On the Market, One Foot Out the Door

Our house went on the market the other day! January 10th, to be precise.

It’s starting to set in. We’re that much closer to it becoming reality.

A few days before our house listed we got new kitchen appliances. Now everything matches and makes the kitchen look extra sharp.

The day before we listed our house received beautiful new carpet. We took advantage of an amazing deal at a hardware store, and we’re keeping in mind the brand and type of both the carpet and the padding underneath because they sure beat the pants off the awful carpet that we’ve dealt with the eleven years we’ve lived here.

The outside of the house was freshly painted several months ago. We’ve recently completed painting every room of the house. The front door has also been painted and received new hardware, and the back door was replaced entirely because it gets pounded constantly by the rays of the sun and the abuse of storms.

Less than 24 hours after our house listed we had two showings. There’s no telling if it’ll amount to anything, but it’s still exciting that there were already individuals interested in seeing our house.

Don’t get us wrong — we will miss this house. We’ll miss our neighbors. We’ll miss the amazing layout of our home. We’ll miss our large yard, the serene fire pit Papa built for Mama, the bird-of-paradise plants we’ve lovingly nursed along our fence line for years, the amazing open view of the huge canal behind our house.

But we still have the memories. And we’re ready.

We’re ready for something new. Our next adventure. We’re all ready for it. And as much as we’ll miss this house, as emotional as we know we’ll get when closing day comes, we’re all still ready.

It’s safe to say we already have one foot out the door.

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ICE! and Christmas at Jellystone

In September and October of 2016 we stayed at three different Jellystone campgrounds. We spent nearly two weeks at Jellystone west of Chicago, one week at Jellystone south of Memphis, and parked our fiver at Jellystone of Kansas City when we flew to Alaska.

The location in Chicago was outstanding and certainly raised the bar for RV parks that consider themself “family friendly.” Memphis’ Jellystone (actually located in Mississippi) didn’t have much going on to speak of, and they made no effort to make up for it, despite the closed-up inflatables section that had hours but never opened and the playground that was a clear hazard because the slide kept falling off, but it was a decent stay — far better than if we would have stayed in Memphis. We didn’t get much chance to enjoy Kansas City’s location, but what we experienced in the little time before we left for and after we returned from Alaska was excellent, and we would stay there if ever in the area again.

Fast forward to now.

We’ve spent a few Christmases camping, but we prefer to spend time with family, if and when able to. Out of the blue, however, Mama’s parents decided to go to Biloxi for the holidays, and we do usually spend Christmas with them, if any family. That suddenly presented to us an opportunity to go camping the last week of December.

However, our usually preferences — James Island County Park in South Carolina and Disney’s Fort Wilderness in Orando — were understandably booked.

No problem! That meant looking for a new location!

We’d heard there’s a Jellystone in northern Florida, so Mama called to inquire about a site and was surprised to learn they were nearly empty for the holidays because, according to the young lady on the phone, the office closes for Christmas and the staff is reduced.

Perfect! We weren’t really looking for anything to do, just someplace to camp, to get away from it all and the stress of getting the house ready for listing.

She booked it then and there.

The day before checking in to Jellystone we decided to treat the boys to ICE! at Gaylord Palms in Orlando. Mama and Papa have been to two before — once at Gaylord Palms and once at Gaylord Opryland in Nashville — but this would be the first for the boys.

If you’ve never been and have the opportunity to go one year, go! Especially if you can score a deal on Groupon, like we did. It’s a unique experience, and every year there’s a different theme. This year the display had to do with countries around the world. It was beautiful, fun, and — of course — cold!

The other times we’d attended ICE! it was just sculptures and Christmas village setup. It’d been more than a decade since we’d gone, and they sure have expanded since. Not only were the sculptures and village there, but there were also snowball-throwing games and two snow hills for tubing down.

It was a blast!

After spending much of the day there we left, found a Cracker Barrel outside of Gainesville that we could boondock at for the night, and continued to Jellystone the next morning.

And yes, it was nearly empty.

We got a beautiful site that looked out across the lake, and beyond our rig there were no other campers. We basically had an entire loop to ourselves…and it was so peaceful.

During the busier season — which doesn’t include Christmas, oddly enough — their on-site water park is open. Now, this isn’t a splash park. This is a small, full-fledged aquatic amusement center, with a large water slide, splash pad area, zero entry zone for the little ones, and a lazy river. The park is included for campers, but others can partake for a nominal admission fee.

