Moving Forward On the Pink Full Moon

This year the Pink Full Moon rose over the United States on April 29th, peaked around 8:30pm E.S.T. that evening, and continued on into a portion of the day on April 30th.

Symbolically this particular moon in the sign of Scorpio brings about new beginnings, growth, and opportunities. It opens the door for letting go of what may be holding you back and provides the chance to welcome changes into our lives that will make a long-term impact.

Well, it’s safe to say we lived up to it this year.

First, we got word last week that we would not be closing on our house on April 26th, as planned. The buyers were having issues with their lender getting the paperwork completed and delivered to the title company in time, so closing was tentatively moved to the 27th, then again the 30th.

Friday, the 27th, came around and we were notified by our realtor that the lender still had not sent all of the documents and that they requested an extension until May 4th, seeing how even if the title company did receive the paperwork that day they’d still need 24-48 hours to review it and prepare for closing.

We felt badly for the buyers because we knew they were anxious to get the house and move in, but we’d already been under contract for a month and a half, and in doing so no other potential buyers could even see our house. At that point, we’d decided to amend the contract to close on the house no later than May 4th or they’d forfeit their deposit and we’d put the house back on the market.

It wasn’t exactly what we’d wanted to do, but as time went on we were continuing to put money into the house, although we hadn’t lived in it for nearly as long as it’d been under contract.

Monday, the 30th, arrived and Papa decided to follow up with our closing agent to see if any progress had been made on receiving the packet from the lender.

Then he called Mama with some news: we could close that day at 4:30 in the afternoon!

The Pink Full Moon.

Of course, we said we’d be there and certainly wanted to close that day.

Without a doubt we knew that when the day finally arrived to sell our house Mama would be an emotional wreck. The previous week had been very difficult on her, and the day after the house had been completely emptied and we’d said our farewells to our amazing neighbors and beautiful home she spent hours crying, wondering if they’d made the right decision and reliving the memories that made our house so very special.

But when the time came and we were sitting in the office, signing all of the closing documents, never the first tear was shed.

Maybe it was because it happened so quickly. We’d only discovered hours earlier that we would be closing that afternoon.

Maybe it was because we could see how happy the new owners were to finally be purchasing the house.

Maybe Mama’s emotional days in the week prior were all she needed to move on.

Or maybe it was the Pink Full Moon and we were the recipients of her energy and influence.

Whatever the reason, it felt amazing and as though we’d been blessed by a miracle.

Never underestimate lunar power. Apparently it has the ability to help accomplish one to two days of paperwork in just a matter of hours, especially when you’re on the brink of starting a whole new chapter in your life.

Embrace it.

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Down To a Handful of Days, But Always Hearts Full of Memories

Well, here we are!

In five days we’ll be closing and our house will no longer be ours. It will be passed on to a new family. One with four children. And we’re confident they will make almost as many wonderful memories in our house as we have over the last 11.5 years.

Has it really been that long?!

Mama and Papa graduated from the University of South Florida in the summer of 2006. Before we graduated Papa already had a career lined up, one that moved us from the west coast of Florida to the east coast one week after commencement.

We’d moved one other time since marrying in 2001, but now we were moving to a city we’d never before heard of.

It was a terrifying move for us. All of Mama’s family lived in the Tampa Bay area, mostly in St. Petersburg. Papa had lived in the same area since coming to America from Russia in 1989. We were confident we’d settle down someplace in the same region.

But Papa got an offer we couldn’t refuse, and it was an amazing opportunity for both of us.

So we were packed up and moved into an apartment temporarily, paid for by the company who’d hired Papa, so he could begin his new career and we could look for a house.

In only a matter of weeks we’d found our home, but we kept looking. We’d fallen in love with everything about this house and compared all others to it.

Then Mama’s parents came for a visit and to join us on our house-hunting adventure. Together we looked at a few houses, and her parents kept getting annoyed because we wouldn’t look at each house for long. We’d already found perfection, but they didn’t know what we were comparing all of the other houses to.

So we took them to this house.

And then they understood.

As soon as you entered the foyer you looked through a huge picture window, overlooking the large porch and big backyard, complete with a vast view of one of the county’s largest canals. The kitchen was huge, beautiful, and perfect for entertaining. The large master suite had a huge his-and-hers walk-in closet and an attached bathroom with a gorgeous garden tub and large separate shower. The three other bedrooms were perfect for guests, an office…or kids. Two of those bedrooms shared a hall bathroom, and the last bedroom was in the very rear of the house and had its own nearby bathroom, called a pool bath, that also led to the back yard.

