We bought a house! It wasn’t supposed to happen this fast, but it did, and it’s still a pinch-me moment.

Always a part of our plan while circling the country, it was our mission to scope out a place to settle at the end of our epic trip. We figured that there was a definitive advantage to traveling through all parts of America for an up close and personal look at what could be next for us, making it easier to sort out all the fodder, and focus on the merits of communities that caught our attention. But we never counted on finding a new residence this quickly. And we never counted on settling in Florida!

We knew starting out, that our days in New Jersey were numbered. After growing up and growing old in the Northeast–with sixty-four winters of low temperatures and high taxes–it didn’t take much figuring to realize that retirement was anywhere but New Jersey and the surrounding snowbelt. Yes, it meant saying goodbye to friends and family, but the notion of trading the comfort and familiarity of an old sweater for a tank top and flip flops was too profound to ignore.

As we streamed thru America, we carried a quiet list of must-haves and desires that we would superimpose from time to time over different destinations in order to analyze the community credentials, although it seemed that our list was so exhaustive and exclusive that we wondered if there was a place for us at all.

We wanted a beach and the mountains; we wanted a quaint yet vital town or city–not too big, but not too small–that would still have a cultural identity reflected by its diversity of good restaurants, music venues, art galleries and local merchants, all within reasonable proximity; we wanted affordable tax-friendly living to stretch our dollars into our late nineties; we wanted space around us to protect our sacred privacy, just in case we wanted to run around naked; we wanted newer construction to ease ourselves of homeowner headaches; we wanted a climate that would allow us generous outdoor time, and while the passage of seasons wasn’t a high priority, it would certainly break the monotony of spring, summer, spring, summer, etc.

Immediately, we ruled out the Northwest because of the rain, the cold and fires. We rejected the Southwest for it’s dryness and heat (although Sedona was in the running). California was too expensive, and Texas was too Republican (except for Austin, ahh, thank goodness for Austin). After disqualifying the Midwest for its lack of mountains or beaches, we knew we were running out of possibilities.

We concentrated on our search in earnest after returning from our New Jersey Thanksgiving with family, and reboarded the Airstream temporarily stored in Charlotte. We resumed our country tour in Charleston, which seemed to me like a perfect location. It had everything that we were looking for, except plantation living proved too costly. The closer we got to the historic city, the further removed we got from affordable real estate. And the closer we got to affordable housing, the city inevitably slipped further away from sight and touch. Unfortunately, Savannah was no different. Sadly, we crossed South Carolina and Georgia off our personal prospectus.

I had mentioned to Leah from the beginning that I never considered myself Florida material, yet here we were in Jacksonville, considering the likelihood of St. Augustine. Interestingly, America’s most historic city (founded September 1565) ticked all of our boxes (other than mountains, eight hours away). All that remained was finding a house that we could make our home.

Local friends recommended an agent friend of theirs who picked us up from a nearby Walmart parking lot (where we drycamped the night before), and patiently chauffeured us from one development to another. But everything Bob had shown us was underwhelming until we walked through a custom-built house on a cul-de-sac bordering a preserve on two sides–originally built for a client who’d lost her financing and had to walk away from the sale–and offered at a price that Leah and I could afford, with a floorplan that suited our needs: open-concept, single floor living with 12-foot ceilings, a gourmet kitchen with natural gas, a screened-in lanai, and a 3-car garage.

Concord Floor Plan-2258-Madeira

We didn’t commit right away. Leah had her doubts about community amenities, but a 10-minute bicycle ride to historic downtown, and 6 miles from Vilano Beach proved to be a winning combination, even though the association pool was unheated. We deliberated for a week before coming to the conclusion that we might regret passing on an amazing opportunity.

We called Bob and the builder’s agent to find out if the house was still available. It was.

After negotiating the details, the extras, and the price, the house now belongs to us and the bank, contingent upon closing.

We still have three months of traveling ahead of us, but we are finally free to explore the balance of our road trip without the pressure or burden of where we’ll relocate.

All that remains is the when and the how.

Hair Today, Gone Tomorrow

With our travels slowing while we hunker down in Florida during the impending winter months, Leah has redirected her focus and efforts inward. She has contemplated doing something with her hair after growing it out for the nine months we’ve been on the road–originally citing the ease of pulling it back or putting it up when we were spending a fair amount of time enjoying the great outdoors–but recently she’s grown tired of her look, thinking that a change might boost her self-image.

I have learned long ago to always offer a compliment when asked to comment on how something looks. For example, on the occasion when Leah would buy a new article of clothing that I know she likes, it’s always easier to agree with her purchase.

“What do you think of this?” Leah might ask.

The safest response is usually: “I like it if you like it.”

…although, sometimes a question could provoke unwanted friction, and would demand tightrope accuity: “So what do you think about this dress on me? Do you think it makes me look fat?” she’ll ask, primping in front of the mirror while admiring the line or the color.

This is a quicksand question for which there is never a delicate answer. And the trap couldn’t be more obvious. Answering “No dear, of course not. The dress is very slimming!” can only complicate things, and warrants a surefire response: “Great! But you think I’m fat!”

However, by stating the obvious and acknowledging the pitfall, it’s possible to defuse the situation, and escape unscathed: “Only a fat suit could make you look fat, dear.”

Yet when it comes to offering “solicited” advice, I’m usually on terra firma, and free to speak my mind.

“I’m thinking about changing my hair,” began Leah, “and I’ve been thinking about getting lilac highlights. Whaddaya think?”

Of course, she’s asking the right person, because lilac highlights is something I happen to know a lot about. In fact, not a day goes by when someone doesn’t ask me about lilac highlights.

