marketplace ladies restroom. I wasn’t in there, but could hear a very piratey “Aaaaaargh!” I yelled back, “Aye! You’ve got chum in ye timbers, matey!”
  1. Among many possible touristy excursions, we decided to spend one day doing a Glass Bottom Boat Tour. While we looked down through the glass bottom, the captain positioned us over several reefs, thousands of tropical fish, and two shipwrecks. Apparently, the ships’ poor lads were hornswaggled and ended up in Davy Jones’ Locker.
Coral & Fish, Through the Boat's Bottom
Coral & Fish, Through the Boat’s Bottom
  1. Wednesday nights on Grand Bahama feature the popular Fish Fry at Smith Point. This beach eatery has the perfect combination of music, fun, and fish that stare at you while you eat them. For an appetizer, we had conch fritters and they were amazingly delicious! It’s hard to imagine how something that looks like an embryo from the Alien movie inside a shell can end up tasting so good.
Fish Fry, Bahamian-Style
Fish Fry, Bahamian-Style
  1. We took several long beach hikes throughout the week. One of the neatest things about Grand Bahama is that there are miles and miles of beautiful, deserted beaches. Take Siesta Key beach in Florida, add clear turquoise-blue water, remove all the people, and you have a typical beach on Grand Bahama. One of the locals told us most locals don’t go to the beach unless they’re fishing, and most tourists stay near the resort beaches. While hiking, we searched for and found several conch shells, watched some horseback riders in the ocean, and used seaweed to make chest hair. Good times.

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  1. Once again, it was time to explore the outer reaches of the island, so we headed to West End. Along the way we stopped by the Xanadu Beach Resort and Marina. Millionaire Howard Hughes purchased the resort in 1972 and lived in its penthouse floors for a few years prior to his death. It was also known as a gathering place for celebrities such as Dean Martin, Frank Sinatra, Cary Grant, and Lucille Ball. Next stop was the Pier One Restaurant where, for $10, you can feed sharks off their dock at 7, 8, and 9 p.m. A little later, as the road began to narrow with water on both sides, we began to see massive piles of conch shells. Apparently the fishermen pull the conch out to sell and then toss the shells away into piles. I rolled down the window to get a picture and immediately breathed in a brutally awful smell. As I reached for the scented Chap Stick to line my nostrils, I couldn’t tell if the smell originated from the conch shells baking in the sun or the European gentleman who was on our plane.
Howard Hughes' Xanadu Resort
Howard Hughes’ Xanadu Resort
Giant Conch Shell Pile
Giant Conch Shell Pile
  1. Our last 24 hours in the Bahamas was a combination of sad and bizarre. The sad part was learning, on our last night in town, that terrorists had killed several people in Paris. The bizarre part occurred during our final long beach hike on our final morning. While heading west about a mile from our resort on yet another stretch of deserted beach, we spotted what appeared to be a large seal in the distance along the water’s edge. As we got closer, we realized it was a local Bahamian man lying on his stomach in about a foot of water, with the tide going out. As we walked along the beach near him, he hollered, “Hey, mon, can you help me?” Apparently, he had no idea we were pirates. Sadly, my first thought was that he might be up to something. Perhaps he was concealing a knife or had some buddies in the nearby bushes waiting to jump us. We cautiously approached him and asked what was going on. It turns out the man, probably in his early 60s, had a stroke a year earlier, and likes to occasionally swim in the water for therapy. On this particular day, he went too long, got weak, collapsed, and couldn’t get up. Had the tide been coming in, he would have been in a world of hurt. We got on either side of him and turned him over, got him to sit up, and eventually helped him to stand. When Lil Jan realized he was in his boxer shorts, she muttered, “Arrrrgh! I’ve sailed the seven seas, and you’re the sleekest schooner I’ve ever sighted!” Not really. Well, he was in his boxers but she didn’t say that. Anyway, we slowly walked him over to his clothes and offered to call someone on his behalf. He declined and said he’d be fine after sitting there awhile. A half hour later, as we approached that stretch of beach on our return, he and his truck were gone.
Island Seas Resort barely visible through trees
Island Seas Resort barely visible through trees
  1. The final memory of our trip happened after landing back in Fort Lauderdale. As we descended an escalator with our luggage, an elderly couple was in front of us. As the man got to the bottom of the escalator, he tripped over his large suitcase and fell. Blimey! Two seconds later, as we scrambled towards them, his wife fell on top of him at the bottom of the escalator. Arrrgh! With the help of several people, we managed to get them and their luggage un-scrambled and upright again. They were embarrassed and she suffered a leg scrape, but nothing too serious.
Hiking with My Best Friend
Hiking with My Best Friend

We regretted that Grandpa was not up to joining us on this vacation because he is such fun to hang with. Still, it was a great week of interesting food, sights, water rescues, and other experiences. We had a delightful smelling return flight to Dallas and were happy to be back in our home on wheels. Thanksgiving was fast approaching, and that meant time to go searching for some Diamonds. Aye, matey!

