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  • Writer's pictureBil

Back in the USS...I mean USA!

Updated: Jul 10, 2021

Early in 2020 Susie received a disturbing missive informing us that her oldest sister, Kathy, had been diagnosed with a rare type of bone cancer called multiple myeloma. This life-threatening disease could only be cured by a bone marrow transplant, so the first order of business was to determine if her two sisters were a match.

Kathy & Susie in The Keys

The U Of Miami Hospital sent Susie’s swab kit to Phnom Penh. There was a significant delay getting through customs, but it finally arrived so we took the bus back up from Kep, Cambodia to the capital & collected the package from FedEx. After several careful readings of the instructions, Susie swabbed her cheeks and packaged everything back up, ready to drop off at FedEx.

Sending a prepaid, pre-addressed package should be easy, right? But because the box contained medical tissues, as clearly stamped on the box, the red tape descended. Only 2 people in the office spoke English, and we knew zero Cambodian. The main agent kept insisting that we needed to take the package to the US Embassy, (and how, she questioned, did this kit slip through to us in the first place?) but Susie was having none of that. After hours of haranguing and gesticulating, they finally accepted the package and we left, grabbing a tuk-tuk back to the hotel.

Sisters! Mary, Kathy & Susie

The kit took a week to arrive in the US (“overnight express”). By this time, we were in southern Vietnam, and concerns were being raised about a new coronavirus called Covid-19. When Susie finally heard that neither she nor her sister Mary were a match and a donor would have to be located, we decided it was time to get back to The States. {see previous blog “Flying Can Be Fun…” for return details)

Arriving back in Ft. Lauderdale we were offered a lovely house by our good friends Kathy & Bob for a temporary base and headed down to The Keys with Skylar to check on Susie’s sis. Kathy had been feeling relatively well and was in good spirits. The donor search was on, but

Smoky Mountain trails w/Chloe

no matches yet.

Since Kathy was in a holding pattern now, it was a good time to hang out in western North Carolina where Covid was relatively scarce and Jazz was finishing up his junior year at Western Carolina U. Spring was just starting to break out in the Smokies, but the normally busy area around Maggie Valley & Waynesville was quiet as traveling was discouraged. We went out for walks around the lakes or trails, but stayed away from other people, masked and had groceries delivered. I greatly enjoyed learning to fly fish for trout in the many streams & rivers in the area, with Jazz often accompanying me….usually showing me up!

An excellent matching donor was found by June, and we moved down to Islamorada so Susie could help Kathy prepare for the procedure starting in August. Susie organized a

Kathy's beautiful Buddha

wonderful support group on Facebook and sent out gorgeous coffee mugs with a lovely Buddha design based on a watercolor painted by Kathy.

We have always loved the Keys – the different hues of the water as it sweeps between the Gulf and the Atlantic are just magnificent. The birds, trees, tropical foliage and little islands everywhere just make us feel like we are home again. Picked up a little kayak so I could go out fishing and messing about, wearing myself down trying to get back home, always against the tide and wind!

Take your mug fishing day

Kathy left the hospital in early September to convalesce at a nearby condo on Miami Beach, and Mary & Susie stayed with her much of the time to provide love, help & support. The

operation was successful but left her very weak with a long road of recovery ahead.

My sister Jeane lost her dear husband Dave not long after this, so I flew out to California to

"Blind Dav" - doing what he loved!

hang out with her & daughter Vera for a while. We enjoyed walks on the beach, bike rides & kayaking in Santa Cruz bay, and reminiscing about many good times in the past.

With the Christmas holidays approaching, (and our condo

Merry Christmas from Waynesville, NC

time expiring) we again pointed our trusty Toyotas (bought upon US return) towards NC and celebrated Christmas at Jazz & Kelsey’s home with Skylar, Torsten and Chloe joining us. To make it simply perfect, it began snowing with huge, wet snowflakes on Christmas Eve! Merry Christmas!

