A Year of June

A year ago we got our fifth wheel June and married her with our Ram 3500 truck Bertha.

And it’s been an amazing match!

In that time, she has been towed through 20 different states and has been camped in 17 different locations in 9 states. In all, she has been towed more than 9,000 miles already!

We have made a few small modifications to her during this time as well.

The first thing we did was upgrade the tires and rims! RV tires are poorly made, and RV rims barely support the GVWR of the RV they are put on to. On our last rig we experienced a blowout and another time the tread split but was caught before we got on any highways. Each were traditional trailer tires. Stay away from RV tires! Period! This time we went with truck tires, specifically Goodyear G614 RST. They are unisteel, regrooveable, American-made truck tires. And in all the miles we’ve traveled and all the temperature and terrain variations we been through so far we’ve not had the first blowout, bulge, or tread issue whatsoever. We also upgraded from 13-inch trailer rims to 14-inch aluminum truck rims. Now we know our rims will be able to handle the weight of our rig and any rough roads we may encounter.

Inside, the first items changed were a couple of interior doors. We removed the solid doors that lead into the boys’ bunkhouse room and their half bathroom and replaced them with lightweight accordion doors. Doing this allows us to now utilize their bedroom and bathroom even when we are boondocked or the slideouts are in. It was a very inexpensive modification too, running less than $40 for both doors (purchased less expensive at a hardware store but also available online for convenience).

Then we added a chain hotel lock and alarm to the boys’ back door, which is on the opposing side of the rig and, despite that we love having two entrances/exits, we were concerned for the safety and security of our sons. Stock RV door locks are universal, meaning there are only a couple of handfuls of key-and-lock combinations for RV doors and locks and the chance that the neighbor in the campsite next to us could use their own key to unlock our RV door is very possible.

On that note, we also swapped out the lock and handle on the main entrance of June. We found a set of universal RV locks by RVLock that is keyed and has a numeric keypad. The deadbolt can be locked/unlocked with a key, personalized 4- to 8-digit code, or remote fob (choice of the user) and the handle can be locked/unlocked with the provided key. This is not a stock lock, so the likelihood that anyone in any campground being able to use their key to open our door is slim to none. This was not an inexpensive upgrade, but it’s more than worth the $250 we spent on it (and it’s gone down in price since then!).

Papa worked (and will work) out of the rig, but the builtin desktop in the master bedroom wasn’t large enough for what he needed. So we installed an Ikea wall-mounted drop-leaf tabletop/desktop on the wall across from the foot of the bed. When it is folded down it doesn’t obstruct the walking space in the bedroom at all. When it is propped up, Papa sits at a chair at the foot of the bed and is able to comfortably do his work in the quiet privacy of the master bedroom. This has worked out so well!

Possibly Mama’s favorite addition to our RVing lifestyle are the washer and dryer that we’ve purchased. This is our first RV with a space and hookup for a washing machine and/or dryer. However, full RV washers, dryers, and washer/dryer combos are extremely heavy and expensive. After a lot of research, we decided to save a lot of weight and money and go with the compact Manatee washing machine with pump and spin-dry, as well as the Tidalpool portable UV clothes dryer. This setup has saved us so much time and money!

The washing machine is very lightweight and works remarkably well. When we first started using it we set it up next to the kitchen sink in the galley, so there was a water source and a way to drain the water from the tubs, and only stored it in the closet intended for a washing machine when we were traveling. Then papa was able to set it up so the washer actually stays in the closet with the washing machine hookups, where there are cold and hot water spigots and a location for draining. Clothes — everything from delicates and shirts to linens and snow suits — are washed in the tub on the left. The water is then drained and the clothes are relocated to the spin-dry tub on the right. In this tub we rinse the clothes, spin it again with either liquid laundry detergent or distilled white vinegar, and then spin-rinse/dry again. The tub doesn’t dry completely, but it is so powerful that the clothes are barely damp and then dry quickly.

The dryer folds up and packs away into a duffel bag. When it’s assembled it stands tall and the clothes are hung on it to dry. When the clothes are hung up then a bag is placed around them and the unit is turned on to the desired length of drying time. A full load of clothes can dry in 1- to 1.5-hours, depending on the thickness of the material of the clothes, and the final half-hour of the drying cycle is when the UV lamp kicks on, which then sanitizes the clothes. We have used it set up in the galley, under a vent in the roof (to our surprise, it didn’t heat up the rig!), but we have also set it up outside, between the main entrance and the exterior wall of the boys’ bunkhouse slideout.

Could we simply use laundry rooms at campgrounds? Sure…if they’re provided or available. However, a full day can easily be used up that way too, and it’s not at all sanitary. You can’t just leave the clothes in the laundry room, so you would need to stick around and wait for the loads to be finished, so you are there when they’re finished and other people don’t walk off with anything. The dryers don’t heat up enough to kill off germs, so viral and fecal germs from the clothes of others can and will end up on  your own clothes! And let’s face it, laundromats — whether they’re elsewhere or at campgrounds — are pricey and it adds up quickly. With our setup, we can wash and dry in our own RV, without concern, and we save a ton of money: we paid less than $300 for both units, combined they weight less than 35 pounds, and convenience just goes without saying.