Big Steve

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A Leg Up in Big D

From the lakes of Minnesota

To the hills of Tennessee

Across the plains of Texas

From sea to shining sea.

– Lee Greenwood, God Bless the USA

“As we express our gratitude, we must never forget that the highest appreciation is not to utter words, but to live by them.”               

– John F. Kennedy

October 15-18, 2015

One of the coolest things most parents get to do is watch their children grow up, and hopefully leave the nest, find a soul mate, and decide on a profession about which they are passionate. As full-time RVers, one of the coolest things we get to do is stalk our children at will, rolling into their towns to get caught up on their lives and make sure they are showering. While there is something to be said for extended families that all live in the same town, there is also something special about the time spent with family and friends that we don’t see every day. We tend to really appreciate those moments and not take them for granted.

It was time to visit our eldest son, Jason, and his lovely wife, Rachel, and that meant a trip to the Big DDallas, Texas. This year we literally have gone from the lakes of Minnesota to the hills of Tennessee. It seemed inevitable that we’d eventually cross the plains of Texas. Texas has a bit of an attitude that I love. We were stationed in San Antonio for a few years in the mid-90s and came to appreciate Texans’ fiercely independent nature and love of guns, their state flag, rodeos, and beef barbecue. They also love their 5-time Super Bowl winning Dallas Cowboys, as do I. Things are bigger in Texas and you certainly don’t want to mess with them. We tend to see and do things in Texas that we haven’t seen or done in other states. For example, you can go to Austin, sit on the banks near the Congress Avenue Bridge, and watch 1.5 million Mexican free-tailed bats come out every night. It’s the largest urban bat colony in North America and cool doesn’t begin to describe their nightly exodus. Just as impressive…you can pull into a gas station and order Sonic while pumping gas. Leave it to Texas to solve the age-old problem of having to pump gas and then go inside to eat.

Seriously? It's come to this?
Seriously? It’s come to this?

These days, our favorite thing about Texas is the people, starting with Jason and Rachel. Visiting family or friends with cats is always a bit unpredictable for us, as Lil Jan is highly allergic to them. Sometimes her eyes water, her face gets puffy, and she begins scratching at furniture. Throw in menopausal hot flashes and she becomes, well, a carnival attraction. Fortunately, the cats weren’t too much of a problem and we were thrilled to be able to visit Jason and Rachel and see them fully nested in their cute east-Dallas apartment.

Love the Headsets!
Love the Headsets!

They took us to downtown Dallas for a tour of the Sixth Floor Museum at Dealey Plaza. As a high school student, I wrote a book report on a book highly critical of the Warren Commission and its findings on Kennedy’s assassination. Ever since then, I have been fascinated with the subject, and have visited the sites where Lincoln, Kennedy, and Martin Luther King, Jr., were assassinated. I’m not necessarily a conspiracy theorist, but I do enjoy studying the history, motives, weaponry, logistics, and contexts for these tragic events. We did a lot of historical tours and museums during our journey down the Great River Road. Some are better than others and each has its strengths. The Sixth Floor Museum’s strength was in the amount of information and insights presented via an audio tour. We took an elevator to the 6th floor of the former Texas School Book Depository and began the self-guided tour using nifty audio headsets. Even with a big crowd, the headsets allow you to go at your own pace and not have to strain to hear a tour guide. We learned about JFK’s life, the major challenges and achievements of his presidency, Cold War history, and the events surrounding that fateful day in Dallas.

A Killer's Point of View
A Killer’s Point of View
Dealey Plaza
Dealey Plaza

The tour winds its way around the floor and eventually takes you to the stack of boxes where Lee Harvey Oswald positioned himself near the window and fired the fatal bullets at the presidential motorcade as it passed by. I looked out the window and tried to imagine the throngs of people lining Dealey Plaza, so excited to see their young energetic president and his wife pass by. In an instant, in an act of cowardice and evil, he was gone. He once challenged the nation to “ask now what your country can do for you; ask what you can do for your country.” With today’s emphasis on self over service and handouts over hard work, his words still ring true.

