DAY EIGHT – Saturday, October 29: “This Blog Writes Itself – OR – All’s Well That Ends Well”

Today is our travel day. Heavy fog and gray skies reflected our feelings about the trip being over. We had a leisurely time packing up and eating breakfast. The 2 Pancakes in One Minute machine (referred to as the pancake copier) was busier than usual this morning. Our grand plan of a picnic lunch and excessive nature watching was foiled as Circle B Bar Reserve was closed due to Hurricane Ian damage. That gave us more driving time…

Good thing we enjoy riding in the van. Van has been a member of the team this week, too! We’ve been successful at figuring out the missing and non-functional vents (using a baseball hat, Tide pen and yellow highlighter). The dark interior carpet provided hide and seek opportunities: Where’s the phone? Purse? Highlighter? Water bottle? (We never found the bug spray; the palmetto bugs could have easily carried it away). As the week progressed, Van mysteriously mimicked the crew in both odor and dirty appearance. 

Some quick Googling and a change of plans brought us to Hollis Family Park and Gardens. We picnicked and walked in the gardens providing many photo ops and even a story time.

Nature Watch: 1 cranky cat, 2 dead possums (not sure if they’re actually dead), 2 mourning doves (sad about the possums?), 9 white egrets, 42 head of cattle (retraced our steps; does it double the count if we drove past twice?), 28 turkey buzzards (circling the possums?) and finally, one gecko named Kenny living behind the headboard in a first floor hotel room (mental note: future Florida hotel rooms 2nd floor or higher).

We said goodbye to Van and hello to Delta at the Tampa airport. Delta Sky Club once again made our layover delightful with snacks and a large screen of the MSU vs. U of M football game. We are heading home with many stories and grateful hearts.

A big “thank y’all” to the Highlands County Habitat Team and to Bill and Fred for another Excellent Adventure. And readers, thanks for coming along on the journey with us. May God bless & guide you always to Know Christ and Make Him Known. Love to all!

DAY SEVEN – Friday, October 28: “Last Day on the Jobsite – OR – Can We Stay Another Week?”

The final workday we didn’t all ride in the same van due to a pitstop at Home Depot for extra trim as the “Measure Once, Cut 4 Times Team” proved not to be a good strategy. In an effort to avoid looking like the Beverly Hillbillies, they cut the 14-foot trim, so it didn’t stick out the back window. We had our safety talk, however, one of the crew told Jazan, “Give us the topic and we’ll fill you in.”  Jeremiah’s final devotional encouraged us to be co-creators with the whole of creation. So much goes into building a house, building a life, and sometimes we miss the miracles and blessings. God looks at all of creation and says it is Very Good. Each small, little part is good, but when we do it together, it is very good. This week has been Very Good

Today there was a punch list for the inspections and certain jobs were given priority. Robert, our Habitat Site Manager, had all the answers as evidenced by the number of times his name was called. He guided each team making sure we were doing this correctly. The Interior Crew continued the detailed caulking, nailing, touch-up paint, painting doors and more doors. Having purchased more molding, the doors were trimmed out. Soon-to-be Habitat homeowner Deli painted with the interior crew. 

Unions 117 and 118 worked together painting the Behr Admiral Gray exterior and even successfully negotiated ladder trades and paint refills. Kudos to Frank for picking a winning color. This blogger wonders, “How many different ways can you say, ‘we painted’?” Kudos also to Jazan for constantly washing brushes to keep them from gumming up in the heat. Gummed in 60 seconds.

The Infamous Black and Tan Garage Boy Band performed all day. They didn’t choose the garage; the garage chose them. They kept practicing the same songs:  painting, measuring, cutting, and installing battens. They are now hitting the road for a bi-state tour.  

Yesterday Frank’s pranksters were active, and today the shenanigans continued (the extra ketchup packets came in handy!) These playful hijinks were well received and provided much laughter. Habitat saved the best lunch for last for extra motivation: Sonny’s BBQ! After lunch, we worked as hard as we could and got over 95% of the jobs completed. This is typical of a Habitat build; we have to leave something for the next group! Robert mentioned they were 17 days behind when we showed up and now only 2. They will easily hit the deadline for inspections keeping the December move-in target on track. 

Nature Watch: 2 dragonflies and fresh purple blooms on our newly planted bushes. We didn’t really see many nature sightings on the jobsite (too busy with the punch list), but there is enough insect life living in and around the hotel to have its own blog. Top picks include scurrying giant cockroaches (or the more palatable Florida title of “palmetto bug”) and the —- biting ants (other words come to mind, but this is a G-rated blog). 