At the time there was no fence, but the neighbors on either side each had fences. Beyond the yard was…nothing. No road, no neighbors. It sloped downward toward the flowing canal, located about 75 yards from the back yard. About another 75 yards on the other side of the water were empty wooded lots and a few houses.

Privacy. And it was perfect.

Immediately, Mama’s parents understood. We again left that house and looked at others. At every house that followed the routine was the same: Mama and her mother walked inside to critique the interior — especially the kitchen — while Papa and his father-in-law walked around the outside, only to find either neighbors that were all around or standing water, which meant breeding grounds for mosquitos and possibly venomous snakes.

The next day the four of us decided we were done looking: we’d found our home. So we returned to the house to see it a third time. Then from the driveway we called the realtors, who were also the owners because they’d had the house built more than nine months prior only so they could sell it…but the house had yet to be lived in. We made them an offer and they accepted.

On September 29, 2006, we closed on our dream home.

And on April 26, 2018, we say farewell.

The emotions are just now starting to settle in. There are only a few boxes remaining and very little left in the garage. As the rooms become emptier, it gets harder on Mama.

No, she doesn’t want to change her mind. Yes, it’s just “stuff.”

But, oh, the memories!

The three additional bedrooms are located on one side of the house. For the first year the front bedroom was our workout room, the middle bedroom was our office, and the back bedroom was a guest room because it had a large closet and virtually its own bathroom, so we treated it like a mother-in-law suite, complete with our chest of drawers and wraught-iron queen bed that we’d had in Tampa.

Mama and Papa love ornate, dark wood furniture, so we puchased a large matching four-poster bed, night stands, and dresser with mirror, as well as a matching dining table-and-chairs and china cabinet set, all from a small local furniture store, where we also purchased two padded high-back bar stools for the bar that separates the kitchen from the family room and an entry table for the foyer. We managed to score a sectional that was marked down because it was a floor sample at another furniture store, followed by a bistro table set for the tiled area near the back sliding door, and then we bought a large dark-wood matching office furniture collection. Papa’s birthday was 1.5 months after we bought the house, so for his birthday we got his then-dream television set: a 61-inch Samsung DLP.

Our house was fully furnished before the end of the year.

Then in October 2007 we found out we’d become parents!

The front bedroom became the nursery at that point. We painted it pale blue and green and put cute removable stickers on the walls. Mama’s parents purchased the nursery furniture for us, with the exception of a rocking chair and matching footstool that Mama wanted for rocking and nursing our new baby.

We welcomed our first son in June 2008.

We celebrated his first birthday in 2009, and shortly after that we decided to have a fence installed because he had started walking and we wanted to put in a small playground. We hired a local company to erect a wooden fence on each side, with wooden gates at the front, and a chain-link fence and gate to the back so we could still get unobstructed views of the canal.

In October 2009 we learned our son would become a big brother!

So the middle bedroom became our new baby’s. Our first son graduated to a toddler bed that was in the shape of a large blue race car and the nursery furniture was transferred to what was the office. Our family was completed with the arrival of our second son in June 2010.

With that, the guest bedroom had to go and became the office. We no longer had a workout or guest room. We were parents!

As our sons grew, we decided we weren’t going to send them to school. The front part of the house had been set up as a split dining- and living-room space, so we eliminated the living-room portion and made the room with the picture window the formal dining room while the other half became a playroom and informal homeschool area.

Soon, both boys outgrew their own beds. M ‘Skiy eventually got the toddler car bed and we purchased a twin bed for D ‘Skiy. Shortly after, the toddler bed became too small and we got a twin bed for M ‘Skiy. More frequently, however, the boys were requesting to either sleep together in one or the others bed or in a sleeping bag on the floor in one or the others room.

Then, only about a year later, the boys begged if they could share a bedroom. They’d apparently talked this through together and said they didn’t like to be separated anymore. So we purchased a full-over-full bunk bed and converted the back bedroom into their combined bedroom, again because it had the larger closet and bigger bathroom. The middle room became their playroom-homeschool room, and we kept D ‘Skiy’s twin bed so the front bedroom became a combined guest-workout area. The office was relocated to the front of the house, where the playroom-homeschool space had been. Also during this time some of our friends were moving out of state and we purchased their large metal swing set, as the boys had outgrown the small plastic one they’d had.

