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.

Advertisements

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.

Running From the Storm

In the eleven years we’ve now lived in this house, we’d never needed to evacuate it due to a hurricane. In 2016 we were on our three-month trip when Hurricane Matthew resulted in us needing to pack up and leave the campground we were in at that time, in southeastern Georgia.

But this time we were home. And not only were we in a hurricane’s path, but we were on the radar as being located dead-center of her forecasted trajectory.

On September 6th we decided we weren’t going to ride it out. Hurricane Irma was expected to be either a category 4 or 5 storm. Thirteen years earlier this area had been hit by one hurricane after another in the same season, and from what friends and neighbors told us there was extensive damage and outages.

Our house is rated to withstand a powerful hurricane, but what about losing power? Running out of gas? Stores going down? And the likelihood June could come out intact and looking anything more than a pile of toothpicks was slim.

We started making preparations September 6th, completed getting the house ready — including installing hurricane shutters for only the 2nd time ever — on September 7th, and then we hit the road around 4am the morning of September 8th.

Poor Papa ‘Skiy! He had to work on the 6th and 7th, so he’d been up since around 7am the morning of the 7th, and then he was driving again, for an unknown number of hours, so we could evacuate.

We had no destination in mind. Irma was moving closer to Florida’s coast, and all we knew was we didn’t want to be in the peninsula state.

The main interstates and highways were very congested. People were heading north in droves, and we saw power company and emergency response vehicles heading south. We avoided the interstates most of the journey, utilizing Google Maps to determine the roads with the least amount of traffic.

Around 3pm we were approaching the panhandle of Florida and passed a sign showing the location of a state park with camping. We decided to stop so Papa could at least try to get some sleep.

We pulled into beautiful O’Leno State Park and requested a campsite. We were informed we would need to evacuate the next day because of the storm, which was fine with us because we just wanted some rest before continuing north. Due to the circumstances we were not required to pay an entry or camping fee, but we donated $10 to the park and headed for the campsite we were informed we could use for the day.

By this time, Papa ‘Skiy was blind from exhaustion. He’d been up more than 34 hours now and was in desperate need of rest. Once we’d found our site, we proceeded to start backing in when suddenly Mama saw the truck jar to a halt and immediately heard Papa spout a few…er, superlatives. The truck rolled forward again and Papa got out to examine the damage.

He’d failed to watch the fin of the dually on the driver’s side of Bertha and bumped into an oak tree. The good news was that June was unscathed, and that would have been far worse than the dent Bertha got on her backside.

Papa was seething, but Mama couldn’t be upset with him. Considering his level of exhaustion and stress, there was no way he could be blamed for this minor hiccup. She calmed and reassured him, and then they finished backing into the site.

We’d no more than parked when a couple of rangers happened by. They were going around to let everyone know the hurricane’s path had shifted a little and they were going to need to evacuate the park by 6pm that evening.

So now we weren’t going to get the rest needed. However, Mama stayed up to keep an eye on the boys — who weren’t tired because they’d slept in the truck — so Papa could get at least an hour of sleep.

He woke up shortly after 5pm, we took the boys to the playground to run off some steam, and then we vacated the park, on our way to who-knows-where.

We stopped for a late dinner outside of Tallahassee and then Mama started looking on her phone for parks and campgrounds in Alabama or Mississippi.

She made a few phone calls, only to find most places were either closing or closed due to the hurricane or could not accommodate us.

Finally she called a park in Alabama — Blue Springs State Park — where she was informed the campground had no vacancies but we were welcome to come on up and they’d set us up someplace.

We had a location in sight and could finally relax a little.

When we finally made it to the park it was approaching midnight and the gate was closed and chained…but to our relief it hadn’t been locked! Mama got out, unlooped the chain from the gate, opened it up, and we let ourselves inside. She closed it again and left it as we’d found it, then we drove to a parking lot on the left near a lake. There was no one manning the hut at the entrance, and we never did see or hear anyone. But we’d spoken to someone on the phone and felt it was okay we were there. As a precaution, Mama wrote a note explaining our situation and that we’d move by 7:30 the next morning, having seen signs that the park opens to visitors at 8am, and left it on the door of our fifth wheel.

Finally we were able to get some rest.

