It Was a Dark and Stormy Night….at Whispers Estate

It may be a cliché to say it was a dark and stormy night, but as we pulled into the eerily empty downtown of Mitchell, Indiana on our way to tour Whispers Estate, it literally WAS a dark and stormy night. In fact, it rained for the better part of two and a half hours as my 19-year-old daughter and I made the drive south of Bedford but, as we were headed to an actual purported haunted house, we didn’t really mind. It only added to the experience.

Whisper Estate in Mitchell, Indiana

Whispers Estate in Mitchell, Indiana

Frankly, as we crawled to a halt on Warren Street, we both realized this place didn’t need any help from Mother Nature. If spooky has a poster child, it’s Whispers Estates.

Pulling up in the dark, it wasn’t difficult finding the place. Just picture a typical block near the downtown of any small Indiana burg with its large older homes in various shapes and sizes and you’re half way there. Now picture one of those large houses standing silent, dark and foreboding with only creepy purple light streaming from its street lamps and you’ve crossed over to the other side. Whispers Estate announces its presence in silence and – lucky you – you get to pray that silence is the only thing you hear. Given its past history of growls, knocks, self-closing doors, childish singing, falling objects, mysterious footsteps and vague whispers – hence the name, Whispers Estate – before the night is over, you may be begging for a little silence from beyond the grave yourself.

And did I mention the earthquake shaking toilets? Which, in this instance, have nothing to do with either my husband or too many refried beans? More on that in a moment.

We parked on the street, somewhat unsure of what to do as I had forgotten when I registered for our hour-long flashlight tour that we were to meet in the garage in the backyard. I did, however, remember that we were to wear athletic shoes. No hard sole shoes are allowed on any flashlight tours or mini investigations to reduce background noise. This became a reoccurring and somewhat unsettling theme during our visit to Whispers Estate. The home’s owner, Van Renier, and his tour guides are very serious about the goings on at Whispers Estate and, collectively, they take great pains to explain away and debunk ANY unusual occurrences. Their attitude was so upfront about what wasn’t paranormal that, I’ll admit, I was impressed. And then, I’ll admit too, I was nervous.

If they voluntarily explain every odd noise, just what, pray tell, can we attribute to the UNexplained ones? That had me pondering.

My daughter, Jackie – a lover of all things ghostly – stood back on the sidewalk as I climbed the steps to the front porch where a solitary rocker sat. At any moment I expected it to start rocking on its own, but fortunately, it cooperated which was good since I forgotten to put on a pair of Depends. Naturally, a funeral home stands cattycorner to the house and, in this dark little town which seems to have forgotten to pay the light bill, it was the only building well lit. Turning back toward the house, I tried peering through the windows, but could see nothing as they were blacked out. Terrific, I thought. Bring on the dark.

Jackie in her element at Whisper Estate

Jackie in her element at Whispers Estate

Back on the sidewalk, we were joined by three middle-aged couples who didn’t know each other, but who all happened to live in Avon. Since there is safety in numbers, we proceeded as a group through the rain to the backyard and entered the garage which serves as a makeshift launching pad to the supernatural world beyond.

There we signed in, handed over our liability release waivers – which declared us to be healthy and which gave the folks at Whispers Estates permission to seek emergency medical treatment if we needed it – we selected our flashlights from a basket on the table, and sat down to await our tour. As we sat, we chatted with the guides while also looking at posters displaying pictures of past visitors who apparently got more their money’s worth. From a police officer with a large bite mark on his arm to a teenager with three strange, red scratches on the back of his neck, evidence mounted that this wasn’t your standard, run-of-the-mill, high-school-fundraiser, pop-up-only-at-Halloween type of experience.

And naturally it was after I read the description of some earthquake-like experiences on the toilet that I heard my daughter ask innocently enough, “Is there a bathroom I can use?”

Great. No more soda for you, grasshopper.

Like most old garages, the one at Whispers Estate is potty free, so one of the tour guides led us through the back door of the house to the small bathroom just off the kitchen. Fortunately, there was a light, but bright as it was, we still looked around nervously while awaiting a good shaking as we took turns doing our business. Had something happened, at least we would have been in the right place.

Returning to the garage, we joined the other six for a lesson on the house’s less than pleasant history. Note – I stuck around and was able to hear this same introduction to the 10 p.m. tour group which was comprised of young girls (who I would guess to be about 10-years-old) and their parents. As I sat in the background listening to this same introduction, I realized that the guide was downplaying certain aspects of the goings on in the house – and rightly so. Once more I was impressed with the staff at Whispers Estate. Apparently, when you give tours at a house that is really haunted, the goal is to not work at scaring the guests. After all, why make the effort when you can let the house do it for you?

Young Rachel Gibbons died in the house and may have never left.

Young Rachel Gibbons died in the house and may have never left.

Flashlights in hand, the eight of us finally proceeded through the backdoor. One poor man had made the unfortunate mistake of expressing a lack of enthusiasm for all things paranormal so our first tour guide nominated him to open the doors of each room as we entered. Another victim – I mean, visitor – was nominated to shut the doors of each room behind us. Quickly, we proceeded through the main hallway to the parlor where we sat down and the real tour began.

For the record, I’m not going to give away any of the tour highlights. Each room is unique and comes with its own story. For example, in the parlor we were first introduced to Rachel, the young adopted daughter of Dr. John Gibbons and his wife Jessie. One Christmas eve, Rachel snuck downstairs to peek at the presents, but her nightgown caught fire in the parlor and she died a few days later as the result of her injuries. Mother Jessie died in the master bedroom of tuberculosis. Four other people are also known to have died in the house, not counting any patients of Dr. Gibbons, who apparently couldn’t keep his hands to himself.

The flashlight tour covers the house from attic to basement including a red-painted room that had each of us muttering, “redrum” from Stephen King’s “The Shining.” The good doctor’s exam room did give me a frightful start when I noticed the scale on the floor, which reminded me of the horribly hateful one in my own bathroom back home. My daughter nearly fainted when she spied an actual rotary phone and may still need counseling.

As we toured the house, the three women from Avon openly called out to Rachel throughout the house, but heard nothing in reply. The house’s owner, Van Renier, joined us at the end of the tour and asked that none of the child spirits be provoked. Van is protective of his young spirits, though not so with the one referred to as “Big Black” who may be responsible for the scar over his right eye – tangible evidence from his own encounter when he was shoved down the stairs of the attic.

Our tour was the first of the night at 8 p.m. and, for the most part, we survived it unscathed. The 9 p.m. tour apparently was not so lucky, given that a large shadow followed them up those same attic stairs responsible for Renier’s scar and, while the group stood in the “redrum” red room, they could hear soft knocking on the door. The guides told us that, as the night progresses, activity picks up so if you’re dead set – excuse my pun – on having an experience, the later the better.

