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!


  1. Wow, Valerie! Beautiful post filled with beautiful photos. Your words opened my eyes to how I've changed over the years too. I felt like I took the tour right along with you! I love traveling back to a familiar place. We often do that on our vacations. Thanks for taking me with you!

    1. Hi Julie,
      Thanks for coming along with me on this old-house adventure! It was an unexpected surprise in that very familiar place and I loved being taken behind the No Trespassing signs! :)

  2. Oh what a treasure!! Those windows! That porch! The blessing of something familiar being reexamined in a new light... Our pastor spoke of the origins of Thanksgiving at our Wed. night service and how some claim St. Augustine hosted the first feast and I instantly thought of you all! I hope you had a wonderful time! Loving these verses about making all things new-- even us, every day in so many ways. We are constantly changing perceptions, growing in our faith and becoming the women God has in mind for us and I love getting to do all that with you friend! Your pictures and words are always such a blessing to me. Praying for fresh eyes for both of us as we unwrap this next holiday season. ♥

    1. Heather,
      It was so fascinating to get to go inside -- I just loved it! I was Nancy Drew herself for a few hours! :) I love it that your Thanksgiving service mentioned St. Augustine -- you will have to come see it sometime! :) Oh -- fresh eyes -- love that word picture -- as we unwrap this holiday season -- always beautiful, my friend! xo

  3. I love everything about this! That house is really spectacular, I cannot wait to hear about the progress Pat makes on it from your annual trip! Beautiful photos!

    1. Brittany,
      Pat is a miracle-worker for houses! She brings the best out of them and breathes new life in them and I'm excited to see her work next year too!

  4. Oh my gosh, I couldn't help but wonder about the lady that lived there prior. What is her story? Why was she a recluse and how is one thinking when one lives in such historical beauty on the outside, but oh so much decay on the inside? You've captured all of this beautifully with your images and words Valerie. Is there somewhere you share where your travel articles are published? I know there must be some, yes? And I now crave a road trip to St. Augustine but shall need a few weeks of travel time at least from my northern place!

    1. Hi Lynn,
      Oh you'd love St. Augustine! Yes, Pat told us that she used to take groceries to the lady in the house but she was used to living that way, among the debris. Originally she'd had an antique store on the ground floor and lived on the second floor but that was in the 1970s. Aren't old houses just fascinating?! Thanks for sharing my fun adventure with me! I contribute one travel article a month to CulturewithTravel.com and we do a Twitter chat every Thursday -- come join us! Thanks for asking! :)

  5. Oh, boy! I would LOVE to redo an old house like that! It's on my secret bucket list (of course, I don't have all the skills necessary, but I've redone a house of two with my dad, and if he helped....). I love the comparison that you make. We don't often like growth because it feels uncomfortable (or even painful), but it sure changes us for the better! Without the circulating powers of growth, we stagnate and decay.

    1. Wouldn't that be amazing to redo an old house? Its sounds as if you already have great experience at it! I think I would need a lot of help (I don't have great fix-it skills) but it would be a fascinating project. :)

  6. You have such a special way of inviting us into and making us feel a part of your adventures, Valerie. Also of helping us to see beauty in old, worn-down buildings and sites. Your words and photos are always so intriguing. And I am amazed how you always weave in a special spiritual lesson. This captures my heart and gives me reflection - "What if instead of going through the motions of the mind-numbing familiar, we searched out a new side of God?" As I read the verses, too, I thought - What if I would anticipate the new more? Thank you for your inspiring encouragement to search out deeper revelations of God. Advent blessings to you! Hugs!

    1. Hi Trudy,
      Yes I think God wants to take us deeper and higher but it's all about how willing we are to follow and how much we can tolerate being interrupted, isn't it? Who knows what we miss when we hesitate on becoming new or different or changed? I'm so glad you could come along on my little house tour and that you enjoyed the photos! (You'll find no frogs here!) xoxo

  7. Oh, WOW!! I just LOVED reading this post! We, too, love St. Augustine! We have only been there twice, but it just fascinated me. I loved the old churches downtown...especially the one that holds the tomb of the Flaglers...it seems like it had the tomb of Mr. Flagler's daughter, Jenny, and possibly, her infant, too? And, the little chapel...I called it the fertility chapel. When my husband and I were struggling with infertility, we went there, and I remember praying in that chapel. Oh, I absolutely adored reading about and seeing the neat pictures of the old house you toured. This was a Divine appointment for you, for sure! What a neat thing to get to do! Oh, I do hope Pat will restore the home to its original beauty. I just wonder about that woman who lived in there as a recluse all those years. There are so many neat questions that go through the mind while touring and thinking about an old house. Thank you SO much for sharing your adventure with us here! I am visiting you for the first time from Holley's link-up, and I am ever so glad I clicked over! So very happy to meet you!