Another modification we made to June is the spare-tire location. By default the spare-tire carrier was located on the back bumper of the RV. However, we use the bumper for carrying our family’s bicycles. On our previous rig (the Coach) we had installed a spare-tire carrier that attaches to the frame of the rig and is located under the belly. A few months ago we finally installed this on June. Up until then, we kept the spare tire in the huge pass-through of June, but that took up so much space that could have otherwise been used for tools, camping supplies, and items for the boys. Now we have more space in our pass-through and the spare tire is conveniently located under the rig. We’ve also put our portable waste tank on the carrier as well.

Overall, the best interior modification we’ve made to the rig is extending the depth of the boys’ top bunk. Most bunk beds in RVs are narrower than twin beds. The bottom bunk is twin size, but the top bunk is narrower. The top is narrower than the bottom so the person on the bottom bunk doesn’t risk bumping his head on the top bunk. However, that was not a concern for us. Rather, we needed two twin-size bunks for the comfort of our boys. So Papa built an extension on the top bunk and then built a small ladder to the top bunk and a short railing along the edge. Now both boys have comfortable twin beds…and neither are stuck with a bed too narrow to sleep well.

Once we sell our house and move in to June, we know there will be other things we’ll do. However, June is and has been the perfect full-time fit for us. We can live, play, work, sleep, eat, and entertain very comfortably inside, but it’s not so big and comfortable that we don’t spend ample time outdoors. We now experience more quality family time as well.

And that’s the goal for us.

The Reality of Downsizing

We are going from a 2,133 square-foot house to an RV with a square footage of around 315. That means six and a half of our rigs can fit inside our house!

We are a homeschooling family of four with two boys, so we’ve accumulated a lot of stuff over the 11 years we’ve lived in this house.

And that’s all it is: stuff.

For Mama and Papa, it’s not very difficult letting go of things, although we are storing sentimentals and a couple of pieces of furniture for our future house down the road, but it is proving to be a challenge for the boys.

“But this is so small, it won’t take up much space!” we’ve heard dozens of times, so that small item would actually turn into a large item.

“But I forgot I even had it, and that’s why I never played with it!” they’ve declared regarding many items as they go through their seemingly endless toy bins and storage cubes.

“But I might play with this later!” we’ve been told about more toys than we care to mention.

When something has been long forgotten about, has been broken and turned into an item “I might use later,” or is clearly too young for them and there’s something else that does pretty much the same thing and is age appropriate, it’s time for it to go.

The reality check of all of this, though, is just how much stuff has been accumulated!

Action figures, toy guns, puzzles, games, Legos, K’Nex, Vex, Hex, science project kits, random balls, stuffed animals, coloring items, fort-building sheets, stuff, stuff, and more stuff! Yet, half of this “stuff” they’ve simply forgotten they had!

But do you know what they haven’t forgotten?

Places they’ve visited. Campgrounds we’ve been to. State landmarks they’ve seen in person. Time with family members. Playground-hopping days. Fishing excursions.

We can ask them where they went three summers ago, and they can tell you!

Ask them what they got for their birthday last year, and their response is, “Um, I don’t remember, but we had so much fun with our friends at Andretti!” (Andretti is a local amusement park with laser tag, rides, an arcade, and go-cart tracks.)

Stuff.

And we put so much emphasis on “stuff.”

Unfortunately, we’re guilty of it, but that’s something else this experience it going to help us with. We’ll have no other choice but to let go of more than 80% of what we have to make room for our much smaller home. And we know that, over time, even things we’ve elected to hold on to for now will be let go because it’s just taking up space.

We’ve already decided that, down the road, when we do get another house, it will be a lot smaller than this one. We want land, for homesteading and a tree house and a backyard zip line…

We want to have more experiences and far less “stuff.”

You can’t take it with you when you go, and nobody will remember or talk about what you had when you’r gone, but there will be memories about things you have done and who you did them with. People will remember the way you treated them. Your kids will remember if you spent more time working and cleaning up than doing things with them. One way or another, memories and experiences live on.

There’s more value in what you can’t hold than what you can.

Pumped Up Birthday Party

Our boys’ birthdays are only 2 years, 9 days apart. And since they are homeschooled they also have many of the same friends…mostly camping friends.

As a result, most of the boys’ birthday parties are combined. We ask them where they’d like to celebrate and their preferred theme, and so far they have both been on the same page each time. We never have their birthday party on either of their birthdays, though. We also pick the Saturday that falls between their birthdays.

We figured we’ll continue to do this for as long as they enjoy combining their birthday parties. We don’t force it in any way, and they enjoy doing it.

This year was no different. They wanted to have their party at a local Pump It Up location (an indoor inflatables center for kids) with a camping-themed cake, and it took place yesterday.

There was no shortage of friends either. For two boys that are homeschooled — which also automatically means they don’t have friends, or so we’ve been told — seven of their friends showed. Three that had planned to attend couldn’t show last-minute.