Night Watch: Devotionals at the pool centered around all of us and all of our lives being sacred. This can be a challenge sometimes when we see and experience suffering and injustice. God is very good, and we were encouraged to see it all as sacred and to bring it home with us. The big surprise tonight was going to the American Legion in Lake Placid. Once again, we arrived 10 minutes before food service ended (no one said, “My Pleasure” though). We quickly made dinner choices and the ladies joined the dance floor with the retirees for the Electric and Cha-Cha Slides. After dinner we livened up the dancefloor to a variety of hits including polka and music from all the decades. We even joined in the birthday celebrations with a surprise one of our own! It was a slice of Americana here at the American Legion with announcements followed directly by the raffle (we didn’t win) and a patriotic moment when the entire room joined hands singing “Proud to Be an American.” Back at the hotel, we ended our final night at the pool talking, laughing, swimming, and reliving stories from the week. Love to all!

DAY SIX – Thursday, October 27: “Familiarity and Traditions Mixed with Surprising Twists”

On the way to the jobsite, one of us noticed the sun was kissing the clouds. Expanding the creation-themed devotionals, Jeremiah focused on being co-creators with each other. Too often we focus on self-sufficiency (look what I can do), but we are a people, not a person. The iconic Southern “y’all” was the word of the day. We opened with prayer, Jazan’s safety talk (including the Red Ryder Nail Gun warning: “Don’t shoot your eye out!) and our traditional “Habitat is not a hand out, but a hand up!”

Jobs for the day: Painting everything multiple coats (shocker), interior finish work (trim, baseboards, ceiling), and garage (the band plays on). The boy band in the garage worked on their dance choreography installing battens (requiring math and cutting) and five coats of paint (but who’s counting?). The garage band might go on tour tomorrow (rumor has it the foundation next door needs to be back-filled). Then their name will change to the Back-fill Boys (alright!).

The exterior painters literally went gray (not due to old age, but because of the paint color Frank picked). They got the entire house painted with one coat. Jazan brought small paint brushes for the detailed trim work which were nick-named “babies” leading to entertaining baby jokes. Pass the baby!

The interior team were “caulky” because they had two play toys: an air nailer (Nailed it!) and the chop saw. They worked well finishing trim, baseboards, painting and caulking.

We ended the workday with a new Habitat cheer and the much anticipated trip to the Sebring Soda & Ice Cream Works and Habitat ReStore (more traditions).  

Nature Watch: 1 introspective owl, 1 emerald green dragonfly, 3 short-necked turkey buzzards, 3 sandhill cranes flying away in formation (they had enough of us yesterday), 9 middle school kids at the ice cream place, cloud art (face and hen). And finally, the most dramatic nature sighting of the week: the Lethocerus (aka giant water bug). This fine, beady-eyed and leggy specimen was a fast swimmer, darting from one end of the hotel pool to the other in seconds with a quick stop on an unsuspecting swimmer’s chest. Another swimmer may qualify for the Olympics based on the speed at which they bolted away from this hideous creature.The terrified screams were even heard inside the hotel. The disgusting thing was catapulted over the fence and therapists were on hand for consultation after this disturbing encounter. Do not be afraid (unless there is a giant, nasty bug).

Night Watch: We enjoyed take-away Chinese for dinner with the best fortune: “There are plenty of promises and hope floating around you.” We had a heartfelt  and long conversation during our devotional about diversity, inclusion, and inviting people into community. The little things make the big difference. May we welcome and embrace others as we come together for one purpose… to share God’s love. 

DAY FIVE – Wednesday, October 26: “Teamwork Makes the Dream Work”

Today’s sunrise was brought to us by pumpkin spice latte (this year’s group T-shirt color). Mike led us in prayer and we had another ladder safety talk. Today’s jobs included: cutting and installing interior trim and front porch spindles, painting interior and exterior walls, trim, garage (anything you can put paint on).

Frequently used terms included: Where’s the paint? I need to fill my bucket. Are there any extra brushes? Ladder down (remember to move the ladder before opening the garage door). I need a ladder buddy. Is this the best cut-in brush they have?  Jazan: Your brush is terrible! Team Member: It’s in between perms. Jazan: I’ll get a wire brush and fix it.  We measured once and cut 4 times! Take another saw blade width off this board. I’m frying like a piece of bacon out here. 