Susie was diligently checking the Covid vaccination situation and managed to get me signed up in Green Cove Springs, just south of Jacksonville. Since she is still a youngster she did not qualify yet. An 8-hour drive, but I was thrilled to get it! Follow up 2nd shot on February 3rd and I was good to go.

Susie found an open vax spot in Atlanta, where they apparently did not care as much about age or residency, so she drove down there January 28th. Whilst driving home she found out that her dear sister had succumbed to multiple complications from her surgery, after a tough, 5-month battle. Close family and friends gathered in Tavernier to celebrate Kathy’s life and wish her well on the next chapter of her journey.

Best place to be on a snowy morning

Spring was coming to the mountains of western North Carolina – the flowers and birds and trees were rejoicing. As were the local shops as tourists were coming out of quarantine in droves. We started to entertain guests at our lovely rentals, and took advantage of the beautiful spring days. (Thank you all for coming! We LOVED seeing you!!)

While staying at the last house, we met our neighbor Sunny – a vivacious and funny artist with an eclectic collection of art that was “right up our alley”! She and several women of the area would walk the roads and trails

Sunny with a new home for Baby Ruth

nearby every morning – from 2 to 4 miles in 2 to 3 hours. And these were not Florida Flat walks either, but many steep inclines, including the infamous “Cardiac Hill”! We greatly enjoyed getting to know these Balsam Babes, chatting and laughing as we hiked through the rhododendrons. And I finished my first instrumental "album" of 9 songs! Check it out on

Now for the big moment – Jazz was graduating from WCU in Electrical Engineering – summa cum laude no less! He missed valedictorian by 1 point, so they taped an interview with him to play at the ceremony, which was held in person, with a limited audience. We were the

The Graduate!

consummate proud parents in attendance, along with Kelsey. They played the interview with Jazz on the jumbotron, and interviewed him live as well, along with the valedictorian. The ceremony was great, and now he has matriculated! Jazz & I took a quick trip to go fly fishing in eastern Idaho. Lots of trout & great fun!

So – the final NC chapter was moving Jazz & Kelsey (and Lucy & Hazel-arf arf) to Florence, SC. His virtual internship with Otis Elevator had gone swimmingly, and they made him an employment proposal he could not turn down. He started a two-year leadership program with them – 8 months in Florence, and 8 months each in two more locations. Get the U-Haul, box it all up and git on the road! Ugh. But we did it. With a DELIGHTFUL stopover at Sandy & Paul’s (Kelsey’s parents) beautiful new home in Mount Airy, NC.

After unloading in Florence, we burned rubber (in a Prius? Hehe) back down I-95 to hang out in Skylar’s sweet crib in Delray Beach, whilst we sold a bike & the Prius. Plus, a couple nights in Oviedo to drop off storage stuff and get in the first LIVE book club since Covid! Great friends, food & conversation.

We visited with Sky & Torsten a few times, and she took me out for a great ride on Torsten’s awesome Wave Runner, touring Marine Stadium, Biscayne Bay and the new docks outside

Book Club - over 11 years!

his condo. Very soon Sky was driving us to Miami Airport – flying to a stopover in Dallas.

Susie’s friend Meribeth graciously picked us up and midnight and brought us to stay at her gorgeous home outside Dallas. We enjoyed a nice breakfast with her and Russel and the next morning paid a quick visit to her horse Calvin. Then back to DFW and onto the plane – heading to Rome!

My amazing wife managed to score biz-class\front of plane seats at an astounding rate, so we were happy to spend 2 ½ delay hours at the gate as the engines were re-balanced (or something!?!? Haha) I relaxed in the huge Boeing 787 Dreamliner watching David Byrne’s American Utopia – super good-sipped champagne and reflected on this amazing life we chose.

And here we go! The time spent with family and friends since CoV has been a true treasure! We are both grateful and excited to be back on the road…..and while we travel we carry all your good wishes and love with us in our wandering hearts. Come see us!

Take off, eh?

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