It was amazing that nearly all of their friends joined us, but even better is that both of their sets of grandparents and their uncle were there as well.

Yes, even Mama’s father, who had just had a heart attack almost three weeks ago. He was actually doing very well.

Everyone had a great time, and the cake was a hit.

We have a relatively small crowd of friends, but they are people we trust, we love, and we know we can count on. We’re very blessed to have them in our lives.

Worst Mother’s Day on Record

Seriously, we experienced the worst Mother’s Day ever this year!

Mama wanted to go to Disney’s Ft. Wilderness, so Papa took some time off of work so we could spend five days camping and going to the parks.

We’d yet to go to any of the Disney water parks, although our pass included both Typhoon Lagoon and Blizzard Beach. Papa and the boys wanted to go to a water park, so we decided to give one a try and opted for Blizzard Beach.

The second day at Ft. Wilderness is when we went to Blizzard Beach. It was in the middle of the week and and we figured it wouldn’t be very busy. However, it was extremely hot: the temps topped out at 103 that day! And the pavement in the park is hot and didn’t have any sprayers to provide relief to the feet. Ouch!

The first thing we decided to attempt was a trip to the top-most point, where several water slides began, and we opted for the ski lift.

…which then got stuck…for half an hour…while we were on it…in 100+-degree heat…with no water or shade!

We were all miserable and dehydrated when we got off, not to mention starving. We didn’t stick around much longer after, between the heat, some slides being closed for renovation, and just not being impressed with the small park.

Not a good start to the Mother’s Day week.

We had other hiccups throughout the week and weekend, which resulted in it just being a rough trip altogether.

We checked out Sunday, on Mother’s Day, and decided to stop at a restaurant for lunch (moms ate free) before driving another hour home.

We got home, parked, and proceeded to go about our routine of unpacking a few things before backing the rig in next to the house.

Mama had left her cell phone in the truck during this, next to Papa’s cell phone, and finally noticed she had missed a call and a text message from her brother. She decided to call him back later, but then her phone rang again.

He was in hysterics.

Their dad — who has always been healthy, was a healthy eater, and was in no way overweight — had suddenly suffered a massive heart attack!

Their mom and dad were still at their homestead deep in the woods on Florida’s west coast, where they spend every weekend, when he started feeling sick and started throwing up. Then he got the classic heartburn feeling, that tingling and pain down his left arm, and overall feeling of malaise. Their mom had called 911, and just as the paramedics pulled into view, he went out. Completely.

It was still a couple of minutes before the paramedics were at their home and began CPR, and then they had to use the defibrillator. He came to and was screaming in pain and started vomiting again.

That’s when she called Mama’s brother, who was at his home two hours south of them, to let him know what was going on and asked that he call his sister.

Mama lost it. She is, in every way, Daddy’s girl. She is just like him and they are extremely close.

When she finally got her senses about again she called her mom. Her dad was just being loaded into the paramedic and they were just leaving for the hospital…30 minutes away. Nobody knew if he would live.

Mama, Papa, and the boys quickly grabbed some more clothes and cat food, closed and locked up the house again, and hit the road, with June still in tow.

We arrived at the hospital almost 4 hours later, and Mama kept in contact with her mom and brother on the phone en route. Her dad had another heart attack at the hospital and required the defibrillator again. He was immediately wheeled into surgery for an emergency cardiac catheterization…where it was determined he had 3 blockages, one that was 100%. An angioplasty was performed and he got two stents. (He received a third stent the next day.) When we finally arrived at the hospital (four hours away) and saw him, his speech was slurred and he was in and out of sleep. His chest was in immense pain — a result of the heart attacks, the CPR compressions, and the two defibrillator shocks — but despite it all he tried desperately to keep everyone’s spirits up and maintain a light sense of humor.

We”camped” in the parking lot that first night — not that Mama got much sleep — and the next day his speech and cognition were already improved. He was scheduled for the third stent, and we were all informed his blockages were all severe: one at 100% and two at 90%.

He was very lucky to be alive. We all were!

Once we knew when his procedure would be, Mama’s brother stayed with their mom at the hospital while we ran June to their homestead to set up for a long stay. Then we returned to the hospital, and his procedure was again successful.

Mama’s brother returned home the next day because he was fighting a bug of some sort and didn’t want to risk their father getting sick. We stuck around. Mama even took her mom back home at one point so she could shower and get some clothes, and then they worked to try to clean up the house because there was so much evidence of what had happened…and nobody wanted nor needed to relive it.

We also made the four-hour drive back home one day during the week so Papa could get some things squared away with work and pick up his work laptop, that way he could work from Mama’s parents’ homestead, and to get some other things we’d need in order to stay with them to help them through this ordeal.

Mama’s dad was discharged in the middle of the week and they returned to their homestead, as opposed to going back home two hours south in the city, where their primary home and place of work are located. It was easier for him to recover there and they weren’t yet able to make the long drive south.