    1. Hi Cheryl,
      So happy to meet you too and so glad to hear you love St. Augustine too! I saw Mr. Flagler's grave this time and I love how you and your husband prayed in that chapel! There's so much history and beauty in that old city and it's such a great place to check out all the little side streets and hidden gardens! Thanks so much for coming on my house adventure with me!

  8. Oh what fun! What gorgeous bones, what potential. Here's hoping that this once grand beauty will get to come alive once again. I was captivated from picture #1.

    And yes. I always say I want to go new places, try new things, but the truth is that what I really want is familiar. It's there that I somehow take a deep breath and know that all will be well.

    Advent blessings to you, dear creative friend ...

    1. Hi Linda,
      I think we need a balance of the new and familiar but often I'm not quite sure what I want! :) Both are good in their own ways, aren't they? Thank you for the Advent wishes . . . this is a most profound season to consider! xo

  9. Hi Valerie- I am so glad you had a good Thanksgiving! It looks amazing-! I just love this post and hearing about the old house! Thank you for taking pictures and sharing your story so beautifully -It made my night! I love what you said about being new everyday- That is encouraging because somedays I feel a bit stale hahah I need new!!- I was just praying today how I want to see something new about Jesus this Christmas-I want a fresh revelation something brand new from His heart to mine- and your thoughts just confirm and help encourage me to keep looking asking and expecting to find something new by the manger. Also I wanted to tell you- I just finished another page in my journalling Bible and I drew your picture of this beautiful door-(hope that is ok) I thought it was perfect for the verse about “better is one day in your house than ten thousands elsewhere..” Anyway thanks for encouraging me and pointing my heart to Jesus tonight! (i needed it! :)

    1. Susie,
      I'm delighted you would draw the St. Augustine door and I must see it! :) (I missed your art and post this week, but the way.) Isn't that amazing how when we ask for a fresh revelation, it may not come immediately but if we keep looking for it, God always shows us a new attribute or draws our attention so something we've overlooked?

      I'm so glad you came along with me on my virtual house tour! It makes me think there is always something to discover around the corner! xoxo

  10. Dear Valerie, Once again your traveling with words has touched a deep place in my heart. This: "What if we dipped our pens in fresh ink to join him in how he’s writing {and rewriting} our stories?" brought tears to my eyes. HE truly is always at work in the writing of our stories! Oh, and I loved the photos of St. Augustine. They reminded me of the stories of one of my favorite authors, Eugenia Price, who wrote historical fiction about Georgia and Florida. Thank you for sharing such beautiful words! Hugs and Blessings!!

    1. Hi Bettie,
      Oh yes, Eugenia Price did write her beautiful words about Georgia and Florida, didn't she? I have enjoyed her books through the years, too. I am so glad God never gives up on our stories! xoxo

  11. We love St Augustine so I am glad to see the hurricane didn't do too much lasting damage.
    The story of the house made me sad. That poor lady living there as a recluse for decades. :( it sounds like her house is in good hands though!

    1. Hi Sarah,
      Looking at the vintage photo of the house in all its former glory made me wish for better days for it too!

  12. I loved the photos and reading about your adventure as you explored the house. There is something comforting about the familiar but it's important to be open to the new as well, especially when God is doing something new. I guess like most things it's a question of getting the balance.

    1. Hi Lesley,
      It is! Getting that blend of fresh and familiar is an interesting mix and I think it might be a special blend for each of us! :) Thanks for reading here!

  13. What an amazing adventure, Valerie, and a lovely way to spend the holiday. I love your perspective on embracing what God has written over our lives with fresh eyes. I'm so grateful that we have a God who doesn't leave us as He found us and that in Him, there is always the hope for transformation in our lives. Hugs, friend - thank you for sharing your journey with us!

    1. Hi Tiffany,
      I'm grateful we are ever changing, ever moving forward, too! xo

  14. Valerie I really enjoyed this post. As usual. I went to St Augustine this summer. I thought of you. I had forgotten what time of year you went. I really enjoyed the historic area and found myself wishing I had some alone time to explore. I liked all of your references to seeing the old as something new. That's so hard. It's true in relationships too. People grow and change so our relating with them and to them does as well. We have to be flexible.
    Your story of the old building was interesting. I know you could make something stunning out of that :)
    Love U!

  15. Hi Somer,
    That's right -- I remember reading your post about St. Augustine! It seemed funny to me to see it in the summer since I always go at Thanksgiving and it's usually a little chilly. There's so much there to see and appreciate -- I just love it! You are so right about relationships -- we have to constantly be ready to change our perspectives in our relationships and I think that's a good thing! xoxo Love you too!


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