Of course there had to be creepy clown dolls in Rachel's bedroom.

Of course there had to be creepy clown dolls in Rachel’s bedroom.

As for me, I will admit, I’ve never had an encounter with anything paranormal. But I’m not saying I don’t believe. Two people whom I have known all of my life and who will remain anonymous have had experiences and they are two of the most honest and least imaginative people I know. As for me, nothing.

I shared my lack of paranormal experiences with Van who did give me the greatest chill of the night. As we discussed his own experiences in the house which have led him to believe and my own lack of paranormal experience, he warmed, “You can’t un-ring the bell. Do you really want to fall down the rabbit hole? Because once it happens, you can’t go back and pretend it didn’t.”

Now that’s a scary thought.

For me, it has yet to happen. At least, I think it hasn’t happened. In Jessie’s bedroom I experienced a feeling – I won’t give it away so as to not prejudice you should you go – just as our guide began to describe this very same feeling. Was it paranormal? I don’t know. I also don’t know if I really want to thoroughly un-ring that bell. But curiosity is a wicked mistress so I’m sure at some point, I will go back.

I left with a t-shirt stating I had been examined by Dr. John.

I left with a t-shirt stating I had been examined by Dr. John.

If you would like to un-ring that bell for yourself, Whispers Estate offers flashlight tours hourly from 8 p.m. to midnight and mini-investigations starting at midnight through either 3 or 4 a.m. (the times change from month to month) beginning at the end of August and running every weekend through October. Halloween is primetime so make your reservations early as tours and investigations fill up fast and the number of participants is limited. While regular tour hours end after Halloween, Whispers Estate is happy to schedule visitations for groups of 10 or more at other times throughout the year. My suggestion? Even if there are only seven or eight of you, given them a call and ask. They may just accommodate you.

Flashlight tours run $10 per person and, in my opinion, are well worth it even if you don’t end up wetting yourself in the process. Mini investigations run $10 per hour per person, thus an investigation from midnight to 3 a.m. will cost you $30 per person, and until 4 a.m. will cost you $40 per person. I haven’t participated in a mini investigation yet so I can’t tell you what goes on, but it is definitely on the bucket list and you can get a sense for these investigations on YouTube.

For more information on Whispers Estate and to schedule a tour or mini investigation, check out the website at: http://whispersestate.com/

To follow the mansion’s haunted happenings like the Whispers Estate’s Facebook page at:

https://www.facebook.com/#!/whispersestate?fref=ts

Follow my newspaper column blog at: http://outaroundwithrobin.wordpress.com/ and on Twitter at https://twitter.com/RobinFritz or email at outaroundwithrobin@gmail.com

481266_10203777348727600_1608806686782902373_nBy Robin Winzenread Fritz

I Dream of Foreign Places and Dog-Free Spaces

Someone – I don’t know who – pooped on the welcome mat. I discovered it early one morning while chasing my teenage son to the school bus with a wet mop as he’s not a morning person,

Don't let that face fool you - she's a walking toilet

Don’t let that face fool you – she’s a walking toilet

doesn’t shower enough, and thinks 16-year-old boys shouldn’t have to ride the school bus but, instead, should be driving a smoking hot sports car with booming speakers and teenaged girls taking up every spare inch of space.

But I digress.

As I was saying, someone pooped on the welcome mat, and I’m hoping it was the dog, but in this house with these kids and my particular breed of husband, everyone is a suspect.  Being an optimist, I realized things could be worse.  For one thing, a) it had hardened by the time I found it and b) I hadn’t fertilized the shrubs in a while.  So, finding lemons and making lemonade, I gave the mat a quick flip, tossed the little unwrapped gift under the hopefully hungry yew and called it a morning.  Extra cup of coffee, here I come.

I love that extra cup of coffee because it comes with a quiet house and sleeping pets and time to think.  It’s that blessed in-between time when all is still and it’s not yet time to report to the home office.  It’s my time to sit, to sip and to dream – dream about a cleaner house, thinner thighs, constipated pets and, more often than not, of foreign times in foreign lands with foreign people in a beautiful little space charmingly free of cat hair.

My heart belongs to Venice

My heart belongs to Venice

I’ve found such a place in the form of my dream Go with Oh apartment in that magical place known as Venice, Italy.  When my dreams take me away like a 747 flying high over my rolling Hoosier farmland, I still find it hard to believe such a place does, in fact, exist.  How could this place, this magical watery space, be real?

When I planned my first of hopefully many trips to Venice in the spring of 2012, I spent many a happy idle hour drooling over Go with Oh apartments in Venice.  Did I want to be near the Piazza San Marco?

What wonders wait behind this open window?

What wonders wait behind this open window?

Or was something overlooking the Rialto Bridge more my style? Or perhaps I should consider something half hidden away in the looming shadow of the Santa Maria de Miricoli with her pink laced marble walls and her gleaming dome? Maybe one of the outlying islands would be fun.

Decisions, decisions.

While I could have happily searched for Go with Oh apartments for an eternity, I eventually, found what I was looking for – a lovely two-bedroom, two bath beauty with multiple windows and balconies overlooking the San Severo River, with an actual terrace AND an actual fireplace in the kitchen and a wide entry hall just begging for weary travelers to enter, unwind and toss down their luggage.  Pinch me until I’m pink, I found heaven on earth!!!

My Go with Oh San Severo beauty

My Go with Oh San Severo beauty

It was everything one could dream of.  One bedroom – MY bedroom – featured wooden parquet floors tread by who knows how many Venetian tradesmen.  A wooden desk sat between two windows overlooking the canal and a bridge – an actual Venetian bridge with its graceful arch and bobbing boats for neighbors.  I could easily imagine that desk and that bridge just waiting for me to show up with pen and paper to sit, stare and write.  Venetian glass chandeliers winked overhead.  Within the kitchen stood a wide open door to a terrace featuring who knows what kind of wonderful view outside.

I could sit here and write forever, I think

I could sit here and write forever, I think

I wanted to waltz into that kitchen, open that door and step outside to know –  really know – what was out there.  As long as it wasn’t a pooping puppy, I knew I would be thrilled!

And in real estate they say what matters is location, location, location and my Go with Oh San Severo beauty had that too. While everything in Venice is near the Piazza San Marco and the Rialto Bridge, this one was so tantalizingly close that I imagine I could stand on that balcony and hear the ghostly breath of long dead prisoners coming from the Bridge of Sighs. I imagined I could pick out the domes of St. Mark’s against the one-of-a-kind Venetian skyline and I knew I

I would give four dogs and five teenage tantrums to peak out that door...

I would give four dogs and five teenage tantrums to peak out that door…

would be able to hear the ringing bells of the piazza’s tower.