That Friday we drove down to see Papa’s parents, which was a trip already planned, to celebrate their birthdays. On Saturday Mama got a phone call from her mom, who said she was taking her dad back to the hospital because his pain was still bad and his breathing and breathlessness were, in no way, improving. Another phone call followed and Mama was told that her dad now had congestive heart failure.

We left Papa’s parents the same afternoon to return to the hospital…another four-hour drive. When we got there he was still in the ER and they were waiting for a room to become available for him. He was to be started on antibiotics because there was a concern he was developing pneumonia, and he was on a form of diuretic to try to get rid of the fluid that was now around his heart. Papa then took Mama’s mom back home so she could again pack an overnight bag, while Mama stayed with her dad in the ER.

He was finally admitted into a room…and was already breathing and talking better than when he had first arrived. We also found out he did not have pneumonia but was fighting off some kind of viral infection that just had to run its course. He was still going to be there for a couple more nights though to watch his heart and pain.

The next day (Sunday) we had plans to go to Animal Kingdom to preview their new exhibit and world Pandora, which we had scheduled for months, but in light of what had taken place we weren’t too sure about going. However, Mama’s parents insisted we still go, if for no other reason but to give the boys a much-deserved break because they’d been pulled every which direction and had been behaving and putting up with everything beautifully. We did end up going, but only because we knew he was still going to be in the hospital and would be watched carefully. We made plans to return to the hospital on Monday (we’d go back home Sunday night, take care of a few things, and then go back Monday afternoon).

Before we even made it back Monday, Mama’s dad was being discharged from the hospital! He developed no pneumonia, so he was taken off the antibiotics, and the fluid around his heart was going away. His breathing and voice were returning to normal, and overall he was feeling better.

We stayed all week, helping with house chores, taking care of any shopping, and going with them to his first followup with the cardiac surgeon that had performed the catheterization, angioplasty, and stents. Mama finally got to shake hands with the man who saved her dad’s life.

Mama’s parents were able to return to the city that weekend, but her dad was informed to not return to his full job for several months. Her parents work in construction and he’s usually outside for hours on end every day, as part of his job. He was restricted to only his desk-job and administrative portion until he received a full bill of health again, which won’t be for about three months. He will have several exams and tests to go through over the next few months, as well as full cardiac rehabilitation that he will need to complete to rebuild his heart.

Without a doubt, this was the worst Mother’s Day any of us had been through. On the flip side, however, Mama’s dad has been informed that he’s now healthier than he was before his heart attack. Nobody saw it coming, but it did and at least it happened when he was neither alone nor driving.

He’s only 59. Mama’s parents just celebrated their 41st wedding anniversary in February.

What he had is known as the Widow Maker. Many do not survive this kind of heart attack.

He was lucky. We were lucky. And again, it was another blessing in disguise. Now he knows he needs to watch his cholesterol and sodium intake even more, and he is now healthier than before that dreadful day.

Mama and her dad are very close. There’s no denying that. Now they have more in common: they were both admitted into the hospital for heart conditions this year (neither related, though), they have matching scars on their right wrist from where they had a cardiac catheterization performed, and they each have a cardiologist.

Mama joked with him about one in the family with a heart condition being more than enough, and he joked right back saying he’d heard it was so much fun that he just had to experience it for himself.

It’s safe to say that love and humor are necessary to make it through this game called Life.

 

What If “One Day” Never Comes

Mama and Papa aren’t what-if people and never have been. We don’t want to get to an advanced age only to look back and wish we could’ve, should’ve, or would’ve done something differently.

We also see no benefit in putting off for tomorrow what can be done today.

Or putting off for next month.

Or putting off for next year.

Or putting off until retirement.

We believe planning has its place and we do so when and where appropriate.

There are things we’ve said we’ll do “when we retire” or “when the boys have grown.”

Then in January we had a rude wakeup call when Mama went to the ER and almost didn’t come home.

Now we see no point in waiting, namely for one thing in particular.

And we have decided to finally make the announcement public, after talking about this for years and putting our plan into action for months.

Folks, we’re in the process of purging and downsizing…in preparation for selling our house.

Until now only Mama and Papa’s parents and very few friends and family knew of our plans and that we’d been working on making it happen.

But today — May 1st — we’re ready to let everybody know that we will soon be listing our house on the market after we get some work done on the front and back yards. We’ve already started on the inside.

Oh, and we’re not buying another house for one to two years.

Yup, we’ve decided to go for it and get a little crazy. We’re going to live in our beloved fifth wheel June and our address will be that of whatever campground we’re parked at.

When we went on that three-month road trip last year, no one in our family wanted to come home. We can honestly say we only missed our friends and family, but we didn’t really miss our home.

Yes, there’s stability, familiarity, and monotony in living in a house. Yes, living out of our RV is risky, unusual, and unexpected.

That’s exactly why we all want to do this, and that includes our boys.

They loved not knowing what our new yard and their new playground would be like every time we parked at another campground.

They loved the small quarters of our RV and how close we all became, after we didn’t before know we could grow any closer than we already were.

They loved that they were outside more frequently and that we all went on more adventures.