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Our next stop was Klyde Warren Park, the 5.2-acre downtown park which is a gathering place for residents and visitors. As we ate lunch from a food truck, we watched the children play and dogs being walked in the park. We then boarded a train and headed to UT Southwestern Medical Center, where Jason is pursuing a graduate degree in Prosthetics-Orthotics at their School of Health Professions. Those of you who know Jason know that he has a big brain and an even bigger heart. It’s not surprising, then, that he would pursue a career designing, constructing, and fitting artificial limbs to help people literally get back on their feet again. I’ve been in some places where people have lost limbs. At the Egyptian field hospital at Bagram Air Base, Afghanistan, I’ve stood at the bedside and prayed for children who have lost legs and arms from landmine explosions. I always walked away sad that I couldn’t do more for them and actually make them whole again. So, you could say I’m more than a little proud of Jason for choosing a career focused on helping and healing others. He also knows how to give a good tour, as he actually has a part-time job giving tours at his school. He showed us around the campus, pointed out some of his classrooms and labs, and answered our many questions.

Mario & Koop Troopa
Mario & Koopa Troopa
Hangin' with the Gentrys!
Hangin’ with the Gentrys!

That night we were invited to dinner at the home of Lonnie & Lynne Gentry, long-time friends from our assignments in Georgia and Texas…along with their daughter, Megan, and her husband and daughter. Lonnie is a former preacher who is now pursuing a doctorate in Philosophy and Medical Ethics. He is a deep thinker, and it didn’t take us long to get into a good discussion about the nature of the soul and the afterlife. Lynne, among many talents and interests, is a published author and a great friend and mentor to Lil Jan. It was great catching up with them and learning about their latest projects and pursuits in Dallas. The next morning, we enjoyed worship at Jason & Rachel’s congregation, the Prestoncrest Church of Christ. After lunch, they took us to a nearby, drought-stricken Par 3 nine-hole golf course for an afternoon of fun and exercise.

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Jason and Rachel are off to a great start in their marriage and careers. Here are some of their initial impressions on married life and other topics…

What do you like least and best about living in Dallas?

J: Least- It seems like it takes at least 30 minutes to get anywhere, assuming there are no wrecks. Best- The variety of things to do… I’ve never lived in a big city where they have almost anything I could want to do.

R: Least- Everyone is so spread out, it’s hard to feel like a part of a community. Even our church friends all live super far away from each other. Best- Living so close to my parents. It’s awesome to be able to meet up for dinner or see each other on weekends so easily.

2. Jas, why did you chose a Prosthetics/Orthotics career and how is school going so far? Do you want to specialize?

J: I didn’t choose PO school, PO school chose me. But actually, I’d say I’ve always wanted to help people, and I really love learning about the body and anatomy and all the science-y stuff. Honestly I’d say that when PT didn’t work out, I felt like God just kinda dumped this in my lap. I didn’t know much about it before that, but it allows me to combine the enjoyment of science with really impacting people’s lives for the better, and being able to be creative as well with building prosthetics. I really love school, and I actually enjoy learning the information that I have to learn which makes the long days much more bearable. I don’t plan on specializing because the only real specialty you can do is with breasts and, well, I’m not about that life. I might like to work in pediatrics but I’m not sure where God will lead us.

Best Tour Guide Ever!
Best Tour Guide Ever!

3. Having done the married thing for 15 months, what have you learned? Advice for others?

R: I’d say that a big thing for me is that we can’t create a healthy marriage, we need God to do that. When we have a problem come up, we can’t expect to resolve it on our own… When we try it always seems to fail, and sometimes even make things worse. Praying for our marriage and each other is huge in having a successful relationship.

J: I was sort of going to say something along the same lines. Basically, the example of marriage that we have is of Jesus and the church. For me as the male, to be the perfect husband I basically have to be Jesus… I don’t come anywhere close to that, but I try to keep that as a reminder when I’m upset or frustrated or tired, and also in the good times too because Jesus celebrates joy with his church as well. For advice, I would say that honesty is super important, not just with your spouse but with yourself as well. It’s the only way to have a healthy relationship because when you’re honest with yourself and then with each other you can really trust one another. I would also say to spend as much time together as you can, whether you’re doing stuff together or just sitting and reading or doing two totally different things. Just being together helps make you more like a unit, a pair, not just two individuals who live together.