I considered my words. “I think that if you do it, and like it, it’s a great look for you. But if don’t, you’ll be miserable until the color fades away,” I replied cautiously and conclusively.

“Well, I have to do something,” Leah continued, “so why not risk it? I’m making a hair appointment at the next place we visit!”

The day of reckoning arrived the other day.

“You need to drive me to the salon for my 9:30 appointment,” informed Leah.

“Okay,” I relented. “Have you figured out what you have in mind yet?”

“I’m not too sure,” Leah confessed, “I have a few ideas, but nothing certain. We’ll see. Come and get me in a couple of hours.”

I went out for breakfast, and reflected on the direction that Leah might go. I didn’t expect anything radical, because Leah’s not that kind of person. She seldom wears makeup and eschews the glitz and glamour in favor of the practical and casual. Besides, as I often remind her, she’s beautiful and doesn’t need it. Once in a while, a touch of color on her lips tells me that we’re dressing up for a night on the town.

Still, when we met nearly 13 years ago,

Leah and me 2.jpg

Leah was periodically dying her hair to chase away gray tones in a Sisyphean effort to postpone the inevitable.

She continued to be a honey blonde until she was diagnosed with breast cancer three years ago, and made a conscious decision to go gray after chemotherapy. While Leah fortunately kept her hair during treatment, the fear of losing it by introducing harsh chemicals soon after was considered too risky.

Leah’s hair remained short, and the temptation to go back to blonde eventually faded to resignation…that maybe going gray didn’t suck so bad after all. Friends and family offered encouragement and compliments on the amazing color long-hidden by the hair dye. Over time, Leah embraced the color and the look.

Meanwhile, Leah’s hairdresser was documenting the makeover…


back of head1

I could have stayed at the diner, and waited for the phone call, but I drove back to the salon and waited inside the F-150 in eager anticipation.

When the phone finally rang–more than two hours since dropping Leah at the door–I played coy.

“I’m just finishing up, here. You can come and get me any time.” she propositioned.

There was an inviting lilt in her voice.

“Are you pleased with the result?” I asked, not wanting to appear too anxious.

“You’ll see,” she teased, “I just can’t believe that it’s me.”

3-4 view

“Well, in that case, I’m already parked outside, and it’s time for the big reveal,” I declared.

new do

She exited the salon, and stepped inside the truck cab. “How do you like it?” Leah asked hesitantly.

portrait (2)

I immediately forgot all the sage advice I’d ever followed to hedge against potential fall-out.

“I love it!” I blurted out.

“You do?” she second-guessed, looking for confirmation.

“Absolutely! It’s stunning,” I gushed. “But where’s the lilac highlights?”

“Good. The hairdresser said that it would get all over my pillow, and it would fade after only a couple of weeks. Besides, she said it’s what all the teens are doing these days. Anyway, we decided it would be better if I worked with what I had. So, all the highlights are my natural color, and she worked her magic to match the rest underneath the gray. Nothing too extravagant, just enough, don’t ya think?” Leah explained.

That’s when I realized that there was nothing wrong with a little glitz and glamour in our lives, and I was somewhat hopeful that some of it would rub off on me.

Mystery Blogger Award

With awards season upon us, and with many of the nominations coming before the close of 2017, I would be remiss if I didn’t nominate my favorite blogs before 2017 becomes just another check-writing mistake in 2018.

My qualifications to judge are simple. As a current recipient of the Mystery Blogger Awardit’s my obligation upon acceptance of the award to perpetuate the award, and nominate my successors. Yet, in so doing, there is a laundry list of rules that one must adopt to achieve compliance, which I will address as they appear, according to the originator:


1) Put the award logo/image on your blog:

mystery blogger award

2) List the RULES:

  1. Put the award logo/image on your blog
  2. List the rules.
  3. Thank whoever nominated you and provide a link to their blog
  4. Mention the creator of the award and provide a link as well
  5. Tell your readers 3 things about yourself
  6. You have to nominate 10 – 20 people
  7. Notify your nominees by commenting on their blog
  8. Ask your nominees any 5 questions of your choice, with one weird or funny question (specify)
  9. Share a link to your best post(s)

3) Thank whoever nominated you and provide a link to their blog:

I am grateful to The Campervan Man–One Man, One Van and No Plan for discovering my blog and introducing me to a wider audience through his nomination. The Campervan Man rides around in a restored VW bus, reminiscent of the kind my college roommate once owned.

I fondly remember Steve Weill’s VW cruising up Bethesda Avenue at 2 am until we reached the edge of Chevy Chase, where the “All Night Bakery” would serve fresh-baked raisin bread meant to satisfy every stoner’s most discerning palette.

As for the Campervan Man, “Fanny” was personally designed and rebuilt to carry him to distant places where part-time work often interferes with full-time travel.

4) Mention the creator of the award and provide a link as well:

The Mystery Blogger Award is the brainchild of Okoto Enigma, a fellow blogger who believes in building community by recognizing and appreciating the blogging achievements of others.

5) Tell your readers 3 things about yourself:

With my avatar standing at a virtual podium before my fellow followers and nominees, I’d like to accept this award and offer my posthumous thanks to Helen DeFrance, my English AP teacher for the ignominious distinction of failing me in her Seniors’ English class 47 years ago because I overslept for the AP exam.

“My mean sister played a prank on me by turning off my alarm,” I explained, but Ms. DeFrance responded to my well-crafted and creative excuse with stinging rebuke. “You’ll never amount to anything!” she scorned, presenting me with a scarlet F scrawled across the front of my bluebook, which consequently disqualified me from any high school graduation academic awards.