They loved making new friends in each state and that age and education barriers pretty much vanished.

And since they’re already being homeschooled, the transition will be that much easier and smoother.

Yes, Papa will continue working and for the very company he’s been with and loved for more than 10 years now. We have no intentions to leave the area anytime soon, and we have plenty of camping options throughout this county and those counties nearby. Besides, as much as we travel on weekends anyway, why not simply bring our house along every time?

Our sticks-and-bricks (or S&B) home holds countless memories, and ours was the first family to live in it. This is the first house our boys ever knew, and it was also the location of the only school they’ve ever been to. It will be emotional when we do drive out of our driveway for the last time, and it’s been somewhat emotional as we box up stuff and sell and donate things that helped make our house a home.

But it is just “stuff.” They’re material things, most of which can be replaced down the road. Things that hold sentimental value and that we feel are irreplaceable will be in storage until we decide to settle down once again.

Then there are our amazing neighbors, which are also our friends. We love them dearly and we know we could never again find neighbors as wonderful as they are. Fortunately, we also know that we’ll remain in touch and friends, regardless of where we live.

And whoever moves into our house next will be extremely blessed to have them.

In addition to this being another adventure for us, this is also an opportunity to pay off everything and free ourself from debts. We will be able to save money and could potentially pay cash when we do buy or build a house down the road.

Mama loves poetry and one of her favorites is by Robert Frost, in which he concluded:

Two roads diverged in a wood, and I — I took the one less traveled by, and that has made all the difference.

And then there’s a quote by Mark Twain, popular especially among RVers:

Twenty years from now you will be more disappointed by the things that you didn’t do than by the ones you did do. So throw off the bowlines. Sail away from the safe harbor. Catch the trade winds in your sails. Explore. Dream. Discover.

Those by Frost and Twain are excellent advice and have guided Mama and Papa well for more than 15 years.

All four of us want to do this, and Mama and Papa used to say we would do this one day, perhaps in about 15 years or so.

Then we realized “one day” may never come.

Certainly Beats the Classroom

This just never gets old.

Yesterday there was a teaser on TV regarding the NHL team St. Louis Blues, which is one of the teams in the 2017 NHL playoffs. (If you didn’t already know, we’re die-hard hockey fans.)

During the teaser, the boys saw the St. Louis Arch. They got so excited and started yelling: “That’s the St. Louis Arch! We saw that! We drove right by it!” Indeed, this past September we did drive right by it on the way to Mississippi from Illinois.

We can’t even tell you how often they’ve made comments like this, positively thrilled that they saw, experienced, and learned about things in person, not merely from books. We’re not saying they haven’t learned about things from books or the Internet, but what they remember, what they talk about, what gets them super excited, are the things they have actually seen, been to, and done.

Our boys can say they’ve been to the top of a lighthouse because they’ve climbed the 203 steps to the top of the Ponce de Leon Inlet Lighthouse in Florida.

Our boys can say they’ve seen hundreds of huge windmills because we drove by and between them in states like Indiana, Ohio, Nebraska, and more.

Our boys can say they’ve played in the snow while a young moose walked by only feet away and watched two bull moose fight in Alaska.

Our boys can say they’ve been to the top of the Space Needle and looked out over Seattle, with Mount Rainier and the Olympic Mountains as the backdrop, in Washington.

And yes, the boys saw the St. Louis Arch glistening in the setting sun in Missouri.

Already they’ve stayed at least a week in each Alaska, Washington, Colorado, Mississippi, New York, North Carolina, South Carolina, Georgia, Tennessee, Virginia, Illinois, Indiana, Ohio, Pennsylvania, and Puerto Rico, and D ‘Skiy has been to New Mexico, although he was only one year old at the time and doesn’t remember it except for the pictures.

(And then there’s our home state of Florida, of course.)

The boys have camped in the sweltering heat of the Florida Keys and the snow-covered hills of Maggie Valley, North Carolina.

They have been on steam engine and diesel engine trains, climbed many rock walls, rode on wave runners, took on several ropes courses, snorkeled crystal-clear waters, canoed and kayaked, fished in both salt and fresh water, walked dozens upon dozens of trails, and splashed in freezing mountain streams.

They’ve been to many gardens, zoos, museums, science centers, historical landmarks, and amusement parks throughout the country and the Caribbean.

The beauty of it is that they’re still so young, and they still get so excited whenever we go someplace new, enter a state we’ve never been to before, and pack for any adventure, whether we’ve done it ten times or this is the first.

That’s part of the beauty of homeschooling. The world is their classroom and everything is an open book.

And it never gets old when they can point to something on TV or in a book and say, “I’ve been there.”

Three Months Later…

It’s been three months since Mama ‘Skiy’s pacemaker implant, and she hasn’t felt this well in years!

She is often asked not only how she feels physically but how she also feels about it emotionally.

First and foremost, she and Papa were terrified at the idea of her getting a pacemaker, and the decision was not an easy one to make or something we took lightly. After all, pacemakers are typically something people need well beyond fifty or sixty years old, right?!

