Wednesday, December 21, 2016

Travel to St. Augustine: A Past & Present Playground

I'm over at Culture With Travel this week, sharing about my visit to the former Hotel Alcazar in St. Augustine, Florida, built in the late 1800s and now the Lightner Museum. 

Read an excerpt of my post below!

Since I live in Florida year-round I’m not sure I know exactly what it’s like to be a tourist traveling from the north during the winter to stay just for a season. 

But I do head north to visit St. Augustine once a year since it’s only a two-hour drive from my home in Orlando.

What I love about St. Augustine, the nation’s oldest city founded in 1565, is that you can catch a glimpse of the major historical eras in its history just by walking through the narrow brick and cobblestone streets. 

Spanish-style homes, colonial architecture and Victorian-era houses stand side-by-side throughout the historic district, along with the three beautiful hotels built in the 1880s by Henry Flagler.

More than a hundred years later, even though the hotels are used for other purposes, they’re all still available for tourists to visit for a peek inside the gilded era in Florida’s history.

Click here to read the rest of my post over at Culture with Travel.

I'm sharing some additional photos here, but I'd love it if you'd come join me as I eat lunch in the space that once housed the world's largest indoor swimming pool inside the Hotel Alcazar!

I'm linking up with Holley Gerth at Coffee for your Heart!

Wednesday, December 14, 2016

Getting Ahead of the Resolution Game

I've already gotten a head start on my New Year's resolutions.

I know it’s a little early, but I figure I can use the extra time. 

Why wait for the first day in January when there's so much work to do?

I think what I'm resolving seems more like a renewal, maybe a transformation, even an aspiration, all wrapped up into a purposeful intention.

{Hmmm -- I wonder if one of those words should be my one word for 2017?}

This year I want to change and be different. 

Actually this is always my resolution. 

It's just that the areas I want to work on vary from year to year, depending on my current circumstances. 

This might sound a little peculiar, but I think it's time that I give up eye-rolling. 

And the sarcastic comments that go with the eye-rolls. And I'd like to soften the harder edges of my tones. 

I guess I really want my words and actions to show more grace to others, more kindness, more love. I wonder if it's possible?

The eye-rolling might be a hard habit to break though, since rolling my eyes is as ingrained in me as, well, my love for Pittsburgh Steelers football. 

Last week, my sister called to say my brother-in-law was ordering the Steelers game for us to watch on TV at her house. 

Since Florida teams get precedence in our viewing area and we don't see the Steelers very often, this was a nice surprise.

I put on my Steelers shirt and hurried over.

When I arrived, my sister was on a ladder decorating their tree.

The living room was strewn with ornament boxes. Dash the Dog was stealing cotton from under the tree and galloping through the house with sheets of it clenched between his teeth, long white streamers flowing behind him.

My niece and nephew were bickering over where the tree should go -- in the corner like always {Devon’s choice} or in the middle {my nephew’s pick} -- so my sister could show off her new tufted chairs. 

My brother-in-law was seated on the couch, giving directions to my nephew, who was setting up the train tracks that ran under the tree. 

I was a little confused at the chaos since I thought watching the game was the afternoon's featured event. 

The bickering went on well into the first half of the game, making me wish for closed caption since I could hardly hear the announcers' analysis. 

Finally, Devon crossed her arms and refused to decorate the tree. 

I had been asked for and given my opinion on the tree's location. I had tried to corral Dash the Dog. I had turned up the volume on the game. Finally I told Devon to suck it up and try a new location for the tree this year. 

When my brother-in-law agreed with me, she started to cry saying, “Daddy and Auntie are yelling at me.”

My sister gave me a look and told my nephew to move the tree back to its original spot in the corner. 

I felt terrible. That’s when I decided I'd better get started on my New Year’s resolutions right away.

I’m a northern, no-nonsense, tell-it-like-it-is type of girl.

But sometimes before I know it, my words sound far sterner than I had intended and I've hurt someone's feelings with my words or tone.

This year, more than making a New Year's resolution, I consider it an opportunity. 

And an invitation.

To believe that the God who makes all things new every single season when the flowers bloom in the spring, and who paints the sky with a sunrise every single morning, can do a new work in me, too.

He calls to us. He pursues us. He comes near to us.

Here in this Advent season where we wait to celebrate anew that moment when God took on human form to give us the hope of a new life. It's our gift to receive.
Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, the new creation has come: The old has gone, the new is here! - 2 Cor. 5:17
To this end we always pray for you, that our God may make you worthy of his calling and may fulfill every resolve for good and every work of faith by his power. - 2 Thess. 1:11
This is the beautiful, extraordinary hope I hold as I stand on the brink of a new year.

Eventually some semblance of peace was restored to my sister’s living room as the football game clock ticked down. 

{The Steelers won, by the way.}

Dash the Dog was napping, the kids were now happily hanging ornaments, and the train was smoothly running on the track underneath the tree. 