Of course, her mean words and lack of empathy shattered a nerve, which later fueled my burning desire to be the best professional writer that I could be. And so, if I could exhume Helen DeFrance, and confront her for her audacious attack on my adolescent behavior and fragile ego, I would thank her for not mincing words, and providing me with the impetus to tell my story many years later in a way that no AP English exam could ever score.

6) You have to nominate 10 – 20 people, and

7) Notify your nominees by commenting on their blog:

My nominees–in no particular order:

The Loyal Brit Wit is a language enthusiast who flexes her word muscle in a variety of styles.

Widowcranky offers an unusual angle on twisted art, and a twisted angle on unusual art.

Chasing Patches is a quest on water as Streaming Thru America is to land.

Mehar Gandhi specializes in poetry with a knack for visual imagery.

floatinggold mixes creative writing with creative ranting.

smotheringfools showcases esoteric art with heart.

The Nostalgia Diaries features therapeutic reflections with insightful impressions.

A Walk and a Lark shares a passion of the great outdoors, one step at a time.

Michael Stephen Wills tells a story with pictures and words that’s more than the sum of his parts.

Joshi Daniel has an eye for eyes that captures the subject and lures the viewer into a visual conversation.

8) Ask your nominees any 5 questions of your choice; with one weird or funny question (specify). Questions selected by the Campervan Man:

1. Mountains or beaches? I am a fan of both, and find it impossible to pick between the two. Therefore, I select a hybrid…

beaching (2)
Lake Tahoe–my favorite mountain beach in the Sierra Nevadas!

2) What is your favourite word? First of all, “what” is not my favorite word, and I dislike being told that “what” is. However, I am a huge fan of “and”!

3) Where is your favourite place in the world and why? My favorite place on the planet is home. The fact that I’m traveling in an Airstream for one year means that I’m always home, albeit at a constantly changing address of my choosing.

4) If you could invite two people in the world to dinner, who would you invite? Given a choice of any two “people”, I would invite God and Satan. Then I would sit back and watch the sparks fly.

5) Would you rather fight 100 hamster-sized lions or 1 lion-sized hamster? Neither, as I’m a firm supporter of animal rights,

5 Questions I would ask my own nominees are:

1) Which part of yourself would you change if you could and why?

2) What’s been your most creative Halloween costume to date?

3) Given a choice, would you rather work four 10- hour days, or five 8-hour days?

4) What’s your favorite holiday and why?

5) If you threw a Black Stone into the Red Sea, what would it become?

9) Share a link to your best post(s):

While I’ve written many favorite posts, I’ve also created several under-appreciated posts written earlier which I’d prefer to showcase in this forum.

The Saga of Sinbad

A Hole in the Head

Living with Less

Knock, Knock

Joshua Tree–the Album and the National Park

Happy Birthday, Dad!

Fire in the Hole

Beauty and the Beast

Blue Icing on the Cake

An Olympian Apology

Happy blogging, Happy Holidays, and Happy New Year!




Riddle: What does the Trump administration and the Army Corp of Engineers have in common?

Answer: Both tried to drain the swamp and both failed miserably!

At one time, four thousand square miles of southern Florida was regarded as a vast and untapped resource,


but not because of its natural beauty and bounty.

blue heron

Rather, the Everglades was long considered an uninhabitable and hostile environment filled with horrible reptiles,


snout underwater

hordes of mosquitoes, and enough sawgrass to cut a man to shreds;

taking flight

yet, nonetheless worthy of future cultivation and commerce, if only the rich underlying soil could be reclaimed.

By the middle of the 19th century, political dreams and aspirations begat studies and commissions which begat a Congressional resolution that decreed that draining the swamp would result in enormous land improvement, incentivizing developers and homesteaders to relocate to Florida.

After the Civil War, Hamilton Disston, a Pennsylvania real estate magnate bought 4 million acres at 25 cents an acre, and began dredging canals through the mangrove forests with the intention of lowering the levels of the wetlands by reducing the basin of the Caloosahatchee and Kissimmee Rivers.


While the canals never drained the Everglades, the publicity spawned newcomers to the area, who willingly paid Disston $5 per acre–establishing towns like Fort Myers on the west coast and Ocala in central Florida.

Oil tycoon, Henry Flagler took notice, and seized the opportunity to buy large tracts of coastal land to build a railroad, eventually reaching Miami, and encouraging further growth and tourism to fill his grand hotels, from St. Augustine to Palm Beach and beyond.

Fast forward to the 1930s, when the Army Corps of Engineers, under the direction of Herbert Hoover, built a dike four stories high, and 66 miles long on the southern edge of Lake Okeechobee–controlled through a system of channels, locks and levees–shifting the focus from drainage to flood control, in response to deadly storm surge caused by massive hurricanes.

The dike was so successful at holding back groundwater, that 1 million acres of Everglades, now parched and leached with ocean water burned in 1939 after an epic drought. Top soil quickly decomposed from bacteria now exposed to air, causing homes erected during the building boom to lose their foundations, only to be replaced by stilts.

A series of pump stations were built in the 1950s, designed to release water in drier times, or remove and pump it to the Atlantic or Gulf of Mexico in times of flood.

pump house.jpg

And so it went throughout decades of mismangement: one problem after another led to one fix after another, with little regard for conservation.

Although Everglades National Park was dedicated in 1947 to preserve a fragile ecosystem that was suffering from explosive growth and systematic water diversion, the Army Corp of Engineers continued to build water conservation areas bordered by canals for intended sugarcane production and thriving population centers, again depriving the Everglades of water, and further shrinking a vanishing ecosystem.

Today, the Everglades is widely known as a network of wetlands,

mirrored water

and forests,

palm apples

not a swamp as was once thought–although it flows almost imperceptibly at three feet per hour out of Lake Okeechobee–and is home to threatened species such as the Florida panther, the American crocodile, and the West Indian manatee. Congressional appropriations are currently earmarked only for environmental projects, with high priority given to restoring the natural flow, but not without political sleight of hand and conservation controversy.