Apparently not.

One of our nieces had heart problems from birth. She’d had multiple surgeries and several heart attacks. Sadly, just a few years ago, she had one heart attack that turned out to be fatal.

And she was a young mother.

So it actually knows no age. Something can go wrong with any part of the body at any time, at any age, and for no apparent reason. Regardless if the individual is a newborn or just two months shy of turning 37.

No medically-necessary surgery is one that’s desired, but sometimes that’s the only solution. We asked if Mama could simply go on medication, change her diet, or do something to correct the problem or help prevent the issue from happening again. There was nothing that could be done except the pacemaker implant.

Still, leading up to the minutes before her surgery, we were constantly reminded what a mistake we were making, how her life would forever be limited, that there had to be another hidden problem and the doctors didn’t know what they were doing because all they are interested in is making money.

There are still some that don’t seem to understand this was probably the most difficult decision we’ve ever had to make. In no way was it easy, and in no way did we take it lightly.

Believe us: our cardiologist tested for every imaginable and unimaginable possibility. Every.Single.One. And he even consulted another cardiologist, listened to the concerns and advice of a family friend that also happens to be a surgeon, and really did everything he could to try to make it so Mama didn’t need a pacemaker.

But an easier solution just wasn’t in the cards.

Yet we still receive negative comments and criticism regarding the choice we made, but none of that matters to us.

Mama is still here, Mama has healed, and Mama feels better than she has in a long time.

Case in point: she loves thrill rides and roller coasters, but before the pacemaker implant she stopped going on certain rides because so much anticipation would build that her heart rate would increase and she couldn’t breathe. Just a couple of weeks ago she managed to go on two of those rides, for the first time in years, and when she got off she was ready to go again!

And let’s not forget about those horrible and painful heart palpitations…now gone.

The pacemaker has leads that attaches to two chambers in her heart and will emit an impulse if her heart’s natural pacemaker hasn’t done its job. An added bonus is that the pacemaker helps her heart rate increase a little during times of exertion or excitement.

So tell us again, how was this a mistake?

Oh, the scar? We love tattoos, and scars are tattoos with better stories. The story of our little titanium friend TJ is pretty freaking great.

All those limitations? Well, to be quite honest, she in no way has any desire to compete in Mixed Martial Arts, lift over her head the equivalent of her own body weight or more, or hug a huge magnet. Seeing how those are her only limitations, we’re pretty sure she’ll live her life her way.

And what about the battery life? Well, yeah, that part sucks. It could be as soon as eight years and as long as 14 years, but she will need regular precedures to replace the pacemaker and leads. Those batteries last a long time, but it’s also the technology in the device that also needs upgraded. The leads attaching the pacemaker to her heart will wear and go bad over time, so those will need to be replaced as well. Ultimately, though, we’ll cross that bridge when we come to it, followed by the month or so of recovery.

By the way, that’s another reason her cardiologist wasn’t crazy about giving Mama a pacemaker: at 37 years old, that’s a lot of pacemaker replacement procedures to go through during her lifetime.

We’re not going to worry or think about that right now, however.

After multiple ER visits, dozens of scans and tests, and years of fearing something was truly wrong with her and not understanding why no doctor could help, we finally feel like we’ve found both the problem and the solution. It’s not what we wanted, but at least we finally got an answer and a fix.

And no, we have no way of knowing for certain if Mama’s heart would have restarted on its own in the ER or if such a pause could have led to cardiac arrest…or worse. This pacemaker will prevent that pause from happening again, which it likely would. The last thing we want or need is for her heart to stop while she’s driving or while we’re off gallivanting in some evergreen forest or snow-covered woods again.

It’s too bad if her pacemaker or scar bothers anybody else. We couldn’t care less.

Mama got a new lease on life three months ago, and her heart won’t stop like that again.

Disney Magic

When someone thinks “Florida,” they will simultaneously also think about beaches and Disney.

Well, this year we decided to get annual passes for the Disney theme parks again. Our boys are nearly two years older than when we had passes previously, which meant they could ride more rides…especially M ‘Skiy.

This particular birthday held extra significance for Mama though: she had received a pacemaker just two months ago.

Suddenly birthdays — even as an adult — seemed more important to celebrate.

Papa decided to surprise Mama with a weekend stay at the Disney All-Star Resort hotel, which we’ve been to before with family, and it worked out because Mama’s birthday fell on a Friday (March 10). This was also the most-affordable of the Disney hotels. We’re not fans of hotels at all, and we usually stay at the Fort Wilderness campground, but Disney’s hotels have been nicer and better than typical hotels.

So after Papa finished working for the day, we decided to head to Orlando. We were able to select some FastPasses at Magic Kingdom, though, so instead of heading straight to the hotel we decided to go to the park first.

On the way to Magic Kingdom, Mama did online checkin for the hotel, seeing how we would arrive late.

At the park, we started hitting the rides we had passes for. On the way to the third and final ride — Space Mountain — the fireworks show at the castle was about to begin, so we grabbed some food and decided to watch the show before heading to Tommorowland.