Also at this campground were multiple playgrounds, two bounce houses, a large jumping pillow, a heated swimming pool, an arcade, golf cart rental, sports fields and courts, miniature golf course, gem mining area…and more than 10 miles of off-roading trails for dirtbikes, ATVs, and UTVs!

Sadly, the water park was not open. This Jellystone location gives most of its staff the days before and after (as well as the day of) Christmas time off. They only keep a couple of people on staff in the office, and even the office hours are severely abbreviated.

This would have been fine, and for us it was okay because we simply went to Jellystone to give us someplace new to go for Christmas, but a neighboring family a couple of sites behind us was from out of state and came down to this location due to the activities and events advertised on the website.

Come to find out, there were supposed to be several things going on, including a caroling tractor-pull ride throughout the park, campsite holiday-lights decorating contest, and more, including the water park that was supposed to be open.

We didn’t mind one way or the other, but if you’re deliberately escaping the frigid and snowy climate of one location to spend the holidays in a warmer area promising much to do, then that’s a probem.

Especially when kids are involved.

The father of this family was certainly vocal. He voiced his disappointment to the few office staff and even spoke with the owners of the park. He then ended up getting permission — and the keys — to drive the tractor for the tractor-pull ride one night and then was granted access to the water park. He and his oldest son spent hours cleaning and chlorinating the water park so his kids could enjoy it.

And when we saw it had been opened for them, we joined as well.

We also found out from him that the bounce houses and jumping pillow weren’t initially in use either. He had complained about that as well and then turned them on and cleaned them so his kids could play on them.

Sadly, they vacated three days before their planned checkout date. They were very disappointed and he was tired of working on what should have been his vacation, so his kids could do what they had planned to do.

At one point we went to the office (which we discovered was closed early) and noticed there was actually a bulletin by the entrance, listing and highlighting the park’s planned events during various holidays.

There was even a flier posted listing what was supposed to be going on the days we were there, the reason the other family had come down.

So not only was it online, but it was physically printed out and posted just outside the entrance of the office.

We were glad we had no expectations, but we certainly felt badly for the family that did. It was no wonder they were so upset.

Fortunately, we truly enjoyed ourselves.

Christmas morning we had our traditional breakfast of unhealthy sugary foods — the only time we ever eat this stuff for breakfast — and went about enjoying what Santa had brought for the boys and opening gifts.

We also started another tradition a few Christmases ago: the boys get one large gift (usually something combined), but to find it they get sent on a scavenger hunt.

And this Christmas was no different! Just because we’re on the road does not mean the final gift won’t take a little work.

The boys took turns reading clues as they ran around inside and outside June and even to other vacant sites.

All that work to find the final gift in the bed of Bertha!

The boys had a large box to unwrap, with another wrapped box inside, followed by the final wrapped gift.

A four-gun, vest-free laser tag gun set!

Batteries — a pack that happened to be at the clue just before they found the gift — were quickly installed and then it was game on.

The boys played that for hours, and we joined them for several rounds. Talk about a fun workout!

We had another surprise yet for the boys too. Mama’s parents had gone to Biloxi for Christmas, but they were leaving there Christmas morning. They had to pass right by Jellystone on their way home, so they stopped by for a few hours to celebrate Christmas with us and join us for dinner.

It was a great holiday.

Two days later, it was time to head home. We really had a great time, though. We rode our bikes around a lot, even venturing to the beginning of the off-roading trails and playing on the hills. We also rented a golf cart on the last day, and we played even more laser tag together.

Would we go back again, despite the disappointing experience the other family had? Absolutely. We had no expectations when we made our reservations and arrived, so we weren’t disappointed in any way whatsoever. That’s not to say we’re not disappointed in the campground for doing what they did. And we’re not sure if the other three families — yes, only three — that were also there were also disappointed.

Perhaps someone in the office dropped the ball and failed to inform this particular family that the park all but shut down for Christmas.

Maybe it was an oversight that this park’s website reflected the same schedule of holiday activities that other Jellystone locations also showed online.

And why on Earth there was physical proof of the so-called events that were never really planned posted just outside the office made no sense.