On a recent visit to the Everglades Holiday Park, part of Broward County Parks,


Leah and I took an airboat ride through the canals…


cruising at 60

…in search of alligators which have eluded us since the beginning of our trip (see: Where Have All the Gators Gone?).

But not this time around. Happily, Captain MJ knew exactly where to find them–on the mud flats…

gater on mud

and in the water…

gater in the water

head above water

Afterwards, we marveled at the stories of Paul Bedard, a bouny hunter and trapper who has made a commitment to rescue as many alligators as possible…

Stumpy shows his 80 teeth

from golf courses, backyards, and swimming pools.

no hands!

At the end of the show, we dismissed the notion of having our picture taken with a baby gator, but couldn’t help but be amused by those who patiently waited their turn.

holding a gator (2).jpg

Alternately, while walking through the park, our thoughts returned to Donald Trump,

gater sunning

who pledged to drain the political landscape of government corruption, “and make our government honest again–believe me.”

Yet he continues to enrich himself at the taxpayers expense: with extended stays to golf properties he still owns; and by championing the Republican tax bill–which guarantees his family millions of dollars saved from pass-through deductions, a top-rate tax reduction, and an expanded estate-tax exemption.

No less guilty are three of Trump’s lieutenants: Tim Price, disgraced and outed Secretary of the Department of Health and Human Services, Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin, and EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt…

on the beach

all accused of using government funds for personal travel on outrageously expensive non-commercial flights.

Which begs the question: How can they be trusted to swim through the Everglades without harming their own environment?

Moon Over Muddy Mountain

Now that Leah and I are nine months into Streaming thru America, a familiar question often arises from family, friends, and fellow bloggers: “What’s your favorite place, so far?” It still remains the most difficult question to answer. Here’s why:

We’ve covered over 32,000 miles to 104 distinct destinations–with amazing views of beaches, mountains, prairies, canyons, and deserts. We’ve toured cities and suburbs, villages and vicinities, parks and plantations, graveyards and ghost towns.

Thus far, we’ve crossed the country from the Atlantic to the Pacific and back; we’ve traveled as far north as Jasper National Park in Alberta, Canada to the southern edge of Florida within the Everglades; We’ve ascended Trail Ridge Road to the Rocky Mountain tundra at 12,183 feet to the salt flats of Death Valley’s Badwater Road at 282 feet below sea level.

Having slogged through Los Angeles and Miami traffic, we’ve also driven hours through remote regions without a soul in sight. We’ve cursed the crowds at Yellowstone and Zion, and celebrated the isolation of Black Canyon of the Gunnison and Theodore Roosevelt National Parks. We’ve witnessed numerous national monuments, and bore witness to monumental tragedy in Las Vegas.

While we’ve camped at some of the fanciest and most expensive RV parks in the country, we’ve also boondocked at Walmart parking lots, always meeting new people from around the world, yet reminiscing with old neighbors we discovered at a scenic overlook in North Dakota.

Despite having written over 80,000 words and shared over 2,500 photographs of our adventures this year, I feel compelled to answer that one nagging question, but forgive me if I pause for a moment longer to filter all the information collected to date…

The one location that stands out over all the others is Valley of Fire State Park–16-miles outside of Overton, Nevada–as much for the solace and cleansing it brought us after the Las Vegas massacre, as for it’s raw and natural beauty.

And from this experience, I’ve reluctantly selected one photograph that captured my imagination and exemplified my feelings–two days after the world grappled with senseless inhumanity.

sheep and moon (4)

May 2018 bring us closer together as we work to build bridges between communities, and discover a path to peace and tolerance.




Home Invasion!

As if straight out of a horror film, our Airstream has been overrun by ghost ants. This wasn’t the first time we’ve seen bugs in the trailer, because bugs are an undeniable consequence of living outdoors, and a way of life. However, while occasional spiders, love bugs, moths, gnats, no see-ums, and mosquitoes have all managed to infiltrate our home at one time or another, it’s not until recently, that so many unwelcomed six-legged insects have made themselves comfortable without an invitation.

Long considered a well-established resident of South Florida and other tropical and subtropical environs, Tapinoma melanocephalum workers are thought to have illegally immigrated from Asia or Africa–where to this day, as an affront to our democracy–they continue to worship their queen, while spreading their vermin and contaminating our food.

Despite their small stature, at 1.3 to 1.5 mm long, I’m certain that had there been a border wall to protect us from this infestation, these pests would never have gone on to infiltrate the foundation of our trailer, and rob us of our American dream.

And had the FBI taken notice and properly profiled these larvae from the beginning, none of this would have ever happened. To be sure:

They have 12-segmented antennae with the segments gradually thickening towards the tip. Antennal scapes surpass the occipital border. Head and thorax are a deep dark brown with gaster and legs opaque or milky white (Creighton 1950). The thorax is spineless.

The gaster (swollen part of abdomen) has a slit-like anal opening which is hairless. (Smith and Whitman 1992). The abdominal pedicel (stalk-like structure immediately anterior to the gaster) consists of one segment which is usually hidden from view dorsally by the gaster (Creighton 1950). Stingers are absent.

The small size, combined with the pale color, make ghost ant workers hard to see (Smith and Whitman 1992).

At the very least, these ants have been extremely annoying, invading every part of the Airstream in a matter of days. We discovered them in the kitchen, in the bathroom, in the closet, in the bedroom, and ON MY PILLOW! EWW! Leah has been reflexively swatting phantom bugs from her arms and legs at the the very thought of our new colonists.