R: I definitely agree with what Jason said, those are huge. Another one I would say is to consciously make sure that love is your goal in all of your interactions with your spouse. When I started asking myself what my goal was in my interactions with Jason, oftentimes I would catch myself being more concerned with being understood, communicating effectively, being happy, etc., and acting unloving in the process. Even though communication, being understood, happiness, and more are fine, when they come before love they don’t mean much, especially in a marriage.

4. Rach, how are you using your Speech Pathology degree?

R: I am working as an independent contractor Speech Pathology Assistant for a home health speech company called Preferred Therapy Services. Basically, I go home to home to provide speech therapy for all the kiddos in my caseload. I see kids from ages 3-16 with a variety of speech-language disorders. It’s a cool opportunity to get to know not only the kids but also the families, and to make a lasting impact in their lives. Working in homes makes my job much more personal and allows me to have an impact in more areas than just speech. It also helps me care more deeply for my kids and their families because I see into their lives and really get to know them.

5. How will your experience raising cats help you to be better parents?

R: Seeing as we don’t have any children, I’d say that raising cats has had absolutely no impact on how good of a parent I am.

J: I agree with Rachel, I think I’m just as good of a parent as I was before we had cats. But someday when we have kids, it’s purrfectly acceptable to let them drink out of the toilet when they’re thirsty. It’s not my fault if they choose that over their water bowl.

R: I need to teach them to bury their poop at a young age, before bad habits form.

J: No need for baths, they can lick themselves clean.

R: Wet food is technically better for them, but kibbles are so much easier. Not sure if that makes me a better parent or not but it sure is gonna make my life simpler.

J: I’ve learned that they’ll sleep better in a cardboard box lined with tissue paper than any nice bed you provide.

R: Always raise the blinds before you leave for work so that they can sit on the windowsill. They like that.

J: We’ve learned a lot about proper punishment techniques. No yelling, no smacks, just pick them up by the scruff of their neck and throw them in the bathroom for a while. Make sure you leave the light off. It works every time.

6. Do you have any future plans after school?

J: I will have to do two residencies, one for prosthetics and one for orthotics. We want to have children and are especially interested in adopting. We are interested in moving somewhere in the northern U.S. but are open to living wherever God wants us to go, including overseas. We can make all the plans we want but we know they will likely change many more times so we are trying not to get too set on anything.

7. Funniest or most memorable thing that’s happened in Dallas?

R: One day while I was home alone, just relaxing in a recliner next to the window, I heard “I’m gonna –beep-ing kill you!!” from outside. I looked out the window and saw two cops running across our courtyard, guns drawn, yelling, “Drop to your knees! You better hit your knees!” A few minutes later (when clearly whoever it was had not hit his knees), a search helicopter starting flying over our apartment complex. Jason was on his way home from school at this time, and said that there were police cars lining the roads around our complex. Later, when telling this story to a friend from church who was a Dallas police officer, we found out that our apartment complex is its own police patrol zone. Good news is, our monthly rent is way cheaper than all of our friends.

J: I decided to take Rachel on a hike for her birthday. I found a list of top hikes in Dallas online, and number 2 was right down the road from us and looked really pretty, so we went for it. The hike was supposed to be four miles long, winding through the woods and ending up at the dart station where my car was parked. Unfortunately, the blog I read was from 2010, which we decided was probably the last time the trail had been used. After roughing it for most of the hike, but being determined to finish, we found that the last half-mile of the trail was completely under water, and had to backtrack and take a different route. Four and a half hours after we began the hike, we emerged in our matching rain jackets, wet from the rain, covered in scrapes, leaves, and mud, still unsure of whether or not we had ever found the trail. To top it all off, once we got my car to a gas station, it wouldn’t start again… We spent about an hour sitting there, finally got the car started, and then had to drive it around for half an hour to charge up the battery. We were starving, so we drove home and Rachel ran inside to make us food, then we sat in the parking lot and ate our hotdogs with the car running. Rachel said it was her favorite birthday hike ever.

We thoroughly enjoyed our time in the Big D and are happy to see Jas and Rach off to a great start in their marriage.  As for us, it was almost time to pack our bags for the Bahamas!  More on that next time.

Big Steve

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