An error or negligence on the part of one or a few can ruin it for an entire establishment, but it does not necessarily reflect the intentions or standards of the owners, who actually stopped by the day after Christmas to see how our stay was and make sure we weren’t affected the same way as the other family. They even made it clear that they had no idea about the activities listed on the website or on the bulletin by the office. They didn’t know until we told them.

As for us, we plan to go back. Based on reviews and the steady flow of campers and trucks towing trailers with off-roading vehicles arriving as we were checking out, this is a very popular and family-friendly place to go.

Next time, though, we plan to bring our dirtbikes so we can venture onto the miles of wooded trails as well.

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.”

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!

More To Do, Less To Hold

Two Christmases ago we were gifted a Disney annual pass by Papa ‘Skiy’s parents. The year 2015 was full of visits to the Orlando theme parks, and we had a blast.

When our passes expired, we chose not to renew them because it was too expensive and there were still things M ‘Skiy was still too small to do. Also, there were several things under construction that wouldn’t be completed until 2017 anyway. So we bought a Sea World annual pass for 2016 that included the waterpark Aquatica.

Sea World is nice, but the waterpark is amazing!

This year we decided to surprise the boys with Disney annual passes again. On Christmas morning, after they saw what Santa had brought and opened the few gifts we had gotten for them — mostly stuff for camping — they ventured out on a scavenger hunt that finally took them to an envelope with a paper inside informing them we would again be going to Disney in 2017.

This pass was different, though. Not only did it include the four main theme parks, but it also included the two Disney waterparks…and none of us had been to those yet!

So, yeah, many will think: “Whoopie! Disney! *Yawn*”

And honestly, we weren’t fans of theme parks ourselves.

But in 2015 our opinion of Disney changed. Expensive, yes. Crowded, quite often. But it’s additional family time spent together, and the service and treatment visitors receive are outstanding. You feel like a guest, not a customer.

In a period when the generation has become entitled and downright lazy, pacified with electronics, jam-packed extracurricular schedules, and “stuff,” we don’t mind theme park visits anymore. It’s another place to go and something else to do.

And we’ve always been more about experiences, not material things.

We do a lot and go many places together, and we’re not rushed or overwhelmed. We can’t slow down how quickly our boys are growing, but we can fill our days with memories and activities with them. Our shelves don’t hold trophies and our calendar isn’t jam-packed with this commitment and that event, and we’re okay with that because it doesn’t matter to them either.

We’re not rushing through life. After all, we’re not going to get out alive anyway, so what’s the point?

On those lazy mornings when they want to crawl into bed with us and just cuddle, we can do that.

On a random evening or weekend that we suddenly feel the urge to ride Expedition Everest, watch a fireworks show, or explore the tunnels on Tom Sawyer Island, we seldom need to worry about something on our calendar stopping us.

Expensive? Perhaps, but when you consider what we’re not spending in dues, fees, uniforms, and school supplies, there’s a good chance we’re still spending less than most.

And again, we’ve included our boys in these decisions, not made those choices for them. D ‘Skiy wanted to take Taek Won Do, so we signed him up. After he advanced to the next level, he asked if he could quit. He didn’t like being required to be someplace on certain days, at a certain time, and he didn’t like hitting. We didn’t push him and we didn’t sign him up for another month. M ‘Skiy enjoys playing tennis, and we’ve asked him if he’d like to take lessons or get on a league, but he said no, that he preferred just playing tennis with us, and that’s what we do.

As homeschoolers — well, unschoolers — our schedule is pretty relaxed. There are certain things Mama requires they do during the week because it’s required by the state, but we also take them to activities like a four-week-long Ninja Warrior obstacle training gym class and the annual Maker Faire Orlando, and we travel and camp a lot. These are things they enjoy and more we can do together as a family.

Many believe our sons should be on a more regular or tighter schedule. We disagree. They’re kids! Let them enjoy this care-free time of their lives. Halfway through their teen years their lives will become busier and more hectic. Fifteen years of actually being a child isn’t going to ruin them for life.

Kids are not little adults. They’re little people. What’s the point in over-scheduling? Why give them more stuff, just to toss it aside after a couple of weeks and forget about it?

Now, our kids have toys and their fair share of stuff. But these are things they love and play with almost daily: K’Nex, Hex, a Yamaha keyboard, popsicle sticks (yes, popsicle sticks), board games, rollerblades, archery supplies, tablets… And once we notice they stop playing with or they forget about something, we phase it out and donate it.

However, we much prefer going places and doing things, namely together.