Quickly, ants were now to blame for every miscellaneous skin bump, itch, or irritation on her body.

While camping at John Dickinson State Park in Jupiter, it was hard to ignore the many ant hills throughout the sites. I backed the Airstream into stall #43, and soon located several small cones of sand with limited ant traffic. Being careful to not disturb them, I thought they might return the favor, but the ants had a different agenda.

“Oh my God!” shrieked Leah. “They’re everywhere! They have to be stopped!”

Leah laid into the ants like they were ISIS terrorists. Her flip-flop was a particularly effective weapon in her campaign to eradicate the enemy. WHACK! WHACK! WHACK!

“Gotcha!” she bellowed.

She came down hard on the ants, but there was no quit in their little legs as they they rebounded in their crazy dance, scurrying around in all directions at once, before darting into their hiding places–provoking her ire and igniting her wrath.

“We’ve got to do something!” she vowed.

A trip to the garden section of Home Depot offered several interesting choices that promised instant relief, but we opted for Raid. Somehow, the notion of killing ants with a lightning bolt stirred our sado-masochistic sensibilities.

retail bait

After returning to the Airstream, Leah tore into the packaging with a vengeance. Out popped eight plastic bait traps, looking like a mini Buster Keaton pork pie hats.

Declaring all-out war on ants, we strategically scattered them around the Airstream, often debating the locations of the most effective kill zones. For the most part, I acquiesced to Leah’s judgement, so long as I secured rights to wage war in the bathroom, which I considered my domain.

I closely observed the ants racing inside the aluminum channel along the wall, and knew exactly what I had to do. I wedged one of the little white poison pucks behind the soap dish, and waited for the feeding frenzy. After a minute or so, a curious ant came to inspect the trap, as if the Sirens were luring it to its certain death…

ant on a trap

…and swallowed it whole.

ant takes the bait

“Yes!” I exclaimed. “One by one, you will eat the poison and die!”

I launched into my end-zone victory dance with a firm belief that we were now winning the war on ghost ants like never before. And that there will be so much winning, that we will tire of winning so much.

**Feature Image: Ghost ant worker, lateral view. Drawing by Division of Plant Industry**

Top of the World

While much of the country is enjoying a refreshing blast of Arctic air to put them in the holiday mood, southeastern Floridians are currently languishing under fair winds and sunny skies, and wondering how they’ll ever manage with temperatures climbing to 80 degrees.

“Look, we’re gonna be in Florida for a few months. As tempting as it is to stay inside and hunker down for the winter, we can’t allow the weather to dictate our lives. We’ve got to get out and stay active. Maybe we should go for a hike,” stated Leah.

“Agreed! In nine months of traveling, we’ve never let the weather interfere with our outdoor plans. So if you’re up for it, we could hike to the observation tower atop Hobe Mountain in Jonathan Dickinson State Park,” I suggested.

“Are you sure?” Leah posited. “It’s been a while since we’ve done anything that strenuous. We could be setting ourselves up for a painful tomorrow.”

While it’s true that we’ve been sedentary lately, and maybe gained a pound or two from Thanksgiving overeating, I thought we could use a legitimate challenge to clear the cobwebs and get the blood pumping in ways when we were performing at our peak.

“C’mon! It’ll be fun. And if it’s too tough to the top, we’ll go as far as we can, and we’ll turn back,” I persuaded.

As a warm-up to our hike, we rode our bicycles to the trailhead parking lot, passing the Loxahatchee River,

Lexahachee River

and two camouflaged sandhill cranes along the way.

sandhill cranes

Apparently, resident Floridians were already deep into their hibernation cycle, as there wasn’t a single car in the lot, or maybe this was the hike that everyone avoids, for fear of over-exertion.

We spotted our destination from a distance,

palm and tower

and checked our water supply to ensure we were carrying enough to stay hydrated.

When we approached the trailhead, we stopped at the sign to get better acquainted with our surroundings.

Hobe Mountain Tower sign

“Are you sure you wanna go through with this?” I queried. “There’s no shame in pedaling away.”

“As long as we’ve made it this far, we should at least try,” Leah opined.

We set out along the boardwalk, traversing the planks, as we ascended the dune.


We trudged up the risers,


and caught a glimpse of our target.


We were nearing the halfway point of our trek, and I couldn’t help but notice Leah’s shallow breathing. Thus far, she had been a real trooper; five minutes had passed since we’d started out, and she hadn’t once complained about her neck and feet. Although, I had to admit, my back and knee were beginning to throb.

tower in the distance4

Fortunately, the park mavens had wisely provided a bench just when we needed it,


giving us a chance to recover, and consider a different strategy for attacking the steeper second half of the hike.

getting closer5

We managed our steps more carefully,

closer still6

pacing ourselves as we approached the tower. From a distance, it seemed so small, but now that we were standing so close, it towered over us. We paused for a moment to appreciate its pine leg supports, the efficiency of its screened porch,

observation tower

and the sophisticated intricacy of its frame lumber construction.


Leah and I took a long look back to see how far we’d come, and we couldn’t help but feel proud of our accomplishment. But it was too soon to gloat.

looking back7

We still had to contend with the tower ascent.

“I’ll bet they have seats up there,” I predicted.

“That would be a good idea, because you never know when you might want to sit,” Leah exclaimed.

“Exactly!” I stated precisely.

tower (2)

Climbing the stairs was faster than I expected; the adrenalin was coursing through our veins in eager anticipation of the view. Once at the top of the tower, the thin air and the expansive vista made us giddy with excitement. At 86 feet above sea level, we were on top of the world.


All that remained was retracing our steps back to the parking lot. But that would be easy, now that we were riding a Florida high. Although the naysayers would argue that it’s downhill from here.

Happy Birthday, Dad!