There was much camaraderie, teamwork, and laughter in the sunshine. The Back Wall Lassies were in the sun too long and it brought out a thick Scottish brogue; Jazan also joined in the fun. The garage painters united to form the Habitat Garage Band–they are currently working on their first album. The “Measure once, cut 4 times Crew” are getting their eyes checked, but still in good spirits. Painting leads to the inevitable clean-up and today we came to Jazan’s rescue. Do you know how many brushes, rollers, pans and buckets 15 people can dirty? Too many.

Nature Watch: 1 sassy brown grasshopper, 3 butterflies, 5 spiders, 7 dragonflies, 17 turkey vultures circling all at once (where’s the carcass?), 23 cows loitering in the morning fog, 9 bug-eating geckos, and finally, Best in Show:  2 red-eyed Sandhill Cranes feasting on grubs (see photo).

Night Watch:  We enjoyed dinner and great conversation at Jaxon’s. Jeremiah joined us for devotionals which focused on building relationships through collaboration, shared experiences and suffering. We talked about the deeper significance of decent houses and communities; the process of shelter creation can be more profound than the product. Many shared they have been infected with “Habititius.”  Common symptoms include: repeat desire to join Habitat builds, wanting to be part of something bigger than themselves, enjoying meeting new friends, propensity for collecting Habitat T-shirts and acquiring building skills. Jeremiah shared it’s “not just giving people a place to live, but a place to be alive.” We are grateful to be part of this group and this important mission.

DAY FOUR – Tuesday, October 25: “Labor of Love Continues”

Today we were up at oh-dark-thirty, but at least there was bacon. As we drove to the jobsite, we watched the slow-rising sun burning off the gorgeous ground fog. Jeremiah, from Habitat, led us in another thought-provoking devotional centered around Philippians 4. We are co-creators with God, but we’re also co-creators with ourselves. We don’t control the circumstances to which we are born, both time and place; however, we can control our own story. We can change our perceptions and actions. We can also think about God who is creating and filling our spaces. 

Next, Jazan gave the all too familiar and long-awaited ladder safety training with a nod to Big Mike (our former Habitat Supervisor and his wife who took a hammer to the head not once, but twice, from Mike, disregarding his own safety regulations). Our jobs for today included: watering new sod, clearing and cleaning the garage, reinforcing, and back-filling the forms for a new foundation, sledgehammering, hauling supplies and partially organizing a storage container, and painting garage, trim, baseboards, hardy board siding. We replaced yesterday’s mud with white paint! Some of us tried really hard to not get paint on us while others seemed to be a paint magnet. Good news/bad news about Florida is the paint dries fast enough to put 3 coats on miles of trim and baseboards. Shout out to Jazan for washing all the paint brushes and containers–sainthood is a possibility for him. What kept us motivated today, you may ask? Fried Chicken!

Today on the ride home we played a new game: “Which Bug is It?” Cell phone photos and insect lore were shared; the size of the bug growing with each re-telling. Did you know that a palmetto bug has crazy eyes and is 7 inches long?

Nature Watch: 

1 hawk, 1 palmetto bug, 1 very vocal “bullfrog” (heard, but not seen during the ladder training), 2 thirsty millipedes, 3 cranes, 4 butterflies, 7 dragonflies, 13 white egrets, snails on walls (dozens), one 5 inch mystery bug with wings and a spotted hard shell removed from team member’s shoulder by Frank (our hero), and Bobby the very confused gecko in the hotel stairwell.  When asked, “Has anyone seen nature today?” the immediate response was: “I see a dog taking a dump over there.”  True story.

Night Watch: After getting cleaned up (or swimming in the pool), the entire crew stopped by the “hot tub” for heavy hors-d’oeuvres and many laughs. Our devotionals explored the challenges of poverty and our experience or role in alleviating it. Despite our various challenges, we each have an opportunity to connect and make a difference. After pizza, people relaxed and played cards (strictly non-competitive…wink, wink). Love to all!

DAY THREE – Monday, October 24: “On the Job -Or- The Labor of Love Begins”

Frank, Robert and Jazan are our Habitat worksite guides. Jeremiah, our volunteer coordinator, lives in the first home ever built in our subdivision and shared how Habitat changed his family’s future by giving them an affordable and safe place to live. He reminded us about God as Creator—making space for creation and filling it. It’s our job today to help create space for others in the form of a house (and He will fill it).  