Sadly, however, like many a beautiful woman, my Go with Oh San Severo love had many suitors and she was unavailable to rent the week I needed her.

First the denial – no, how could that be??? Then, the heartbreak!

And then, I returned to my Go with Oh apartment list and found the next love of my life, Ca ‘Elena.  Think what you will, she was no rebound apartment and in September of 2012, I fell in love with her too.  In fact, my heart will always belong to my little Ca ‘Elena.

http://www.oh-venice.com/en/venice-apartments/ref_16176/?arrival=2014-03-23&departure=2014-03-30&zone=VEN&sid=&s_id=s_52667dd1aa381&PRODUCT_TYPE=apartments&adults=2&children=0&babies=0

With that said, I WILL go back to Venice and I WILL take friends and family with me – but not the dog.  And I WILL begin a new love affair with the lovely Go with Oh San Severo beauty.  Until then, I will wash the clothes and pick up after the children and feed hard cheese and bananas to the dog in hopes of avoiding a

I want to awaken in this bedroom to the bells of St. Mark's in the nearby Piazza San Marco

I want to awaken in this bedroom to the bells of St. Mark’s in the nearby Piazza San Marco

repeat offense on the welcome mat.  I will clip my coupons and I will save my pennies and soon – hopefully very soon – I will be making plans and packing bags and sharpening pencils.

Because eventually I will sit at that bedroom desk and I will gaze at that bridge and I will write a line or two about what it means to travel and see the world.  I will make memories and take pictures and I will fall in love again with new spaces and places.  And, eventually, I will go home, but I will take with me a little of that watery, wonderful world that is Venice, Italy.

Here is a link to my future foreign Go with Oh San Severo home away from home.  I’ll share it with you now because I’m a nice person and I know I’m not the only middle-aged mom wrestling with crusty teenagers and pooping pets.

Hanging in a Venetian alley with my good friend, Candy.  May another Go with Oh apartment be in our near future!

Hanging in a Venetian alley with my good friend, Candy. May another Go with Oh apartment be in our near future!

Think of it as my little gift to you – and you’re welcome!

But it does come with a caveat.  While I’m sharing it with you, remember one thing – I’ve got dibs on next September.

http://www.oh-venice.com/en/venice-apartments/ref_15447/?arrival=2014-03-23&departure=2014-03-30&zone=VEN&sid=&s_id=s_52667dd1aa381&PRODUCT_TYPE=apartments&adults=2&children=&babies=

With that said, get to Venice.  Everyone needs a little living, breathing slice of real world fantasy to hold on to.  Now excuse me. I have to go diaper the dog.

Making friends in the Piazza San Marco

Making friends in the Piazza San Marco

Robin Winzenread Fritz

Missionary Style – An Idiot’s Guide to Doing Good Works in Haiti (Part II)

The sun rises over Jeremie, Haiti

The sun rises over Jeremie, Haiti


Since traveling to Haiti, I’ve had several people mention to me how they hope to someday go on a similar trip. It’s exciting to see how contagious mission work and travel can be. My friend David planted a seed with me, and now I hope to plant similar seeds with others.

And as David gave me the low down on what to expect before we left, I feel it’s only appropriate to fertilize the seeds I’m planting with a little sage advice, keeping in mind that I am still very wet behind the ears in the mission-trip travel department. But every little bit helps, so if you to want to go out and do good works in Haiti too, here are some practical tips to pave the way.

Our project at the Gebeau compound in Jeremie - the "before" view

Our project at the Gebeau compound in Jeremie – the “before” view

Part II – The Details

Pack light and prepare to sweat – My teenage son likes to whisper “hoarder” in my ear whenever I try to repurpose anything so, as you can imagine, packing light is an ordeal for me. During my recent trip to Italy, I left a wake of herniated airport employees behind me. But I managed to dig down deep and pack only essentials for Haiti and – guess what? For once in my life, I actually packed too light.

I took a tiny bottle of liquid Tide with me so I could sponge things out every evening and wear some things twice. I SHOULD have taken some string to use as a clothesline too, so learn from my mistake. Also, what I hadn’t counted on was the reality of the work at hand. Our project consisted of cleaning out and refitting a barn for a future tractor delivery, and, by cleaning out, I mean we CLEANED IT OUT. Rats, big ass spiders, years of accumulated dirt, bird poop and oil, and coconut shells by the hundreds left us all grimy, gritty and gross. Additionally, we did it in 90 degree heat – which, by the way, is the cool season in Haiti. Come summer, it’s actually hotter.

Every day was hot, sunny and beautiful - enjoying the view of the Grand Anse River

Every day was hot, sunny and beautiful – enjoying the view of the Grand Anse River

So at the end of the day, I pretty much smelled like a camel, and my work clothes could stand up by themselves. All the sponging in the world couldn’t put a dent in the funk growing in my shoes by mid week and I actually lived in fear of running out of soap and shampoo. Come to think of it, my companions actually lived in fear of me running out of soap and shampoo too.

Don’t pack for vacation, pack for work and if it has sentimental meaning, leave it at home – As I knew I would be working on that barn before leaving, I packed work clothes, including my favorite old navy blue polo shirt. It’s not a great shirt nor is a good looking shirt, but as shirts go, it’s a favorite because it’s broken in and very comfortable. I’ve spent a lot of hours telecommuting in that shirt.

Mark cuts a ceiling brace with a handsaw - no power tools were on site because we had no electricity

Mark cuts a ceiling brace with a handsaw – no power tools were on site because we had no electricity

But what I hadn’t counted on in Haiti was looking into the faces of so many people with so little. It made me seriously regret the state of my walk-in closet back home, so I let them pick me clean like a buzzard on road kill – and I would do it again in a heart beat. When workmen pointed to my gloves, I let them have the gloves, because they were working harder than me. When a little boy kept admiring his reflection in my aviator sunglasses, I let him have them, and he strutted around worthy of his new nickname, Rico Suave. When another young man came back with us to the guesthouse at the end of one day and asked if we had any clothes to spare, I gave him that polo shirt because it was the only thing I had not yet been worn or sweated in. By the end of the week I was also down a baseball cap, safety glasses, several magazines, a pen and a water bottle too. And I wish I had had more to give. Much as I loved that shirt, there’s plenty more in my closet where that came from.

The barn now sporting a new roof, plaster, doors and paint.  Plus, it's squeaky clean inside!

The barn now sporting a new roof, plaster, doors and paint. Plus, it’s squeaky clean inside!

So, in short, DO pack heavy and plan to share. Great things to take and share include work gloves, water bottles, t-shirts, soccer balls – which are practically a currency in Haiti, not to mention an instant party – hand pumps for those soccer balls, Crocs, flip flops, you name it. David brought with him a few old Army duffels jam packed with stuff, and it’s impossible not to feel moved when handing these things out. So cram those backpacks and share the wealth! It feels good.