And the setup remained that way longer than it had been anything else. We started formally homeschooling D ‘Skiy in 2014, and in 2016 M ‘Skiy began.

We’d even repurposed their baby furniture! The dresser was placed in their closet and held their clothes. One side of the crib was removed, a piece of laminate was placed on the bottom, and the crib became their art and play table as well as group desk. Portions of the changing table were changed around, some leftover laminate was put in the middle, and that table became D ‘Skiy’s first desk…until he outgrew it and M ‘Skiy took it. The rocking chair and footstool became Mama’s reading chair in the master bedroom.

As the years went on they both outgrew the baby furniture. Their clothes were too large for the nursery dresser to hold both sets of clothes, so each got their own new chest of drawers. The changing-table desk became too small, so it was put to the road and someone picked it up to use for their kids, and then we went to IKEA and purchased each of them a small desk and chair. The crib-turned-table became too low for them to sit at, so it became a standing activity table and stored art supplies, but eventually the boys stopped using it and that, too, was put to the road for someone else to claim.

Over the course of the last year, the twin bed in the front room was sold, as was the elliptical. Then we sold the sectional and our dining room set to a friend of ours. We’d considered selling the bedroom furniture and bunk beds, and we even posted them for sale, but then we decided to hold on to them. We’re also holding on to our sons’ chests, our office furniture, and Mama’s rocking chair and stool.

Most recently we sold the boys’ desks and chairs to another friend, and Mama’s parents bought our lawn equipment, bistro set, and many other items. Yesterday we gave the boys’ full mattresses to one of the park rangers at the preserve we’re currently staying at, and those were the last of the large items.

We are literally down to boxes and miscellaneous odds-and-ends…and sometimes we wonder if it would just be easier at this point to get a few garbage bags, shovel everything into them, and call it a day. The last few and small items are certainly proving the most tedious.

Now all of the bedrooms and bathrooms are empty. We’re leaving the bar stools, LP grill, the boys’ tire swing hanging from the front oak tree, Mama’s back yard fire pit that the boys and Papa built her one Mother’s Day, and Papa’s DLP television for the new owners.

The empty rooms and yards and bare walls that once held family pictures keep tugging at Mama’s heartstrings, especially as memories flash through her mind:

Mama hanging window treatments and shopping for linens and other accessories with her mother, while Papa shopped for a new lawn mower and other items, as well as picking up our new state-of-the-art French-door refrigerator, with his father-in-law, all within days of the house becoming ours.

Hanging lights, fans, and speakers because either there were none or the few included were small and dim.

That mid-morning a nauseated Mama took a pregnancy test and then called Papa at work to tell him the news, in tears of excitement, anxiety, and fear.

The other morning two years later when Mama took a pregnancy test, walked into D ‘Skiy’s room, where Papa had just finished changing his diaper, and decided to make the announcement by picking up their son, giving him a kiss, and asking him loudly enough so Papa could hear, “Are you ready to become a big brother?” which was quickly followed by a gasp from Papa and a group hug full of elation.

The morning Papa got up for work while very-pregnant Mama started to walk out of the bedroom to make his breakfast and lunch for the day when her water broke right in the doorway.

The hundreds of tummy kisses from D ‘Skiy because he was so looking forward to meeting his baby brother.

The middle of the night when Mama started having contractions very close together, so Papa called her OB, who abruptly said we should go to the hospital, despite D ‘Skiy was sleeping soundly in his bed…and remained asleep, even while in the delivery room with Mama as she was delivering his brother.

The sleepless nights Mama and (mostly) Papa spent when our babies refused to sleep or simply wanted to nurse, either out of hunger or comfort.

The first coos, giggles, words, and birthdays.

The crawling on the uncomfortable burbur carpet and hard tile, and the dependency on the furniture to learn to stand and walk.

The scary fevers, vomiting spells, wasp stings, scrapes and bruises, and bumps on the head.

The month M ‘Skiy was in a full-body Spica cast and couldn’t walk, crawl, stand, get wet, or adjust while sleeping, needed help going to the bathroom because he couldn’t use the toilet (only a bed pan and urinal), and could only get occassional sponge baths, followed by another month of him trying to learn how to walk again because his muscles were so atrophied he was unable to do anything with his legs without a walker or other assistance.

