Dear family:

It has been very difficult to find the time to write this letter. A vacation is a nice change of scenery, but it means that life is twice as hectic upon returning when there is so much catching up to do. In addition, both Stephen and I came down with some flu-like symptoms last week, and this is the first day I have been free of symptoms. In addition to fever, cough, and headaches, we had trouble sleeping, and once or twice we came across each other at 3:00 A.M. looking for Tylenol, but for some reason none of the other family members was affected.

Well, I didn’t mean to start on an unhappy note, but I was making excuses for why I didn’t write earlier and make you all jealous with a blow-by-blow account of my Florida holiday. Now you know that I paid my dues...

My final project before leaving was a Jane Austen presentation I gave at our church for about 25 women and teens. I enjoyed doing this as much as anything else I can think of. I was preparing my material under some time pressure, but it was still nice to get reacquainted with this wonderful author and my studies from college days (not to mention some of the helpful research that has been published since then). I got dressed in costume, served tea and shortbread, and "regaled" the audience with Austen anecdotes. Re-enactments will be given upon request at the family reunion!

Then off Christopher, Ben, and I went to Florida. We waited until the night before our departure to tell Ben he was going on a plane ride, and he woke up bright and early announcing it was time to go. He was thrilled to be riding in a plane, then a train in Atlanta, a bus in Ft. Myers, and a car to Naples where he headed right for the beach. In the plane he tried to open the window because "I need to lie down on those clouds".

We were there primarily to visit Ethel Houck, but I knew that the boys– even on their best behavior -- would be more disruption than she had put up with all year, so we planned an outing each day. First stop was Jungle Larry’s (the Naples Zoo), a family favorite, where Ben got to ride boats out to see the monkey islands. Christopher loves the special presentations that they put on, and very nearly talked me into purchasing a membership so we could go back each day. Our second favorite spot in Naples is The Mole Hole, an amazing gift shop and toy store. We spent a nice long while there one day, and on another day went through the specialty shops in Tin City. Doing this with Ben is not relaxing, but we balanced it with time at the beach and pool.

I was very proud of the fact that we managed to take Ethel out to eat three times, something her daily helpers assured me would be impossible. She has joint pain which inhibits her movement, but her biggest handicap is very poor memory function. She was interested in the boys, especially Benjamin, but usually couldn’t remember who we were from one moment to the next. And then, conversing with a three year old is a challenge for anyone.

Ethel (to Ben, climbing a step stool): If you fall from there it will hurt like the dickens.

Ben: Like a CHICKEN?

Ethel: Do you want some chicken?


This conversation went one step further when the two Furbies (talking stuffed birds that her son Don had sent) joined in. Both Ethel and Ben were dumbfounded by their contributions.

It was a good thing that our strategic plan called for a trip to visit relatives in the larger Tampa area. We spent a night with Mary Lou Shay (David’s mother’s cousin). She reminds us so much of David’s mother, especially in her good humor. She and Christopher shared tips on playing Free Cell on the computer, while Ben was entertained by dashing to answer her phone when it rang since it was on a table just his height. I hope she doesn’t forever associate our visit with the stock market crash; we will remember having a breakfast buffet for supper, the best farm-fresh strawberries, and being introduced to Tervis tumblers!

From Mary Lou’s we went to my Aunt Dorothy’s in St. Petersburg. Of course Ben took to her right away, in spite of the fact that the first thing she did was sing him a song about a little boy who got hit by a truck because he crossed the street on a red light. We took in some of the local spots of interest (an ice skating rink for all those displaced Canadians) including a park where we got a close look at a turtle and alligator, and a marsh hen building her nest. I had never seen a bird in the process of building a nest, and it was fascinating to watch. My cousin Janet and her two boys treated us like long-lost relatives – we watched a sunset on the beach one evening (meaning the boys threw one another into the Gulf) and went miniature golfing the next. Those of us used to The Oasis need to learn from Florida’s golf courses. This one was designed around a theme of David Livingstone’s African adventures (how nice we had just finished reading his biography) and the water pits had live alligators!