Buying supplies at the Haitian "Home Depot" - don't worry, it's just paint

Buying supplies at the Haitian “Home Depot” – don’t worry, it’s just paint

Take change – Sometimes I pride myself on not being a total moron. More often, however, I’m kicking myself for being a complete idiot, and nothing was more idiotic than waiting until the last minute to hit the money mover prior to my trip. The end result was that I took mostly $20s.

How dumb could I be? In Haiti, people don’t make change, because they don’t HAVE change. Haitian workers will move mountains for $8 a day – we paid them $10 – so that puts those $20s in perspective. Plus, it’s not a shopping Mecca. Talented crafts people will come to you with really neat trinkets for sale, but they’re not expensive items, so you end up buying armloads of this stuff because you have a $20, not a $10 or a $5 or a $1 and – I repeat – they can’t make change. But it’s ok – the way I look at it, I stimulated the local economy.

In short, break those freaking $20s and take dollars, dollars, dollars. Who cares if you look like a stripper on payday? You won’t have them – or shouldn’t have them – when you get home anyway. Oh, and leave the credit cards and debit cards at home. You won’t need them either.

Many homes in Jeremie do not have access to running water

Many homes in Jeremie do not have access to running water

If it’s yellow, let it mellow… – and I think you know the rest of that little gem. Ok, here’s the reality of Haiti – few people have running water in their homes. While fresh water does seem to be plentiful – it pours out of the mountains – getting it some place useful, like in homes, seems to be a real problem. Even well-kept places like the Methodist guesthouse where we stayed in Jeremie which do have running water, still have issues. Water pumps in Haiti are few and far between, thus the majority of faucets and toilets are gravity-based.

What does this mean for you? It means don’t waste water and forget about water pressure. And as for hot water, don’t even think about it. Besides, it’s a hot country and you already smell like old cabbage so do you really need it? Nope! But do take sanitary wipes or antibacterial gel. It comes in pretty darn handy. And if you’re a germ-a-phobe, well, let’s just say you may have a few issues with Haiti. But if you’re a dirt-eating, nose-picking, wipe-your-hands-on-your shirt farm girl like me, you’re good to go.

Sometimes I smelled like a camel AND a sheep

Sometimes I smelled like a camel AND a sheep

With that said, keep these water-related ground rules in mind. When showering, get wet, turn off the water, then shampoo and soap up. Then rinse off and do it quick. I also found that if I sponged out a few things in the sink quickly before showering, I could let them soak in the sink while I showered and drain while I dried off and got dressed. Again, bring a clothesline too as you’ll need somewhere to hang your stuff overnight to dry.

Also, if you’re there for a week and you eat the same kind of diet we ate – goat, rice, beans, fish, and lots of fresh fruit – be prepared to poop. Why do I bring that up? Reminder – gravity-based water flow! If you must take a dump, do it downstairs if you’re in a two-story building. You’ll need the extra *umph* to get it down the pipes. Trust me, one such episode in the upstairs restroom took a rest stop somewhere along the way down and the end result wasn’t pretty. I’m just saying, you know. So snatch the pebble from my hand, grasshopper, and poop downstairs. One more thing – never put toilet paper in the actual toilet, no matter WHAT is on it. Toilet paper goes in the trash can beside the toilet – again, gravity-based water flow. It’s self-explanatory, really.

It gets dark early in Haiti

It gets dark early in Haiti

Don’t panic if the lights go out – When you’re in a strange country, and it’s a developing one at that, you may be slightly on edge when odd things happen, say, for instance, the power goes out at night. Don’t panic. Sure, in the States, power outages are fairly uncommon. But in Jeremie, that turned out to be an almost nightly occurrence. Once at dinner, we were all plunged into darkness, but what fun it was when everyone whipped out their cell phones and lit up the night!

I don’t know what caused the outages or if they really do just shut off the power to the city after hours, but by morning it was always back on. Plus, as a country hovering just over the equator, the sun is up by 6:00 a.m. and down by 6:00 p.m. so you’re going to keep odd hours anyway. Nine in the evening seems almost like midnight, so you’ll probably already be in bed when it happens. Also, it’s much more quiet at night than at 5:00 in the morning anyway so sleep when the sleeping’s good. Dogs, birds, chickens, motorbikes, they all seem to start up early and often. You’ll appreciate hitting the sack early, trust me.

Cristella put my hair in pigtails

Cristella put my hair in pigtails

Be prepared to be petted – If you’re a glow-in-the-dark white gal like me and have bushy fake blonde hair bordering on cocker spaniel, prepare to be petted, especially if there are any young Haitian girls anywhere in your immediate vicinity. We had the good fortune to spend some time with some adorable young people at the Gebeau orphanage and, as I quickly found out, long blonde hair is a Haitian orphan magnet. Plus, these sweet children will want to hold your hand, sit on your lap, hug you and walk with you and they will follow you like puppies. It melts your heart. So let them. Hug them, hold them, play with them, sing with them, walk with them. I did draw the line at having the mole on my arm twisted, but you’re free to set your own limits.

Walking with school children on a mountain road above Jeremie

Walking with school children on a mountain road above Jeremie

Eat what you can, when you can – Maybe goat’s not your thing or maybe you don’t like bones in your fish, but, regardless, when you get the chance to eat, eat. Why? Because you just don’t know when you’ll eat again. Sure, we packed lunches every day, but when you’re working with guys who are carrying five-pound buckets of rocks on their heads for a quarter-of a mile for hours and they have no lunch, you’ll give them yours. And you’ll give them your water or Pepsi or whatever else you have too. Otherwise, you’re a heartless creature so what the hell are you doing in Haiti anyway?

Workers hauling rock by hand

Workers hauling rock by hand

So when breakfast is placed before you, pig out. And when dinner lands in front of you, pig out again. Besides, the food is fabulous, the fruit is amazing, though I have to warn you – my new friend, Janet, may have another opinion when it comes to goat.

Be prepared to expand your comfort zone – When I first arrived in Jeremie, I didn’t know what to expect. We landed on a hardpan runaway in a small commuter plane, there was an armed guard waiting at the cinderblock airport, he had us get in the covered porch with barred windows and he shut us and our luggage in while we waited for our ride. Several men came and stared at us through the windows, watching us. I kept an eye on my bag. And at the time, I felt like a caged animal.

Looking at our ride through the porch bars of the Jeremie airport

Looking at our ride through the porch bars of the Jeremie airport

On the ride to the guesthouse, we passed what appeared to me at the time to be squalor and debris. The road was gutted and pitted and in places broken pipes gushed water which further eroded the roads. People carried buckets on their heads and bananas and various other things. Thin cattle and goats were tied to the sides of the road. It was overwhelming and I was, at first, wondering what to expect. I felt small and somewhat vulnerable even within the safety of the truck cab hauling us to our destination. Hey, cut me some slack. It was my first visit to a developing country, ok.