After nine months of driving 32,000 miles and covering 102 destinations, Leah and I arrived in time to celebrate Dad’s 93rd birthday at MorseLife Memory Center in West Palm Beach, Florida. It had been ten months since I had last seen Dad, and I was determined to be there to mark Dad’s latest milestone.

But things did not go originally as planned. In my mind, Dad had remembered the dozens of phone calls we shared prior to my arrival, with me always reminding him of our anticipated plans for our visit: how Leah and I would pick him up and treat him to dinner at a local Chinese restaurant–something he hadn’t tasted since relocating to a Kosher assisted-living residence over two years ago.

Instead, we found Dad sitting in his lounge chair in his room, with a nebulizer mask around his face. His eyes were shut and he was still, as the whir of the machine misted steroids into his lungs. I glanced at his right hand to examine the damage the nurse had called to tell me about while we were enroute.

His paper-thin, leopard-spotted skin was loosely wrapped in gauze to protect a tear above the web of his thumb–the damage caused by a tumble after losing his balance while pushing himself out of his chair during a late morning activity.

I removed his omnipresent cap and kissed the crown of his bald head.

“Happy Birthday, Dad!” I shouted, so he could better hear me without the benefit of his hearing aids, out for repair. He opened his eyes, and forced a smile through the mask.

We allowed time for his aide to untether him and prep him for his big night out.

Earlier in the day, there had been a small birthday celebration after lunch, with cupcakes for all the residents on his floor. Although he couldn’t recall the sing-along, he vaguely remembered the cupcakes, which were finger-lickin’ good.


It seems that one of the side effects of bottomless home-cooking and easy-living at MorseLife has been a steady rise in Dad’s weight–from 185 pounds upon admission, to 220 pounds, currently–accounting for four complete wardrobe changes within the past 18 months.

“Today’s your birthday, Dad. Do you remember me telling you that I was taking you out for your birthday?” I asked.

My question was met with a shoulder shrug.

Trying again, “Do you know how old you are today?”

“Not really,” he replied weakly.

“Today, you’re 93!” I announced animatedly.

“Oh, yeah?” Dad responded unenthusiastically.

“Do you remember your birth date…the year you were born?” I attempted.

“Um, 19……23?” he answered cautiously.

“Very close,” I encouraged. “It was 1924! That was a long time ago!”

“Okay,” Dad replied, nonplussed.

After desperately trying to pull his wounded hand through the sleeve of his windbreaker without causing him to wince in pain, we knew our plans were doomed. Even if we were lucky enough to secure his outerwear, I was clueless how I would usher Dad into the front seat of our F-150 without the assistance of a forklift sheathed in kid gloves.

I turned to Leah. “This is never gonna work. We need a Plan B!”

“I agree,” Leah intoned.

It was just after 6pm, and the other residents were nearly finished in the dining room, so maintaining Dad’s schedule was fast becoming our newest obstacle.

Fortunately, the residence maintains a private dining room for family occasions, so I went in search of Chinese take-out food within the West Palm area, while Leah sat with Dad.

By 6:30pm, we were unpacking cartons of fried rice, spring rolls, chicken satay and sesame beef on paper plates to preserve the integrity of the facility’s dietary laws, albeit, still feeling somewhat guilty for turning Dad a trifle treyf.

But it was hard to argue with Dad’s reaction. He was enjoying himself.


Surprisingly, he had given up on tableware, and surrendered to his hunger by using his hands. Unlike spring rolls and satay, I never thought of fried rice and sesame beef as finger food, but to Dad, it all looked the same, and tasted like more.

After cleaning up, we posed for pictures with the Birthday Boy,

Dad and me (2)


Dad and Leah (2)

and wondered how much of Dad’s party would be remembered by tomorrow. We made him swear an oath–that he would never tell that we infiltrated a Kosher facility with non-Kosher food.

And sadly, he never will.



Cross Beams

Life on the road can be unsettling to the soul, so from time to time–when passing through towns and cities–we’ll randomly take our time to wander through a variety of houses of worship for a healthy dose of salvation and inner peace.

As we’ve wound our way across America, several sanctuaries have stood out for their historical significance, stunning architecture, and their integration into the communities they serve.

The chapel of the Mission San Antonio de Valero, better known as the Alamo, was founded in the early 18th century as a Roman Catholic mission along the San Antonio River,

exterior choir

and distinguished itself as the Shrine of Texas Liberty, commemorating the Battle of the Alamo on March 6, 1836, when a 13-day siege ended in the Mexican army’s victory over 189 Texian soldiers.

lone star flag

Originally, the compound was intended as an education center for America’s Indians who converted to Christianity,


but, ultimately the Alamo became a fortress of New Spain militiamen after the Franciscan missionaries abandoned it in 1793.


In 2015, the Alamo was designated as a UNESCO World Heritage site.


While exploring Big Sky country around Helena, Montana, Leah and I visited the Cathedral of St. Helena,

cathedral exterior

a Roman Catholic parish patterned after the Gothic form of Votive Church in Vienna, Austria,

buttress (2)

and distinctive for its 59 stained glass windows depicting scenes from the Old and New Testaments.


Nearly destroyed by an earthquake in 1935, the cathedral was restored to its original design after three years of reconstruction.

rose window

The interior was gilded in time for the Cathedral’s Golden Jubilee in 1959,


and included in National Register of Historic Places in 1980–giving the residents of Helena something to crow about.

rose window perch

Romanesque architecture defines the exterior of the Cathedral Basilica of Saint Louis, completed in 1914,

cathedral ext

and attributed to patron Saint Louis IX, King of France.

ceiling of the Narthex (2)

However, the interior reflects from a Byzantine style rooted in soaring domes and mosaic art.