My brother-in-law turned to me and said, “I’m not really sure why you don’t come hang out with us more often.” 

I'm pretty sure he was being sarcastic.

And I almost rolled my eyes.

I'm having coffee with my friends at Holley Gerth's place at Coffee for your HeartJoin me there for more posts from my blogger friends!

Wednesday, December 7, 2016

Finding Your Way Forward

I changed my mind at the last minute and decided to go.

Last weekend was the annual holiday home tour in my old neighborhood. 

The place where I thought I’d always live. The historic artsy community where I moved after my sister got married and I sold the condo we’d shared. 

Where I thought I’d found the perfect house — not an old one with too many repairs for a single gal like me to tackle  — but a new one that was slated to be built on an empty lot where the builder said I could choose everything just how I wanted it.

It was my own little dream bungalow, new but made to look old to fit in with the neighborhood. 

After six months of watching it come to life {and worrying if I'd really like all of my selections once they were installed} I moved in.

I loved my house and was excited to be a part of the community. To jump right in, I served on the historic board. 

I even agreed to have my house on tour one year, although I had no idea the monumental amount of work it would take to have all of my halls decked by the first weekend in December.

More than 500 people strolled through my house that weekend, and I was surprised at the opinions strangers feel compelled to offer you about your house and decor. 

{Or tell their friends in not-so-quiet undertones, somehow thinking you can’t hear them.}

But I sold that house and moved 30 miles across town seven years ago.

Sometimes I go back to take the holiday tour, but it's kind of bittersweet. I'm not sure how I feel about seeing my old house and former friends and neighbors. 

My life was a little different when I lived there since places often have their own style, a unique personality that enfolds its residents.

But it seemed as if that neighborhood was a diamond in the rough, in transition, perched on the edge of up-and-coming, but was never quite able to turn the corner.

Maybe you can relate to those thoughts and feelings. Do you ever think about going back? To a certain place, a former occupation, a group of friends, or a way of life?

Maybe the way ahead of you is harder now and you remember how easier things seemed back where you once were. But you’ve gone deeper, lived riskier.

You've survived some serious dents in your faith. You've come through the storms that rained out your dreams.

And you rose above the circumstances and predicaments that deflated your hopes.

You’re braver, determined and purposeful, yet more flexible and even softer because now you realize where your strength lies.

I'm wondering if going back to where we came from has less of a pull because the new road we’re traveling although more difficult, holds greater gifts?

An opportunity to see the sacred work being done in us to be made holy. 

A chance to desire transformation in our weak areas that develops our character. 

Time to appreciate our flawed selves and grow grateful for the treasure buried deep inside all of us.

Sometimes there is no going back, and really, why would we want to? 

There’s nothing behind us that can’t be found in moving ahead.

After touring my old neighborhood, I stood on the sidewalk in front of my old house. 

It was still painted the cream and khaki colors I'd chosen for the exterior. The little lantern light I'd picked out still hung beside the front door.

The new owner had painted the door dark green and added a white picket fence. But the flowers I’d spent so much time caring for and the sturdy hibiscus trees that I liked so much that flanked my front porch were gone.

It all looked so familiar and yet it didn't. I found it hard to believe I'd once lived there.

But the historic school, built in 1902, one block from my old house, is now in the midst of being restored.

The new owners want to transform the old schoolhouse into an event venue that the community can use to host weddings, gatherings and social events. 

The plans for it look fantastic. It's just what the neighborhood needs.

Maybe my old neighborhood is finally poised for a renaissance, ready to turn the corner.

It was nice seeing my old neighbors and catching up with them as I visited homes on the holiday tour. 

My former across-the-street neighbor told me she's not as fond of the new owner of my house as she was of me, but she guesses people have to move on.

She's right. I think I’m already on the road ahead, making my way forward.

{And I hope you are too!}

A little note on the photos: Thanks to my friends and neighbors in Sanford who allowed me to take photos of their lovely homes!

I'm having coffee with my friends at Holley Gerth's place at Coffee for your Heart. Join me there for more posts from my blogger friends!

Wednesday, November 30, 2016

Familiar Territory

Sometimes it’s nice to return to a familiar place when you travel. 

There aren’t as many decisions to make about where to stay and what to see because you’ve seen it all before.

I think my family’s tradition of spending Thanksgiving in St. Augustine for the past 25 years might confirm this. 

It started one year when my sister and I spent the holiday with friends, leaving my parents alone and restless. 

They drove two hours north of Orlando to St. Augustine and later told us it was the most festive holiday they’d ever spent filled with fellow tourists, historical houses and lots of lights. 

They said we just had to try it the next year and go along with them. 

They were right. 

And we’ve been going to St. Augustine for Thanksgiving ever since.

Sometimes though, as I pack my little weekend suitcase I wonder if something new will catch my eye among all the familiar sights. 