But what a difference a week makes! As we drove through downtown Jeremie one day, it reminded me how in Venice, Italy, laws actually exist to PREVENT people from upgrading the exterior of their buildings. Thus, in Venice, moldering cracked walls are “fashionable.” In Jeremie, I first looked upon very similar walls as ugly. Why? Clearly I needed a new mindset. So, as the week progressed, what had first looked like rubble and squalor became reality. Jeremie is beautiful in her own colorful way.

Riding through downtown Jeremie on the way to work

Riding through downtown Jeremie on the way to work

And, as for the guard at the airport? Well, when we left, he was there again, but this time we stood outside with him, laughing and chatting. He asked me if this was my first trip to Haiti and so we talked about how I liked it and what I thought. He smiled and joked with me and let me take his picture. I forgot about my bag – if they wanted my camel smelling clothes, so be it – and I was happy and content and enjoying life. I hated to leave. And this time, I knew quite a few of those men and we joked and shook hands and hugged. By now, I knew them and I knew too that I would miss them.

Thus, by the time I left, I was at peace with Jeremie, and with Haiti. What a beautiful country and what an even more beautiful people. After a week of walking and working and swimming and taking motor-taxies and sitting at the Amberge Inn, visiting with new friends, etc., I felt my comfort level grow, expand and enlarge with each passing hour. And with it, my comfort level with Haiti and with the world at large expanded too – which, again, is just one of many reasons why I travel.

Haiti's forests are teeming with bananas, coconuts, breadfruit, papayas, almonds, mangos, etc.

Haiti’s forests are teeming with bananas, coconuts, breadfruit, papayas, almonds, mangos, etc.

So, when you take your first mission trip – and you know you will – expect at first to be unsettled, but keep an open mind. Plan and prepare, but be flexible. Open your heart. Smile. Relax. Work hard. Wash often. Eat hearty. Reset your benchmarks for life. And enjoy. If you get the opportunity to go to Jeremie, Haiti, you should. You’ll never be the same.

Happy travels!

– Robin Winzenread Fritz

Taking off into the wild blue yonder with young David Duba - it was the first trip to Haiti for both of us.  Our leader, Big Dave, is a pro at this.

Taking off into the wild blue yonder with young David Duba – it was the first trip to Haiti for both of us. Our leader, Big Dave, is a pro at this.

Missionary Style – An Idiot’s Guide to Doing Good Works in Haiti (Part I)

These young boys stole my heart in Haiti.

These young boys stole my heart in Haiti.

The sun has set on my first mission trip to Haiti, but I hope and pray it won’t be my last.  It was a soul-satisfying adventure that came with good people, great experiences and a unique learning curve.  As I hope my experience will encourage others to take a chance and do good works there too, let me share with you what I’ve learned…. so far.

 I’m tackling this task in two parts.  Part I which follows focuses on the big picture items.  Part II will tackle the more practical aspects of missionary work in Haiti, such as how to pack, what to bring and which toilet to poop in as – trust me, on this – it makes a difference.

 My hope is that, as 2012 draws to a close, you too will be inspired to go out into the world and make an attempt – any attempt, no matter how big or how small – to leave it better than you found it. 

But before I begin, a huge shout of THANKS goes out to everyone who made this trip possible – David Duba (our fearless leader), the United Methodist Church of Fishers, Indiana (our sponsor), the Gebeau compound in Jeremie, Haiti (site of our work projects), and the United Methodist guest house and Paster Chrisnel (our host for the week in Jeremie).

Jeremie, Haiti as viewed from our Cessna commuter plane

Jeremie, Haiti as viewed from our Cessna commuter plane

Part I – the Big Picture

Be open to being led – Prior to my trip, my well-traveled sister and brother-in-law regaled me with tales of how the people of the Dominican Republic told them not to set foot in Haiti.  They warned me about the poor infrastructure, general lawlessness and disease.  Were they wrong to do so?  No.  Haiti is not a place to be tread lightly or, perhaps I should say more accurately – it is not a place to be tread stupidly. 

BUT, if you chose your leader wisely, it IS a place that can be experienced with a relative degree of safety.  I say relative because, like all places – including elementary schools in Connecticut – safety is an elusive thing and is often very relative to how you conduct yourself or what precautions you take.

Dave and Martin plan the work, then work the plan

Dave and Martin plan the work, then work the plan

In our case, our fearless leader, David Duba, has traveled to Haiti many, many times.  As he is tall, lean, with great posture and carries a very well-worn Army knapsack as his luggage of choice, he comes across like a modern day Rambo with more intelligence.  In short, it pays to travel with someone who just looks like he knows what he’s doing, especially when he does.

Additionally, David had arranged for us not one but three interpreters whom he knows well and has worked with in the past.  Moreover, he arranged drivers for us during our two Port-au-Prince stopovers – a necessity to avoid being swarmed by crowds of strange Haitian men lingering outside of the airport looking to give you a ride.  If you’re thinking New York City yellow cab, think again.  DO NOT get into a car with a strange man in Port-au-Prince, even if it is at the airport.  Trust me.  Arrange a driver and, if you need one, let me know.  I’ll get Nader’s number for you.  I think Dave has him on speed dial.

Commuting in Port-au-Prince, Hait

Commuting in Port-au-Prince, Hait

Be smart, but have faith in your fellow man – I’ll admit it, Port-au-Prince was outside of my comfort zone.  While I was looking forward to our end destination of Jeremie on the far southwestern coast, I wasn’t exactly looking forward to the seething humanity of Haiti’s capital.  Plus, it didn’t help that as we left the international airport for our one kilometer drive to the municipal airport, I encountered my first ever experience with the realities of a developing nation.  Step outside the airport and you enter another world.

As Nader ushered us out the door, we headed straight for a white van while Nader and Dave waved off the initial crush of strange men looking for a pay day.  While putting my backpack in the back of the van, Nader said to me, rather urgently, I might add, “Get in.  Close the door.”

As he repeated those two phrases with more urgency each time, I hopped in the van and climbed in the back row.  Young David Duba – Rambo Dave’s son who joined us on the trip – climbed in too and left the door open.  As Nader proceeded to shout, “Close the door!  Close the door!” another white van pulled up close beside us.  With my heart in my throat, I watched as a large man dark as night climbed out beside us.  Isn’t this how Port-au-Prince kidnappings start, I wondered?  And as my heart rate increased I watched as this large man approached our van and… closed the door for us.