Installation of the Cathedral’s mosaics–which adorn almost every decorative surface of wall, ceiling and dome–began in 1912 and was completed in 1988.

depiction of Pentacost

Twenty different artists collectively inlaid 41.5 million tessarae tiles of 7,000 colors, covering 83,000 square feet, making it the largest mosaic collection in the world.

depiction of Easter

Pope John Paul II designated the Cathedral a basilica in 1997, where it acts as the mother church for the Archdiocese, and seat of its archbishop.

Historic Bay

In stark contrast, the Cadet Chapel–a multi-faith house of worship–soars heaven-bound at the Air Force Academy campus located in Colorado Springs, Colorado.

chapel exterior

With 17 upright wings on edge, and piercing the sky at 150 feet, the Cadet Chapel is a stirring example of modern American Architecture.

chapel 2xt (2)

Constructed mostly of aluminum, glass, and steel,

chapel alter (2)

the main sanctuary is home to an Air Force Academy demographic that is primarily Protestant.

chapel int (2)

However, the lower level of the structure houses chapels and prayer rooms for Catholics, Jews, Muslims, Buddhists, and Orthodox Christians.

lower level chapels.jpg

The Cadet Chapel was awarded the American Institute of Architects’ Twenty-five Year Award in 1996, and was named a U.S. National Historic Landmark in 2004.

stained glass ceiling

Also reflective of modern American architecture, and an homage to nature in its purest form is Thorncrown Chapel, nestled in the Ozarks of Arkansas, on the edge of Eureka Springs.


Constructed from the same Southern pine indigenous to the site, the chapel is so integrated into the landscape that it stealthily stands camouflaged by its surroundings,


and represents an inside/outside sensibility, with Arts and Crafts flourishes.

pews and lights

Thorncrown Chapel was named a National Historic Place in 2000, and received the Twenty-five Year Award by the American Institute of Architects in 2006 for design of enduring significance.


The Cathedral of St. John the Baptist in Savannah, Georgia is a Roman Catholic sanctuary built in the French Gothic style, and was dedicated in 1876.

St. John exterior

Twelve years later, fire gutted the interior, leaving behind only the walls and towers.

reference sign

Overcoming adversity, the church community quickly rebuilt much of what was destroyed, and resumed inside services in 1900,


while interior decoration continued for an additional 13 years,


to restore the stained glass and organ loft to its original splendor.

pipe organ

Embedded in Savannah’s Historic District, the Cathedral of St. John the Baptist was awarded landmark status by the National Park Service in 1966.


Lastly, in our effort to somehow balance the preponderance of churches and chapels we’ve toured, we visited Kahal Kadosh Beth Elohim Synagogue in the Historic District of Charleston, South Carolina.


Kahal Kadosh is notable as the country’s second oldest synagogue, and the oldest in continuous use. Established in 1749, Kahal Kadosh grew into America’s largest and wealthiest Jewish community by the end of the 18th century.

historic landmark

A new vision of American Reform Judaism originated at this site in 1824 after parting ways from its conservative Sephardic origins.

1st temple (3)

After Charleston’s fire of 1838 ravaged the city and destroyed the synagogue, a new Greek revival style was adopted for the new structure, with rich interior ornamentation,

Greek Revival

reminiscent of Greek temples.

peeling ceiling

Jewish services, according to reformist rituals and practices, were now conducted in English, with a new emphasis on organ music, and women were encouraged to participate with men on the main floor, breaking with a long-standing tradition of separation and isolation in the sanctuary balconies.

pipe organ (2)

The rich history and diversity of religion and protected religious freedoms in America cannot be overlooked as increased debate centers around self-centered interpretations of our Constitution’s First Amendment.

Moral outrage and hubris abound as politicians and public figures drape themselves in stars and stripes, while preaching to their flock from behind protective glass with handfuls of stones at the ready.

A reckoning of biblical proportion awaits us if we cannot ascend beyond our intolerance, and let each other live as we would have others let us live–in peace and without judgement.


Mercer’s Swan Song

High on a bluff, overlooking the Wilmington River, sits Bonaventure Cemetery, 160 acres of inspired Southern Gothic funerary art and monuments worthy of any fabled ghost story setting, and one of the most hauntingly beautiful resting places found in America.

Named Bonadventure–good fortune in Italian–and conceived as a 9,920-acre plantation stretching from Ebenezer to Sunbury, Georgia, the land owners, Tattnall Sr. and Mullryne (son and father-in-law) mistakenly sided with King George III during the Revolutionary War, and were immediately denounced as traitors and stripped of their holdings by a Georgia council.

Tattnall Jr. returned from England soon after the war and reacquired a 750-acre tract of the property, where he settled with his Savannah-bred wife and family, before selling to Peter Wiltberger in 1846, who converted the land to a cemetery.

The day of our visit was dreary and wet, and it seemed fitting that the Spanish moss draped over 300 year-old oak trees would be weeping from the occasional drizzle.


Oddly, two sets of gates provide access to the graveyard: a Christian wing to left…

Christian entrance

and a Jewish gate to the right.

Bonaventure gate for Jews

We approached a gravedigger who was stepping out of his pick-up.

“I couldn’t help but notice the Jewish stars on top of the gate posts,” observed Leah.

“Yes, ma’am,” responded Doug, “This here’s a public cemetery.”

So Christians and Jews are buried together?” I questioned.

“Yes, sir,” agreed Doug. “Each religion’s got their own separate sections, and…”

“And there’s still room inside?” Leah interrupted.

“Yes, ma’am. I dug two fresh graves today. But you can’t buy your way in anymore, cuz everything’s all sold out long ago. But people keep askin’. I guess they’s dyin’ to get in,” joked Doug.