Today’s dirty jobs included: laying sod, watering, planting bushes, spreading mulch, followed by more sod and more watering. Things we learned about sod: green side up, the source of materials was a cow pasture, the nearest sod opening might be behind you, sod Tetris, watch out for red ants and cow pies. Jazan’s least favorite job with Habitat is lawn carpet—it makes him very “sod.”  Frank said he wouldn’t let just any team lay sod. Most teams would give up after 30 minutes, but he knows we are tenacious. We kicked grass and took names with 16 pallets of sod! At the end of the workday, the team was still smiling even while moving like Peanuts’ Pig-Pen in a cloud of dust, leaving a trail of dirt. Mental note:  put sunblock on before dirty work to avoid extreme exfoliation.

Nature Watch: Sightings today include: 1 hawk, 2 curious cats, 3 turkey vultures, 4 black crows on a pole, 5 sod apples (cow patties), 14 grubs, 422 red ant bites, more blood sucking no-see-um ankle biters (Florida’s angry version of mosquitoes) and one lucky gecko named Jimmy who was almost decapitated near our dinner table. Night Watch:  Dinner on the deck at Dimitri’s—a fan favorite did not disappoint. Leaving in the van provided a clown car photo op. Devotionals tonight focused on God’s grace extending to all people across all cultures. We looked at 3 parables from a modern-day lens: Lost Sheep, Good Samaritan, and Prodigal Son. Each is as applicable today as it was in Biblical times exploring God’s radical love and forgiveness. Love to all! 

Jeremiah, Habitat Volunteer Coordinator
Cindy soaking sod
Frank, the Habitat leader, with Diane and Lynn
Michelle moving mulch
Carrie carrying cultivars
Sod Squad
Laboring landscapers
Beautiful border
Jazan: “So very sod”
Dining on Dimitri’s deck
Clown car capers

DAY TWO – Sunday, October 23: It was a beautiful sunrise in Sebring. We worshiped with Atonement Lutheran; members were excited to see us again and prayed a blessing over the team along with their knitted shawl ministry. We were reminded how important it is to be in relationship with others in addition to meeting material needs. God loves us, we love Him, we love others. We met Jeremiah or Habitat volunteer coordinator and walked the Prayer Labyrinth.

Our lunch, at Sunset Grille, was the quintessential Florida experience: outdoor deck, lakeside view, palm trees, gator tail, and BOGO refreshments (would have been nice to know that right when we arrived).

After lunch we toured the Habitat neighborhood on Inspirational Drive to see all the building progress made in the last five St. Luke’s mission build trips. We played “I Spy” pointing out our previous work. 

Nature Watch: Sightings today include one dead worm by the elevator, 2 egrets, 3 cranes, 47 geckos, biting no-see-ums (could not get an accurate count), and finally, one possibly rabid raccoon we named Ricky, checking the water temp in the pool.

Night Watch: Devotions were thoughtful and reflective focusing on God’s love and opportunities to share it with others in practical ways.  The surprise evening program, brought to us by Renee “Trebek” Brinks, was Jeopardy- Habitat for Humanity Special Edition. It brought out the competitive spirit in many of us, and in the true American way, we needed rules clearly defined and buzzer judges. Aided by all the double Jeopardy’s, Team 1 eked out Team 2 by less than $500 in Final Jeopardy. The results are currently under appeal with judges. Team 3 was just happy to be there and end in the black. Early to bed for our first big workday.

DAY ONE – Saturday, October 22: Clad in burnt orange matching shirts, the St. Luke’s Habitat for Humanity team took the Ford International Airport by storm. These harvest beauty T-shirts were conversation openers and even requested photo ops. The ladies were nicknamed the “Pumpkin Spice Girls.” All happily boarded for the two-leg flight with a layover in Atlanta. Delta spoiled us with a visit to the Delta Sky Club for food, drinks, cards, and conversation. Some of our luggage went Sky Priority, while others’ didn’t arrive. Landing in Tampa, still smiling, we paid homage to the giant flamingo. Did you know that a flock of flamingos is called a flamboyance? While waiting for a lost bag we had just enough time for dinner. Imagine 15 people in burnt orange shirts showing up at a Chick-fil-A just 9 minutes before closing. And, yes, they still said, “My pleasure.” After a 2-hour van ride, we settled into our Holiday Inn Express in Lake Placid. We’re feeling blessed, happy and ready to see what God has planned for this week. Love to all!