Haiti is full of good people, including these two lovely young ladies who enjoyed playing with a matching game app on my cellphone

Haiti is full of good people, including these two lovely young ladies who enjoyed playing with a matching game app on my cellphone

Silly me.  No, in Haiti, it’s not wrong to have your guard up.  Self preservation is a natural instinct.  But time and time again when I travel, I’m reminded that I should have more faith in my fellow man.  Yes, there are bad people in this world, but there are so many more good ones too, and we tend to forget about that fact.  In Haiti – when it came to my fellow man – I encountered way more good than bad.

Case in point – and it’s an odd example, I’ll admit – was that of my cell phone charger which took a hike in Haiti.  The last time I saw it, it was in an outside pocket attached to my backpack strap with Velcro.  Someone at the airport in Haiti helped themselves to it, but, rather than keeping the detachable pocket it came in, they took it out and put that very same pocket back into my backpack.  In short, he or she only took what was needed.  As I have a spare charger at home and can also charge my phone from anyone of four computers and two laptops via a UBS port, I can hardly begrudge them a phone charger.  Do I blame them?  No.  BUT, take it from me, if you don’t want to “lose” something of value, put it inside your luggage.  It’s ok to trust your fellow man, but, at the same time, don’t tempt him.

Women carry heavy loads on their heads, including water and produce.  These birds are going to market.

Women carry heavy loads on their heads, including water and produce. These birds are going to market. Photo by David Duba

Be patient, you’re on Haitian time – In short, leave your American “time is money” mindset at home.  Life moves to a slower beat in Haiti, and slowness has value.  This is a country where few people have running water in their homes.  The mere act of getting water – walking up hill and down, balancing large buckets on your head, day in and day out – sets a pace that moves slower than most Americans are use to.  We turn on a faucet and it’s there.  For many Haitians, it’s a 30 or 40 minute uphill hike away from home.

Taking motocycles to the Gebeau compound in Jeremie, Haiti.  The roads can be a bit challenging.

Taking motocycles to the Gebeau compound in Jeremie, Haiti. The roads can be a bit challenging.  Photo by David Duba

Plus, the roads are pitted, gravel and just plain bad, and even short trips take time.  A five and a half mile trek up the mountain in a four-wheel drive diesel truck took us 45 minutes.  To some, that may sound like torture, but that ride remains one of the highlights of my trip.  I sat in the bed of that truck with young David and Martin, one of our interpreters, watching the mountains and Caribbean sea unfold as we made our bumpity-bump-bump way up into the hills. 

This slower pace is not a bad thing.  Haiti is an experience that needs to be savored.  It’s not a world of drive-thru windows and freezer meals.  So park the impatience at the airport, relax and enjoy.  Your blood pressure will thank you.

Remnants of Hurricane Sandy haunt the beautiful jungles of Haiti.

Remnants of Hurricane Sandy haunt the beautiful jungles of Haiti.  Photo by David Duba

Next time, I’ll tackle the more practical aspects of navigating a mission trip in Haiti.

I want to Go with Oh to Venice – The Remix Tour

The view of the Grand Canal from the Accademia Bridge

The view of the Grand Canal from the Accademia Bridge

As Leah and Lola made their way across Europe courtsey of Go with Oh, I followed their adventures with amusement.  Who doesn’t love a good girls’ road trip, especially when it includes five European cities over four weeks, not to mention trains and planes, wine and pasta, feather boas and flamenco dancers?  It was a veritable arm-chair traveler’s dream!

 But even as I lived vicariously through their daily exploits and even as I daydreamed about a possible Go with Oh month-long trek of my own some day, I’m practical enough to know that – by necessity – my own such adventure would have a somewhat different theme.  For want of a better term, let’s call this fantasy trip the Fritz Family Foray into Europe.

 My dream plan is simple enough – a week in Dublin and London with my Anglophile loving daughter Jackie for some mother-daughter bonding time, followed by a week in Rome and Venice with my 15-year-old son Jordan, where I hope to introduce him to some real Italian culture – with the emphasis being on REAL.  As I’ve already covered why Dublin with my daughter is on the list, it’s high time to explain why oh why I want to take my baby boy to Venice. 

My son, Jordan, and my daughter, Jackie, on their first day of school, August 2012

My son, Jordan, and my daughter, Jackie, on their first day of school, August 2012

For starters, that boy needs some perspective.  While looking over pictures of my friends-only trip to Venice, he actually said in all seriousness, “Oh, I’ve been there,” all the while pointing to the bell tower in the Piazza San Marco.  “I climbed up that dome,” he said matter-of-factly as if he had actually “climbed” the basillica.  “See that bridge?” he declared, “I jumped off of that,” pointing to the Rialto.

A weary world traveler, is he?  Not exactly.

The Piazza San Marco as "reimagined" by the video game, Assassin's Creed

The Piazza San Marco as “reimagined” by the video game, Assassin’s Creed

Of course, my xBox-bleeding teenage boy was referring to his video game, Assassin’s Creed, one version of which takes part in Venice and allows players to crawl over every dome, bell tower and bridge re-imagined by the game’s designers in all their gorgeous glory.  He knows of the Piazza and the Grand Canal and the Rialto Bridge, but, unfortunately, we’re talking in CG graphics detail only. 

 As a mother, I desperately feel the need to point out to him the difference.  While the graphics in Assassin’s Creed are good – very good, in fact – nothing takes the place of actually BEING in Venice.  Good graphics or not, the experience isn’t even close.  Actually being IN Venice is a tactile experience which should include, in no short order, the following:

–  hearing the bells toll throughout the city upon the hour, any hour;

Being covered with pigeons is a right of passage in the real Piazza San Marco.

Being covered with pigeons is a right of passage in the real Piazza San Marco.

–  reaching out your hand in the Piazza San Marco toward a cloud of forward pigeons who promptly swarm you for food and get a bit familiar in the process;

–  getting oh so deliciously lost on a daily basis and not caring if you ever find your way back;

– smelling that ever present hint of salt water every where;

– discovering the uniqueness of Venice’s highly socialized dog population:

– discovering hidden treasures like a Knights Templar cross cut into street pavers, tiny doors, building bolts and Flavia’s costume shop, and;

One of Venice's hidden treasures - a hooked X, the sign of the Knights Templar in a paving stone near the Fondamenta Nove

One of Venice’s hidden treasures – a hooked X, the sign of the Knights Templar in a paving stone near the Fondamenta Nove

–  making wonderful new friends.

Making new friends while traveling with old friends makes life grand.

Making new friends while traveling with old friends makes life grand.

Additionally, as a picky, picky child, Jordan practically lives on butter, pasta and cheese.  We often joke that he’ll some day own a store called ‘Carbs, Carbs, Carbs!” so naturally, his place is in Italy.  He once asked me to bring home a gigantic wheel of parmesan, but since I couldn’t fit it in my carry-on luggage, it seems like a shopping trip in Venice is in order too.  It’s time he try lugging home his own 30-pound wheel of cheese.