We set off to explore. The cemetery was unexpectedly quiet for being a top attraction for curiosity seekers, and the bereaved.

Bonaventure Lane

We were on separate missions. Leah went in search of her namesake, and found her in a short matter of time.

Leah Goldstein

Whereas, I was in search of Johnny Mercer’s memorial–the legendary lyricist who penned over 1500 songs, was nominated for 14 Academy Award nominations, won Oscars for The Days of Wine and Roses, Moon River, In the Cool, Cool, Cool, of the Evening, and On the Atchison, Topeka and Santa Fe, and co-founded Capitol records–which turned into more of a scavenger hunt.

Resorting to the internet, I discovered the section and plot (H-48), but finding it was another matter, since the layout is unlike any grid, with over 31,000 burial records to date.


Leah went one way, and I went another. We wandered aimlessly through rows and rows of plots till we plotzed. I quickly understood why guided tours through Bonadventure Cemetery are so popular.

Eventually, I got some help from a pair of caretakers who were blowing damp leaves across the dirt and gravel roads. They were eager to help, but my inability to translate Malaysian, turned my request into a game of Charades.

Using broken English and hand gestures, they redirected us to the general vicinity, where we crossed paths…


with officers…

General Anderson

Wheaton and wife

and gentlemen…







…and children.

4 babies

We wound our way through Section H until signs pointed to Johnny Mercer’s shrine of hits.

Johnny Mercer site

JM bench

Also in the vicinity, lies Georgia’s poet laureate and tragic orphan, Conrad Aiken,

Conrad Aiken

who is buried beside his father who murdered his mother, before turning the gun on himself when Conrad was 11-years old. Conrad went on to study at Harvard, where he was mentored by T.S. Eliot, and won the Pulitzer Prize for Selected Poems in 1930.

Another literary thread woven through the Bonaventure fabric includes New York Time’s longest-standing (216 weeks) bestseller, Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil, a true tale written by John Berendt.


The book cover featured Sylvia Shaw Judson’s Bird Girl, who graced the graveyard in relative obscurity for decades, until fans of the book sought out the statue’s location at Bonaventure, and began chipping away at its base for souvenirs. Eventually, Bird Girl was rescued and resettled in Savannah’s Telfair Museum of Art, where she can rest in one piece.

Bonaventure Cemetery under overcast skies during late autumn appears mostly monochromatic and presents a solemn and sombre mood. There are occasional pops of color from late blooms, to liven up a lifeless location,

angel and roses

but I was unprepared for the cheeky display I discovered on my way out.

cheeky Vaughn

For me, this represents a bonafide celebration of a life once lived, versus a death soon forgotten.

Southern (C)Harm

Charleston, South Carolina has a picture postcard personality with an imperfect and unpleasant past–mostly because Charleston was built on the backs of slaves for nearly 200 years, with nearly 1.5 million slaves passing through Charleston Harbor until the 13th Amendment to the Constitution abolished slavery in 1865–yet the appeal and beauty of Charleston cannot be denied.

A tour of Fort Moultrie on Sullivan’s Island offers a historical narrative that addresses the highs and lows of the Low Country from a military perspective.

Fort Moultrie sign

The earliest protection of Charleston’s harbor came from its outlying shoals, forcing ship traffic from the south, and across Sullivan’s Fort.

regional map_LI

Early defense of the harbor relied on a sixteen-foot thick sandwich between two slices of palmetto log-walls that British bombardments found impossible to penetrate. In June 1776, nine British warships were driven off under a hail of smooth-bore cannon fire during the Revolutionary War.

Consequently, Charleston was saved and the fort was renamed in honor of its commander, William Moultrie (1730-1805).

Moultrie grave

In 1794, with the addition of Vermont and Kentucky to the Union, a new 15 star/15 stripe flag flew beyond the sally port…

15 stars (2)

over a newly-styled defense system, with walls of earth and timber rising 17 feet above the shoreline.



In 1804, a hurricane destroyed the fort, calling for Congress to appropriate funds for a Second American System of coastal fortifications, including an 1809 rebuild of Fort Moultrie fortified with brick,

Ordinance building

and the addition of Fort Sumter to its south.

Fort Sumter1

South Carolina’s secession from the Union in 1860 provoked the Civil War. Moultrie was quickly abandoned in favor of Sumter’s stronger defense system. However, the Confederates bombed Sumter into submission three months later, gaining control of the harbor–and successfully defended against a Federal fleet of Ironclads with a string of 32-pounders lined across its battlements–until Charleston surrendered in 1865.

Fort Sumter

Fort Moultrie continued to modernize, and sustained to protect the southern coastline through both World Wars…


…by coordinating all harbor defenses through its Harbor Entrance Control post,

control room

until its decommission in 1947.

Communications room

Sullivan’s Island was also the first line of defense against virulent disease, providing “pest houses” for in-transit African slaves between 1700 and 1775. who were processed and quarantined prior to dispatch to the Slave Mart in Charleston,

Old Slave Mart Museum entrance

suggesting a crude and culpable counterpart to white immigration at Ellis Island.

The Old Slave Mart–now converted to a museum–tells the painful story of America’s darkest days in a straightforward way…

Selling a Slave

offering a self-guided tour through an unimaginable time when freedom was confiscated for a price,

The Price of a Human Being

and families were ripped apart,

museum attendee

so America could prosper.

The buyer

Yet, such a beautiful city has been wrought in the wake of such misery.

Fort Citadel (3)

long piers and bridge

2nd Presbytarian Church

Ravenal Bridge (2)

rainbow row

rainbow row sign

river walk

Waterfront Park

Moultrie Square

waterfront park and fountain (3)

But lest we forget:

This is sign (2)