Halfway through the show, Papa’s cell phone rang. One look at the number on the caller ID and we knew it was the reservations center for Disney. We were worried we’d somehow messed up the online checkin, the reservation itself, or something else that was sure to put a damper on the weekend.

When Papa finally got off the phone, he didn’t look at all upset. Mama had tried to listen to his side of the conversation, but with the fireworks and music going on in the background all she ever heard was, “What’s the catch?”

She inquired about the call, but he said he’d explain after the show and not to worry.

The show ended and we started weaving our way through the crowd towards Space Mountain. Mama asked again about the phone call. Papa said it was Disney and they were calling because they “had extra magic to share” and wanted to upgrade our hotel reservation.

No, not to a bigger room or suite at the All-Star Resort.

Disney upgraded us to a Savannah-view room at the Animal Kingdom Lodge!!

Mama’s knees buckled as she let out a scream and her eyes filled with happy tears!

We’ve always wanted to go to that resort! But it’s one of the — if not, the — most-expensive resorts Disney has, ranging from $400-$600 per night! So we knew we’d never stay there…unless, by some chance, we managed to win the lottery.

Just like that! Out of the blue, Disney upgraded us!! And at no additional charge whatsoever! This wasn’t an effort for us to attend a talk about their vacation club or some timeshare. It was a simple upgrade, with no strings attached!

Was it because it was Mama’s birthday? Did they somehow find out her family had nearly lost her just two months prior and wanted to put a smile on their faces?! Was it entirely random and we did, in some way, just win a lottery?!

We’ll never know.

However, that was the most-incredible resort or hotel experience we’d ever had. Our room had a view of the Savannah, where we saw storks, zebras, and giraffes from our balcony. The boys even got to see their favorite animal from only feet away: the okapi. There are two amazing swimming pools and a great playground for the kids. And an added bonus was the kid’s club, where Mama and Papa were able to take the boys for a couple of hours while they went on their first date in more than 2 years, all while the boys played with other kids and had a pizza dinner under the watch and care of Disney staff.

The weekend was perfect. We were all together, enjoying amazing weather, at a hotel we’d only dreamed of going to, and for the entire weekend it cost us less than it would have otherwise for only a single night.

Thank you, Disney, for sharing the magic and making our dreams come true!

Hiccup of the Heart

And just like that, our new year was off to a rough start…

Mama ‘Skiy has been been considered a poster child of health. She’s always been active, she doesn’t let things get to her, and she always has a positive outlook.

Well, on January 9 she ended up in the hospital.

Long story short, she was diagnosed with “anxiety disorder” in 2001, and at the time it was determined a hormonal imbalance due to oral contraceptives was the cause. Ever since then she has had “anxiety” attacks and symptoms, which would occur out of the blue and for no reason: difficulty breathing, dizziness, tightness of the chest, racing heartbeats, skipped heartbeats…

In the days leading up to January 9, she had felt out of sorts. She would feel exhausted thoughout the day, despite a lot of sleep. She would wake up some mornings feeling as though she’d run a marathon all night, regardless she had slept 8-10 hours. Then she would experience palpitations that would leave her scared and in pain.

That particular day, though, she was feeling especially tired. Then every couple of hours she would have a heart palpitation. Around 4:00 that afternoon she was standing by the kitchen sink when she had an incredibly strong and painful heart palpitation that left her dizzy, nearly made her pass out, and left part of her vision gone. She lost her peripheral vision and her tunnel vision was extremely fuzzy. After about 15 minutes of this she called Papa ‘Skiy home from work and he took her to the hospital.

She’d never before experienced anything like this.

Mind you, Mama ‘Skiy had been to the hospital twice a year since 2013 because her palpitations had gotten worse and her breathlessness and near-fainting spells terrified her. However, every time she would get examined, she’d go through a series of tests that showed nothing was wrong and she would leave the hospital having been reprimanded for not taking anti-anxiety medication, especially since she’d had a history of “panic attacks,” which had to be the problem. After all, she was “too young” for there to be anything seriously wrong with her and a full cardiac workup in 2013, complete with a 24-hour holter monitor and an exercise stress test, showed her heart with just fine.

So we arrived at the ER and couldn’t find a parking space. None. Nothing at all. Frustrated and knowing the nurses and doctor would just send her home with a clean bill of health, Mama told Papa to just go home. We left and a few minutes later something told Mama we needed to go back to the hospital. So Papa turned around and this time we found a parking space.

She checked in at the ER counter and we waited in the waiting room…for an hour and a half. Her symptoms got worse and new ones appeared: muffled hearing, excruciating pain in the back between the shoulderblades, discomfort in her left jaw and arm… Papa grew impatient and kept asking for her to be seen.

When she was finally called back by the triage nurse, Mama did something she’d not done before when she went to the ER: she refrained from telling the staff about her “anxiety disorder.” Suddenly, everyone took her seriously. Nobody rolled their eyes at her or asked why she wasn’t on medication.