My only regret was that we were to return to Naples and would miss seeing Uncle George by one day. However, and this will prove how truthful I am in these letters) I received an unexpected phone call from Don Houck who tracked me down at Janet’s house. He had just spoken with his mother and she told him that while our visit had been nice, it would be a long time before she invited us back! He was offering to put us up in a hotel, if need be, but my long suffering aunt said we were welcome to stay and so we got to see Uncle George after all. I also wanted to meet Biserat, an young Eritrean friend of theirs who is in a nursing home due to blindness and a form of MS. We had been introduced to her through my aunt’s letters, and it was a joy to see her sweet spirit in spite of hardship, disappointment, and pain. She graciously showed the boys her talking watch, electric hospital bed, and newly acquired Braille machine. One of Biserat’s friends in the nursing home – 101 years of age – stopped Aunt Dorothy and asked if she would bring in some Oil of Olay because she was concerned about getting wrinkles!

All this meant we had only one final night in Naples. Ethel seemed happy to see us again, having forgotten how much we wore her out. I watched some old family movies with her, and then (with permission) read her husband Kenneth’s diary of their trip to the Holy Lands (in the 1960s). It was a poignant reminder of the life they used to lead, and I was especially moved to read about some kindnesses of my Aunt Grace, who was on the same trip.

Our final morning we stopped to see Bill and Kay Sitterley in their new home, which is in one of these retirement/assisted living complexes. Bentley Village makes Kirkland Village look like government housing, and I intend to retire there! As always, the Sitterleys looked great and are busy with many different ministries and recreations. The one that ministered to us was when Mr. Sitterley took the boys around the property in his golf cart!

Ben was most unhappy to hear that we were returning home; he was enjoying the extra attention too much. I highly recommend the hospitality of our relatives on both sides of the family!

I gather the family members left at home enjoyed the looser standards encouraged by my absence. It took a day or two to get the house back in order, and then I plunged into a pile of grade auditing and other work, before getting sick. I can’t really say much about what they did other than that Peter spent a day at the local Christian high school (trying it on for size) and had his annual school evaluation with Dr. Richman (Chris and Steve have theirs in Philadelphia tomorrow). Stephen worked very diligently on his lessons, while David and Peter spent countless hours trying to get the various computers working properly. David got them running just in time to complete all the tax preparation when he suddenly had the awful realization that I was not on hand to sign the forms, so we had to file late after all.

News from Daniel was that he was down to 37 cents in total net worth. Fortunately, he got a $200 tax refund which he hopes will keep him afloat until a summer job materializes. He took perverse pleasure in informing me that the dining hall where he eats was cited for 16 health violations. On the brighter side, his friend Michael Carter went to spend a couple of days with him. Michael was accepted at Hopkins but was not offered anywhere near the same financial aid package, so is going to Penn State Honors College (where Daniel had been accepted, too).

I was sad that Daniel was not home for Easter this year. Hopkins does not give any days off then, and the combination of Michael’s visit and his pressing calculus homework made him decide to stay in Baltimore. Ironically, we had two Lehigh students with us instead – one of whom wasn’t going home because of calculus homework in Lehigh’s equivalent course. Every year we invite any Lehigh students who aren’t going home to join us, but this is the first year we had any accept the offer, so it is just as well that we did not take up John’s invitation to go to New Jersey. I think they enjoyed hiding the eggs for the Easter egg hunt almost as much as Ben enjoyed finding them!

Well, last night was our final Bible study on campus. I’m going to miss it! There is a final flurry of activity (David is out tonight watching one of our students who has a lead role in The Importance of Being Earnest, the choir members have their final concert this weekend, and we wrap it all up with a laser tag/ miniature golf/cookout extravaganza) and then Lehigh finals begin. Next week my parents arrive for about six weeks and Daniel comes home. I must admit, we are never bored around here.



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