The evening cuddles around books for bedtime stories…and the many “just one more” requests.

The plants and trees we’ve adorned the yards with, and the above-ground gardens Papa built for Mama that yielded several seasons of vegetables before the weather got the best of them.

The games of hide-and-seek, Shutes and Ladders, Candy Land, Checkers, Wii, Play Station, Uno, Skip-Bo, scavenger hunts…

The support beam just inside the foyer that marked the heights of each of our sons in green and blue marker since they were babies, now covered over by layers of silver-birch paint.

The chalk trails and roads drawn in the driveway for scooters and cars.

The removal of training wheels from bikes, inline skates with head-to-toe safety gear, pogo sticks, street hockey, and tossing around baseballs and footballs.

The day we had to say good-bye to our aging corgi Cici, the day we welcomed our cat Luna to our family, and the day we had to bury our betta fish Samson.

The boys’ birthday parties, the many playdates, and the backyard get-togethers and barbecues.

The above-ground pool that we had for nearly three years, preceded by other smaller pools, and an inflatable water slide that has been used at least a dozen times, which we now have stored away with the other items we wish to keep and use again.

Our neighbors that have also become our very dear friends, who we love and will miss very much.

And thousands more happy, sad, thrilling, terrifying, and wonderful memories that simply can’t be listed.

Now we can’t help but wonder: Come Thursday, the 26th, will our hand help us hold tissues as we tearfully pass over our keys, or will we jump up and high-five as we officially begin our next big adventure?

It’s a good thing we each have two hands, because we have a feeling it’ll be a bit of both.

Sometimes Bridges Just Burn

If you value a relationship, whether it’s familial or friendly, there are certain things you just don’t do.

If you continue to lie, insult, disregard, and manipulate though, don’t be surprised if the end result is bridges getting burned, especially after years of discussion, warning, and friction.

We are not a mainstream family. We don’t do things considered normal. We’re a bit different and out there, but in no way have our decisions hurt us, our sons, our family members, or our friends.

Our choices are neither right nor wrong. They are our opinions and what has worked for our family unit, and we have had no regrets. We also don’t believe our decisions work for or are a fit for everyone, and we would and have never imposed such on anyone, regardless of our experiences.

No, our sons have never been to school, and that includes daycare and preschool. Studies have shown there’s no benefit of formal or structured education before the age of 6. We’ve had a passion for traveling since our sons were 1 and 3, and Papa’s work schedule gives him 3-day weekends every other week, which we’ve happily taken advantage of. As opposed to daycare or preschool, Mama was able to make the decision to remain a stay-at-home parent as opposed to seeking a career in anthropology, and our travels have taken us all over, from Puerto Rico when our sons were one and three all the way up to Alaska in 2016. This is something we couldn’t have done if the boys had been in school.

Lack of a formal or traditional education does not equate to illiteracy or lack of an education period. Much of what they’ve learned has been hands-on and in-person. We’re talking places and things most only see in books. Even Mama and Papa got to experience and see many things only in books, on TV, and then eventually on the computer. But our boys have seen iguanas climbing ruins in Puerto Rico, an abandoned Florida town that once belonged to a now-extinct religious sect, a blacksmith forging iron objects, views of Mount Rainier from the Space Needle, antelope grazing in prairies, and bull moose sparring in Alaska in books, on TV, on the computer…and in person.

All this and more by the ages of six and eight.

In terms of how Mama educates, we decided a couple of years ago that we didn’t like curriculum and we didn’t want to use a school-at-home method. We researched different types of workbooks until we settled on something all-encompassing and engaging, something that our boys enjoyed, something that covered all primary subjects in an age-appropriate manner. After attempting four other lines of workbooks, we came across Comprehensive Curriculum of Basic Skills. No, it’s not curriculum, but it is a workbook broken up into language arts, reading comprehension, and mathematics. The reading comprehension always covers social studies, science, or literature.

Yet our oldest son was recently cornered and informed that he isn’t being educated, doesn’t have a teacher, can’t read or write, and doesn’t know math. All of these accusations with no questions or quizzing, just a barrage of unsupported insults.