Soon after triage, she was taken to an exam room. She was changed into a hospital gown, examined, got a chest X-ray and was hooked up for a quick EKG, and had blood drawn. Mama and Papa were informed it would take a couple of hours before the results would arrive, so they decided Papa would take the boys home and they would wait there. We felt there was no reason for everyone to just sit around and wait. M ‘Skiy was heading for the exam room door, ready to leave, and D ‘Skiy was right behind him. Papa gave Mama a kiss and was holding her hand, when suddenly Mama felt odd…and then blacked out.

The machines started screaming.

Mama had flatlined. Her eyes were still open, but her heart had stopped.

Papa ran out of the room for help. Soon a tech started CPR on Mama, several nurses came to the room, and a crash cart was being wheeled in, nearly running the boys over.

After more than 12 seconds, Mama suddenly woke up. The defibrillator pads had been put on her but the machine had not been hooked up to her yet.

The first thing she saw was Papa’s panic-stricken face. Confused, she looked around and asked what had happened. Randomly, one of the many new faces in the room answered with, “You just earned yourself a pacemaker.”

She looked back at Papa and he explained what had taken place. She remembered holding his hand and feeling dizzy and nauseated, then she remembered her vision going black, and she also remembered hearing a bunch of noise before she could finally see again.

Her chest was also in a lot of pain, and when she commented on that the tech that had revived her said he had to perform CPR and the chest compressions resulted in the pain.

Soon, Papa was on the phone with Mama’s parents, explaining what had happened, and then Mama spoke to them, shaking uncontrollably and in tears.

She ended up getting more blood drawn and going through more tests. Then she was tranferred to ICU, mostly for observation.

Mama’s parents and brother made the three-hour trip across the state to see her and take care of our boys. There was no way to know how long she’d be hospitalized or what would happen next, so they wanted to be nearby and took care of the boys for the week.

The cardiologist on call that night ordered tests for any and every possible cause as to why her heart had stopped: proteins, Lyme disease, electrolyte imbalance, dehydration… Everything. Over the course of two days she had dozens of vials of blood taken.

After weighing every option, listening to multiple expert opinions, doing research, and every imaginable test result coming up negative, there was only a cardiac catheterization left to perform. We consented to either whatever surgery would be deemed necessary if the catherization showed a problem or a pacemaker implantation.

In the afternoon of January 11, Mama was taken to the OR for the cardiac catheterization. Everything looked fine: the structure of the heart was strong and healthy, there was no scar tissue or damage, and there were no blackages of any type. No heart surgery was necessary.

The only thing left was the implant of the pacemaker.

And fortunately, that went smoothly.

And it was at that point when the defibrillator pads she had received in the ER two days prior could finally be removed.

She spent the night in her ICU room recovering from the procedure. The next day she was transferred to a recovery room on another floor, and she was finally discharged the evening of January 12.

At 36 years old, just two months before turning 37 — which happens to be tomorrow — she received a pacemaker. And she’ll need one for the rest of her life.

It has taken her awhile to accept that she did not do and could not have done anything to cause or prevent this from happening. Her natural pacemaker — the sinoatrial node — no longer works properly. And the problem is congenital. She was born with it, did not receive it from her parents, and can’t pass it down to our sons. It was just a matter of time before it gave out.

It’s been a rough two months, recovering from the procedure altogether, needing to limit the use of her left arm for a month, and then using and exercising the arm again to regain her strength and full range of motion of the joint… It was especially difficult for her to depend on others for things we’d otherwise take for granted: getting dressed, showering, going to the bathroom…

Yes, it sucks. But it could be worse. She could not have listened to her body. Papa ‘Skiy could have not come home from work and taken her to the ER. She could have told the ER staff about her so-called “anxiety disorder,” resulting in them not taking her symptoms seriously. We could have been complacent and figured nothing to be wrong, because, after all, the medical experts had told her for years she was healthy, too young, and that it was all in her head.

This could have happened sometime during the cross-country three-month trip! Perhaps on the snowy trail high up in the mountains of Alaska, on the path in the evergreen forest in Washington, touring the isolated and wooded battlegrounds in Virginia.

It could have happened while she was driving our sons along the interstate or to a park in the town we live, causing a dangerous and potentially fatal automobile accident.

There are a lot of things that could have happened. But they didn’t. She was in the right place, at the right time.

So now she has a dual-chambered pacemaker that we’ve named Thumper Jumper, or TJ. He’s doing his job well, as she can feel him kick on every now and then. It’s been more than two months now and she hasn’t felt this well in years. Not weeks, not months; years! Lo and behold, her “anxiety” symptoms were actually early warning signs of her problem with the sinoatrial node. It was just easier — and made more sense — to diagnose her with anxiety disorder, when in reality she has what’s known as Sick Sinus Syndrome, or SSS.

Listen to your body. Pay close attention to how you feel and what that little voice inside your head tells you.

Medical professionals may be just that, but it is called the “practice of medicine” for a reason. And it doesn’t matter how long they went to school for or have practiced in their field. Nobody knows your body like you do.

After all, you’ve known and lived with it your entire life.