Thursday, December 25, 2014

A whirlwind time of year, yes, for us "retired" folks too...

Monthly column: "Connecting the dots".......The giving back of our retirement to the National Park Service was a decision made in the confines of our little house, beside our crackling fire at 51 Miller Road, Lake Zurich, IL, 22 years ago.  It was a decision made with the intent of "giving back" for the purpose of "making someones day" with our retirement.

Many years later, it was a warm sunny day in December, with the lighthouse "closed" for climbing.   Bill and I were "working" with 1 ranger volunteer and, time permitting, keeping the "base" of the lighthouse open, so that, at the very least, people could enter the 1st floor and look up inside this cavernous piece of history, that has stood 198 feet tall since 1870, keeping mariners safe.  Not a perfect situation, but for people who have traveled many miles to view the lighthouse (without checking the internet to ascertain it's hours etc), it was better than nothing.  As the "ranger" at this post, we get to have many and varied conversations.  I was engaged in conversation with a young couple from Philadelphia, who were accompanying a 5 year old girl named Katie.  Katie's parents explained that the family comes to see the Cape Hatteras Lighthouse EVERY year, that Katie LOVES the lighthouse and cannot wait to be tall enough (42 inches-Coast Guard regulations) to climb it.  Katie's parents also said the lighthouse is inevitably closed when they visit (as they visit the same time period every year) BUT, that Katie absolutely adores the lighthouse, talks about seeing "her" for weeks, both before and after their visit.  You can imagine how this little girl felt upon discovering she could finally step inside this dear old friend, normally closed at this time of year,  due to our presence, providing the manpower to facilitate this unique opportunity! (As our visitors are blessed, so we feel blessed as well, for having the opportunity to help out in this way.)  As these nice young people and I drifted in conversation away from the lighthouse, Katie scurrying on ahead of us when the family finally began their departure (long awaited, as Katie had been relishing her time there).   Katie suddenly did an about face and bolted for the open lighthouse door.  As I turned to observe her journey, I said to the Mom...."so close and yet so far".  Mom smiled and said "she wanted to get one last HUG in".....  and that is just what Katie was doing.

Finishing our last days at Cape Hatteras
We enjoyed 1 final day of climbing.  "The Winter Climb" is free, sponsored by "The Lighthouse Society" on Dec. 13th.  I was given the pleasure of sweeping the entire lighthouse the day before  (257 steps, 8 landings 3.5 hours), 

while our fellow volunteer Ranger, Steve, mopped behind me.  The lighthouse looked great for the climb the next day.
The most interesting aspect of that climb were the visitors.  Usually people from all over the world, December 13th was, for the most part, locals.  It made for some very different conversations.

And speaking of "different" comes Joe and Stacy:  

Imagine the looks on our faces when, leaving work one of our last days, we are approached in the lighthouse parking lot by this monster RV.  To make a long story short, Joe and Stacey became new friends and camped with us for two nights before continuing their adventure.  They are "full-timers" from Canada who purchased their home (a Mercedes Benz 2000, 10 ton, 4 wheel drive, diesel power, 12 speed forward, dual range transmission, 147 HP) in Italy, because it is designed to go just about anywhere in the world, for the most part, self-sustaining.We steered Joe and Stacey toward our best shelling beach, and days later we found the evidence they had been there: 

Channel Whelk
Joe's calling card, a long series of Whelks
 left standing upright in the sand.
Knob Whelk
Joe and Stacey added a real dimension to the end of our Cape Hatteras tour.  

As did, in our last 2 weeks there, Jennifer Pierce, our new "boss".  Jennifer was a great conversationalist

and, in Mobey, Tessa has a new friend as well.   
It was Jennifer who alerted us to the local school play, in which Peyton (our other bosses 11 year old son) was holding his own as one of the lead characters (most of the other thespians were High Schoolers).  "A Place Called Christmas"  turned out to be one of our most enjoyable nights ever!  Peyton stole the show, and most of the laughs, he's a natural.  In the future, look for the name Peyton Cabral on theatre marquis.  

Thanks for the invite Jennifer!  Good luck in your new position.

Our last, but not least, function was the Cape Hatteras National Seashore Volunteer dinner.  Quite simple in its presentation, yet elaborate in it's character.  A simple meal followed by some VERY nice, and unexpected volunteer thank you gifts.

As well as, Certificates of Appreciation, Cape Hatteras National Seashore Volunteer mugs, keychains and 2 National Park annual passes.  Not all parks can afford to show their appreciation to this extent.  Sometimes we are simply the recipients of a hearty clap on the back, and a "Thanks".  And that's OK too!  We're not in it for the glory!  So long Cape Hatteras...we may see you again someday:-)

Then, on December 14th, we headed south for Waccamaw National Wildlife Refuge.

Headquarters is a lovely, relatively new building, situated between Conway and Georgetown, SC.

We dropped the RV off, and left it there pending our January 5th, 2015 return, after our visit home.  

This was a sad sight along the way:

People, please do not throw your cigarette butts out the car window.

The first stop toward Christmas Joy was in Knoxville at my cousin Betty's house, where she provided a fabulous meal, comfy bed and memorable conversation.  Never have enough time with her:-)

Arriving home the next day, 1st stop, my BFF's house for Audie hugs.

Then on to Tam & Brett's B & B.
 Bill's oldest has been providing a warm and inviting crash pad for us during our wintertime stays in the frozen north.  Thanks Tam, Brett and Natalie!  What amazing hospitality!

Our week then became a whirling dervish of friends, family and fun...both traditional and non-traditional, old and new:
                Cousin Lee settled in her new home...Cat  comfy as well.

Touring Brett's new remodel.

Quiet night  at Whetstones, saying goodbye to this abode.

 The very next night, all of our besties together as Kevin and Beth near completion of their whole house remodel...they won't be leaving the "Hood" soon.

  Lunch with sweet sister Kathy, who named her new friend "Lucky", and he is to have Kathy for a Mom:-)

A day out with Tam & Brett...going to Milaegers and Tenutas, the BEST outing every Christmastide.

 On Sunday, after church at CCC in Zion, lunch with brother Dave and sister Joie, 
and Joie's husband Bill, and niece and nephew Deb and JJ,.


Angela, Vince and I
Later in the afternoon we joined my Italian homies for dinner!  Tenuta's wine always a big hit with this crowd!

The annual Macy's day with the Sullivan's followed on Monday...this year with Natalie (Johnny's girlfriend). She became a godsend when she broke the 3 way tie choosing Mom's annual Christmas ornament surprise. 

 And, NO, Natalie did not choose Johnny's! 

We all lucked out with a seat right at the base of the tree (for you non-Chicagoans THIS is a BIG deal)

The Shutterfly book was a great hit!
                               Just a little friend the girls and I made for Papa
My BFF Audrey enjoying her Christmas present...a Shutterfly book honoring our years of friendship!

Seeing our two youngest grands, and having a late birthday celebration

for 2 year old Moira.....
                            Lessons in Sea Turtle life being passed along.

Which brings us to Christmas Eve service at Willow Creek Church....Pastor Bill Hybels, clearly an anointed man, reminding us of the Reason for the Season:  Jesus Christ

For unto us is born this day, in the City of David, a son, who is Jesus Christ OUR Lord!

May His peace, the peace that passes all understanding, be yours this season and throughout the New Year!

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