Let’s keep in mind that both of our boys are reading chapter books, are writing complete sentences and short stories, and can solve multiplication and division problems. None of that matters, apparently, because clearly neither are being educated or have a teacher.

Our son was so hurt and upset that he hid and cried.

This isn’t the first time terrible things have been said about our decision to homeschool our sons, although this was the first time something was said directly to one of our sons, and it was under one of the worst circumstances and in one of the most damaging manners possible.

It’s tough enough that many believe kids have to go to a regular school in order to be “socialized,” although when kids are in school they see the same kids that are the same age every day, aren’t permitted to talk or interract freely, and get stuck sitting for hours on end. Our sons have friends that span as young as four on into the teens. Their birthday parties always have many friends, they make new friends nearly every time we travel, and they’re never uncomfortable talking to anyone, regardless of age, gender, lifestyle, race, and so on.

Too many also believe traditional school is some rite of passage, as though a child’s life is incomplete without team sports, bullies, writing assignments, tests, music lessons, science fairs, or dances. What they also don’t realize is that all of these are or can be experienced by¬†homeschoolers as well.

Being educated at home doesn’t turn kids into a recluse. Quite the opposite, homeschoolers are usually more outgoing and well-rounded because barriers and walls are removed. They’re more comfortable with change and challenges, and they tend to adapt to situations easier. Time and again we’re told by strangers that our sons have impeccable manners and are incredibly intelligent, and when we say our boys are homeschooled we’re usually told, “That’s obvious,” and it’s never condescending.

In no way are we saying traditionally-educated kids don’t have manners or aren’t smart, nor are we saying our sons are nicer or smarter. We’re also not saying homeschooling is a fit for everyone or that sending kids to school will damage them. We are, however, tooting our own horn because many do fail to realize how beneficial homeschooling is and can be, simply because this isn’t “normal” or what most families are doing. We tend to be judged harshly, rather than questioned or spoken to first.

And then there’s our decision to sell our house and live in our RV full-time. This is not a permanent deal, but rather a chance to pay down debts, save up money, travel more, and do something a little crazy. We are in a position to be able to do this now, and since tomorrow — let alone reaching retirement age — is never a guarantee, we all want to do this while we can. This was a family decision, not a parental one. Our sons want this as much as we do, if not more. Our home will be mobile, our physical address will change, our experiences will grown, and our yard will constantly be different.

But we’ve been told we will be homeless, are making a mistake, are too young for this, or could potentially ruin our sons’ childhood. This isn’t something we decided to do overnight, nor did we jump into this without years of research and planning. This will give all of us a chance to minimize and better appreciate what we have, spend more time together, and expand our horizons, so to speak. We’ll branch out, move around, and experience things most only dream of. Yes, we’re going from a home of 2,133 square feet to one just under 350 square feet, but we will have what we need and be together. Our boys will still share a bedroom, as well as a half bathroom. We will still have a dining area — both inside and outside, if we so choose — and a couch for sitting, watching TV, and entertaining. Our kitchen is well-equipped and we will be able to cook and eat indoors and outdoors. Mama and Papa will still have their own bedroom, there is still a full-size bathroom with a full-size shower, we will still have a washing machine and dryer, and we have both a front and a back door.

What of this makes us homeless?

And what part of this could hurt, ruin, or potentially deprive our kids and their childhood?

Everyone is entitled to their own opinion and concerns, but under no circumstance is it okay to insult, spread rumors, tell lies, or speak ill of us, especially when the only thing we’re guilty of is being different. We’ve not hurt anyone, our family is stronger than ever, and our kids are happy and thriving.

If there’s something you don’t understand, ask us or do a little bit of research. The information is out there and it’s free. And we’d be more than happy to answer questions about anything.

Whatever you do, don’t accuse us of something or make an assumption based on personal opinion, not education. And media isn’t an accurate source of information in any way, shape, or form, so don’t even go there. Go straight to the person or family. Ask. Every year hundreds — even thousands — of individuals and families transition to or begin RVing and homeschooling, be it one or the other. Why not us?

Furthermore, don’t be surprised if your actions, behavior, or comments result in bridges getting burned, especially if past decisions and conflicts have already caused it to start swaying and crumbling. We can take only so much before we cut our losses and realize our efforts have been futile.

We’ll just keep on keeping on, happily living our crazy, haphazard, abnormal lives.

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.

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.