Lastly, having been to Venice recently with friends, I find that I desperately need to go back, especially given the city’s recent flood.  I want to make sure that things are still as magical and as different as we experienced before.  Plus, there’s still so much to see.  As we crawled through the city at a snail’s pace – seriously, there is SO much to see – we only scratched the surface.  Naively, before we left, we actually thought we could see every square inch of this modest sized city in the course of a week.  Little did we realize that our average daily pace would turn out to be two blocks an hour.  It’s THAT different.

A beautiful costume in front of Flavia's shop

A beautiful costume in front of Flavia’s shop

So now, I want to go back, bringing my 15-year-old son along with me in what can best be described as the “remix tour.”  I can only imagine at this point what it would be like for him to actually stand in the Piazza San Marco without his computer and online friends.  As he is a curious, smart and personable young man, I know he’s going to love it. 

Or else he’s grounded.

For more information on Go with Oh or for a chance to win fantastic prizes from their Facebook competition, check out their link at:  

http://www.gowithoh.com/

 And enter the competition.  Life is short, travel is fun and the world is blessed.  Get out Go with Oh badgein it, see it, live it and share it with a loved one.

 http://www.gowithoh.com/competitions/blogger-competition/

 By Robin Fritz

The bell towers sound magical... even the leaning ones.

The bell towers sound magical… even the leaning ones.

 

Mayberry Isn’t Gone – It Just Moved to Indiana…

Now that's a big root...

Now that’s a big root…

My husband is feverishly pouring through seed catalogs looking for turnips.  He has grand plans to grow a monster because he wants to challenge family friend Phil in the annual largest turnip contest held every Friday after Thanksgiving at the St. Paul Tavern.  Phil is the reigning turnip king and fears no competition, even the cheaters.  Buckshot filled turnips, grafted turnips, he’s seen it all.  He wears his porcelain turnip pin proudly and says, “Bring it!” to all pretenders to the throne. 

Family friend Phil standing in the middle with his world class turnip

Family friend Phil standing in the middle with his world class turnip

Me?  I’m just in it for the pageantry, the walleye sandwich and any chance to wear a t-shirt that says, “I love a big root.”  Thus while all of America shops for discounted electronics, we get there early to grab a good seat – trust me, it fills up quick – and sit in a wonderful local tavern eating, drinking and feeling up big winter vegetables.

The gang's all here!

The gang’s all here!

If the world were a counter full of Baskin Robbins’ 31 flavors of ice cream, to the uninitiated, Indiana can seem very vanilla indeed.  We have no mountains to speak of, no flaming desert vistas, only one major city and our sole beach front property consists of about a hundred miles of Lake Michigan coastline with nary a palm tree, conch shell or shark fin to be seen ever.  Much like pickled herring, Indiana – and large turnip contests – is an acquired taste.

A glorious sunrise over my little slice of Hoosier heaven

A glorious sunrise over my little slice of Hoosier heaven

And I get that, I really do.  I’ve traveled the world and I know how good it gets.  I once worked with a woman who grew up in San Diego.  Her childhood consisted of ocean, mountains and desert all within an hour’s drive so to her Indiana was somewhat of a disappointment.  She lasted about four months.

So, again, I get it.

In truth, a good part of me is thankful that a majority of the world doesn’t appreciate our flat little slice of the globe.  It keeps life somewhat simple, sane and sweet and, for that, I give thanks.  

 For example, in my adopted hometown of Rushville, my children’s farm-kid-oriented high school cheer block was recently praised by a visiting ref at a local football game because –  rather than loudly shouting the old stand-by, “Nuts and bolts, nuts and bolts, we got screwed!” over a bad call – they politely cheered, “We beg to differ!  We beg to differ!” *Clap, clap, clap-clap-clap!*

 His comment? “Are they really dissenting respectfully?” 

Yep.

Rushville High School students dance on stage while waiting the judges' results in the lip sync contest

Rushville High School students dance on stage while waiting the judges’ results in the lip sync contest

During a recent lip-sync contest held in the school auditorium, I watched as these same kids – teenagers, mind you – stood up, cheered and encouraged three young ladies who entered the contest and then succumbed to self-consciousness and stage fright.  Rather than laugh and boo them off the stage, these wonderful kids cheered, clapped, STOOD UP and encouraged them.  The girls found their mojo and continued.  When they walked back to their seats, their classmates continued to cheer.  It was heartwarming and affirming and was even better than the movie, Hoosiers, because it was real.  Take that, Los Angeles.

So I hesitate to sing our Hoosier praises because – shhh!!! – I don’t want to give the secret away, but – when you get right down to it – Indiana rocks, and no more so than during the holidays when nostalgia is as common and everyday as a Walmart commercial.

I love a parade!

I love a parade!

Case in point – the annual Christmas parade held just prior to Thanksgiving in my actual hometown of Shelbyville just 13 miles away.  The local town square which we call a circle – don’t ask – is blocked off to traffic, local stores stay open late, Christmas music wafts over the crowd, everyone comes out, children run amok and there’s a parade to boot. 

Horses march through the street pooping in front of the high school marching band.  Betweener-aged snowflake princesses file by in various convertibles – with the queen crowned later based on how much money she raised for her sponsoring charity as the determining factor.  My sister, Renee, walks shotgun beside her high school life skills class float, watching nervously for signs of falling decorations.  A motorcycle gang clad in leather cruises by slowly riding hogs.  Candy is thrown to the crowd and Santa brings up the rear.

My sister stands guard, watching for falling decorations

My sister, Renee, stands guard, watching for falling decorations

As the last float crawls by, everyone turns toward Santa’s little house, the light switch is flipped and transformers kick in.  Decorations blaze to life.  The fountain becomes a Christmas tree.  The statute of local author Charles Major and his bear cubs sport Santa hats and spot lights.  Take that, Las Vegas.

Let there be light....

Let there be light….

I love the Christmas parade because it’s a chance to stroll into Three Sisters’ bookstore, say hi to Carolyn and her sisters, shop for actual books with actual covers, and then grab a hot chocolate at their sandwich counter next door.  Beside them is my beloved art gallery where my friends Al and Diane and Candy and Kathy work on crafts, swap stories and offer up cookies and punch.

Three Sisters' Bookstore - an honest to goodness independent bookstore

Three Sisters’ Bookstore – an honest to goodness independent bookstore

As we stroll the circle waiting for the parade to start we run in to friends from church, friends from school, friends from work, friends from the gym, friends, friends, friends.   Take that, Times Square.

If parades and turnips and polite teenagers aren’t enough, there’s always the free showing of the movie, “Elf” held that same Friday after Thanksgiving at our little non-profit theater, the Strand.  Picture any movie cinema from the 1950s – located downtown right on the sidewalk, big marquee, flashing lights, small front windows covered in movie placards – and you can picture the Strand.  Nostalgia comes free with every bucket of popcorn and it’s even better when eaten in the balcony. 