But this year it was those well-known spots I wanted to check out.

I was curious to see how the nation's oldest historical city fared after Hurricane Matthew blew through in October.

I'd seen the reports that the storm hit at high tide, flooding the streets with nearly four feet of water.

As I walked along the bayfront {with some of it cordoned off for repairs} I saw gates unhinged, peeling paint from water damage, yards filled with debris, and front doors waiting for repair. 

Some restaurants and a few hotels on the waterfront were still closed.

But the resilient locals were carrying on with their annual festivities of trolley rides through town and candlelight tours for the holidays, even though some areas still looked a little under the weather.

I was most anxious to see how my favorite gate fared.

It's the famous red door so often photographed, that's across the street from the inn where I stay every year. 

Engaged couples, brides and tourists are always lingering around it, cameras poised to catch the best light.

But there it was. 

Still standing.

Even though it looked pretty much the same, there was still something different about it and I couldn't figure out what it was. 

Then I realized it was the house next door that made the gate look different. 

Built in the 1890s, it always looked run-down and disheveled, but now there was a No Trespassing sign tacked to the porch and the fence was torn down.

With the side open to the house, the gate looked smaller and a lot more fragile.

Our innkeeper Pat, told us the elderly woman who had lived there recently died after living as a recluse in the house for decades. 

She said the house was filled with trash and heavily damaged by termites since it had never had air or heat installed.

As she described the inside of the house after being neglected all those years, I imagined it must be fascinating.

Then Pat surprised me as she said, “I bought the house. Do you want to go see it tomorrow?”

I felt like I was a character in my beloved Nancy Drew books being gifted with a tour of the mysterious house across the street!

The next day, Pat unlocked the door and showed us the entry way filled with trash and the light fixture dripping with cobwebs. 

We saw the old bathtub and the walls covered with peeling wallpaper made out of fabric.

There was a lonely dresser standing in the corner of an otherwise empty room.

We saw the stained glass window, dirt covering the jewel-colored panes, on the landing of the old staircase.

Pat led us up the steep steps of the attic where we stood under the turret.

We caught a glimpse of the bay from the windows that once probably had an unobstructed lovely water view.

There was even an artesian well out back that at one time drew water from the bay.

Old houses captivate me with their history and character. 

I wonder about the stories of all who lived within the walls or walked through the halls.

I imagine the grandeur they once experienced before they were abandoned or left in disrepair.

I probably ascribe too much heart into a structure made of wood, bricks and stones, but isn't an old house a mirror of our own lives sometimes?

How do we restore what’s crumbling? Revive what's worn out? Repair what's dilapidated and neglected?

Photo of how the house originally looked at the turn of the century.

Maybe it takes more effort and determination to find a fresh perspective along the way than to let our frame of reference go to ruin and do the clean up afterwards.

The work of transforming the familiar into something new isn't easy.

Waiting in the same frustrating circumstances takes perseverance. Working diligently in the home or at the same job for years takes commitment. Praying for season after season for what hasn't yet changed takes bold faith.  

Sometimes even my connection to God seems frayed at the edges and a little worn out. 

I've asked the question {and maybe you have too}, when everything seems to stay the same how can I change what I'm seeing?

What I don't realize is that there's new all around me because I am becoming new.

 I have changed from who I was last week, last month and last year. 

We are never stagnant but ever-changing, moving in the installments of our lives from one episode to the next, growing in experience and expanding our faith.

What if instead of going through the motions of the mind-numbing familiar, we searched out a new side of God? 

What if we dipped our pens in fresh ink to join him in how he’s writing {and rewriting} our stories? 

What if we took him at his word, despite the shabby view our eyes are drawn to?
See, I am doing a new thing! Now it springs up; do you not perceive it?I am making a way in the wilderness and streams in the wasteland. - Is. 43:19 
“From now on I will tell you of new things, of hidden things unknown to you. - Is. 48:6b

Pat told us she isn’t sure yet what she'll do with the house since the city will ultimately decide the course for her plans. 

But the carriage house next door to the house is in much better shape and she’s already begun the renovations there for an apartment that will be completed soon.

I can't wait to see what beauty she'll create from the dirt and debris.

Before I left, I took one last look through the grate of my favorite St. Augustine gate. 

Last year my niece grabbed my camera and captured my first-ever photo of the garden on the other side of the gate. 

But this year just as I thought my eyes couldn’t take in one more new scene in St. Augustine, I caught a glimpse of the gardener herself {pictured center above in navy blue} as she worked behind the gate.

As I drove home I realized there were so many unexpected additions to the itinerary this visit that I ran out of time to eat lunch at my favorite restaurant. 

I'm already looking forward to going back again next year.

I'm having coffee with my friends at Holley Gerth's place at Coffee for your Heart. Join me there by clicking the image to read more posts!