Family and friends convene early, candy canes are given out, seats are taken, switched, changed and rearranged as we see more family and friends.  The theater darkens, the movie starts, the laughter is loud and life is good.  Call me crazy, but simple things can and do add value to life.

Yes, I get it that the majority of the world may be bored with turnips and small town parades and re-runs of free movies on the big screen.  It’s a coarser, harder world out there.

My little slice of Indiana isn’t perfect, for heaven’s sake, but we do get a great deal right.  I may have grown up in a flat little land whose charms are lost on many, but I’m still grateful nonetheless. 

Even the bears are decked out for Christmas

Even the bears are decked out for Christmas

It’s made me who I am.  I can go out into the world, love what I see and still come home and be happy in the Hoosier heartland.  And for that, I give thanks.

By Robin Winzenread Fritz

Just a Hoosier girl at heart

Just a Hoosier girl at heart

Prepping, Packing and Pre-Poop Planning

Palm trees - not Christmas trees - are hogging my imagination these days

Palm trees – not Christmas trees – are hogging my imagination these days

My typhoid shot is on backorder.  Now, Christmas and backorders go together like red hair and freckles, but one doesn’t normally expect it in third-world pharmaceuticals, partly because one doesn’t normally ORDER third-world pharmaceuticals.  But my doctor has to pre-order my upcoming typhoid shot as there isn’t much call for regular typhoid boosters in Milroy, Indiana, thus the resulting backorder.  Who knew?

I’m hoping this backorder of typhoid is a result of low demand, but the pessimist in me likes to whisper in my ear at night and say, ha, ha, ha, you fool, it’s just the contrary!  Demand is high and Typhoid Marys are a dime a dozen in Haiti!  But as I am my father’s daughter, I chase down the pessimist in me and beat her into submission with grandiose plans to buy duty-free alcohol in massive quantities.  Rum balls anyone?

I'm making a list and checking it twice... because now it's includes rum

I’m making a list and checking it twice… because now it includes rum

On the heels of my recent foray into Europe, I find packing and planning for a trip to a third-world country to be a great study in contrasts.  Venice and London required no inoculations.  As for Haiti, I’m already up by four shots and have two boosters to go, plus – hopefully – my typhoid vaccine, and I get to take malaria medicine in the process.  I’m also starting my low-dose introduction to Imodium too as my sister regaled me over Thanksgiving with tales of my brother-in-law’s diarrhea (hey, thanks Renee!) brought on by HIS malaria medicine taken prior to his dive trip to Honduras.  So I’m working on building a tolerance now because who wants to be stuck on a plane with Montezuma’s Revenge?  Or, since I’m Haiti bound, let’s call it the Papa Doc Trots.

... don't cry... don't cry... *sniff* ... don't cry... who am I kidding?  WAAAAA!!!

… don’t cry… don’t cry… *sniff* … don’t cry… who am I kidding? WAAAAA!!!

When the good Doctor Lake told me I needed Hepatitis A, Hepatitis B, tetanus and recommended typhoid, I listened, because the good Doctor Lake has been to Haiti before and knows where of she speaks.  As a doctor, she’s been exposed to patients with typhoid and, given the risk factor, why not get the shot, she advised.  She also prepped a flu shot for me at which point I said, “Oh, I rarely get the flu.”  Her response?

“Robin,” she said, “it’s not for you.  It’s for them.”

Now there’s a thought.  Inoculations, she went on to explain, aren’t just for me, but for the many native people I will come in contact with while in Haiti.  While I may have the immune system of an elephant (and the thighs too), I can still be a carrier, and the last thing I want to do while on a mission trip is expose people with depressed tolerances and lack of ready access to medical care to something I fight off like skinny jeans.  It’s an interesting point I hadn’t considered.  So, naturally, I got the flu shot.

Fearless leaders says pack light.....

Fearless leader says pack light…..

The other great study in contrasts between planning for Haiti as opposed to western Europe is the packing itself.  I’m going down there to do construction work which isn’t as funny as it sounds because my father was a plumber who had two girls years before he had two boys.  The end result was that he treated us like boys for years, thus Renee and I can both swing a hammer, drive a tractor and – if the need calls for it – pee standing up.  I didn’t say it was pretty.

I'm dreaming of a sandy Christmas

I’m dreaming of a sandy Christmas

Back to my point.  Whereas my packing plan for Italy was to look polished, cosmopolitan and well-traveled (aka – not necessarily like someone whose closet resembles the clearance bin at Walmart which is closer to reality), my packing plan for Haiti fits in nicely with my telecommuting wardrobe.  I’m packing my oldest clothes.  I’m taking only one dress and it’s for church.  Out goes the jewelry and in go the work gloves and safety glasses.  And I’m trying to find bug spray and I’m praying my sunscreen hasn’t expired.  That can be hard to find in the winter, I’ve discovered.

It's like a Haitian version of "How the Grinch Stole Christmas" only with burros instead of tiny dogs

It’s like a Haitian version of “How the Grinch Stole Christmas” only with burros instead of tiny dogs

I’m also trying to figure out which Bible to take as it’s on the packing list sent to us by our fearless leader, David Duba.  David has supplied us with helpful packing lists, insurance forms and itineraries which come to my email inbox like early Christmas presents.  His online enthusiasm is infectious – but not in a typhoid kind of way – and rather than dreaming about putting up Christmas lights while the snow falls, I find myself daydreaming about swaying palm trees, dirt roads, and colorful local people leading burros around tiny towns.  It’s hard not to, you know?

I don't think this will fit in my carry on

I don’t think this will fit in my carry on

On that list is the Bible and now I have a decision to make.  Bibles aren’t small and David said pack light.  Of course the huge old family standard that my dad bought when we were kids is out.  It’s the size of a small VW Beetle, though the pictures are really pretty.  On the flip side, I still have my itty, bitty little vinyl-clad green version given to every elementary school child in Indiana during the 1970s, but it’s the New Testament only and, if I take it, I’ll also have to take a pair of reading glasses fit for Mr. Magoo.  Decisions, decisions.

God bless us, every one

God bless us, every one

But don’t worry, I’ll figure it out.  December 12th will be here before I know it and my backpack will be ready.  My camera batteries will be fresh and my spirits will be high.  Christmas isn’t about buying, wrapping and eating so much as it is about celebrating Jesus’ birth and ultimate sacrifice.  It seems most fitting to honor that gift by giving to others, and I don’t mean with cheese logs.  I’m ready to tote that barge, lift that bale and swing that hammer – though, trust me.  I wasn’t kidding about the rum.

Cheers to all.  And God bless.

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