We woke up around 7am the next morning so we could get ready to move, but when we stepped out of our rig we were promptly greeted by a sweet gentleman — one of the park rangers — on a golf cart. He told us we could stay put and to just relax. When we questioned moving for park guests, he said the park was only accepting hurricane evacuees, no other campers or guests! He said we could stay put or he’d go see if there were any available campsites for us.

He’d just left when a woman — one of the workampers — showed up on another golf cart. She proceeded to ask if we were hungry because they were serving sandwiches at a pavilion in the campground region, in another area of the park, and we could go over to eat.

At that point Mama got emotional. Everything started to sink in: we had to leave our home and everything behind; we had family and friends in Florida who’d decided not to evacuate; we were so exhausted, stressed, and scared; and we were in an unfamiliar area under one of the scariest circumstances we’d yet to encounter. The sweet lady — Tracy — took Mama into her arms and comforted her. Then she left and we decided to walk over to the pavilion she’d told us about, located down a road opposite the lake we were parked next to.

Every vehicle and RV there had a Florida license plate. Everyone looked tired and ragged, and although we were all strangers we all suddenly had so much in common and so many things to talk about. We were treated to a variety of homemade sandwiches and bottles of water, and it was the best breakfast we’d had in days. Then we were told to return around noon because a church was coming by to provide lunch too!

After we ate we returned to June to settle into the parking lot. A couple of other RVs were there now too, doing the same thing. Suddenly the ranger who came by earlier stopped by again to let us know about a couple of campsites that were empty and we could choose from. He suggested one in particular — which happened to be right across from the pavilion everyone was gathering at — and we decided to move to that site.

Sure enough, lunch-time came around and we were fed a full spaghetti spread. To add to the kindness, there was a table of supplies that had appeared! Churches and volunteers were showing up and dropping of canned and prepackaged meals, beverages, paper products, charcoal, cases of bottled water, toiletries…anything and everything you could think of that anyone running from the storm may need.

Tears were being shed all around, by Mama included. The outpouring of donations and kindness was overwhelming!

We decided to run into town that afternoon for a few other things we needed, but after that we never had to leave again. We were also told by the two leading the rescue — Amanda and her daughter Alyssa — that if we needed anything else to just let them know and they’d have someone run out and get it for us. They simply wanted us to stay there and relax as much as possible.

Also that afternoon Mama was finally able to convince her parents to evacuate their home and join us in Alabama. Her brother had decided to stay with his girlfriend and her family, and Papa’s step-father had his sons visiting (Papa’s mother was in Russia at the time) so he wanted to stay home as well. Mama was especially worried about her parents because their home at the homestead was manufactured. Everyone else was in sturdy concrete-block buildings.

Her parents arrived that evening, and finally she was able to breathe a sigh of relief.

Dinner was provided that night too, and we were treated to three meals, snacks, desserts, and supplies during the entire stay. Clothes and toys were also donated and gathering at the main pavilion. There was even a pickup truck driven by teenagers going around passing out firewood.

We went swimming in their spring-fed pools and waded in the river the springs fed into. We did a lot of walking and socializing. And we met some of the nicest people ever, who will remain our friends. There was a lot of fear in the air, and many moms would gather to talk and cry out of concern for family and friends back home, their property left behind, and their kids, who were playing on the playground without a care in the world.

Hurricane Irma didn’t take the path projected but moved more west and made landfall on Florida’s west coast, not the east coast as forecasted. She cut through and destroyed the Keys before hooking north and landing just south of where Papa’s step-father lives. When it did finally hit land, it suddenly dropped from a catastrophic category 4 to a much less dangerous category 2! There was such a huge sigh of relief when word of that spread throughout Blue Springs.

Despite it was a weaker storm when it did hit the mainland, the size of the storm was much larger than the state itself. It took out power before it did touch land, and the damage caused by winds, flooding, and loss electricity alone was astronomical.

Irma did end up following us to Alabama, but she was only a tropical storm by the time she got there. The six of us remained safe inside of June, listening to the howling of the wind through the trees, the branches and acorns falling on the roof, and the rain coming and going with each passing band.

Out of the blue during that morning, though, there was a knock on our door. When we answered, it was the park staff, stopping by to see if we were okay…and to deliver some food to us. Despite they were out in the middle of the storm, getting soaked in the process, their concern was still for those of us at the park.

Once Irma had passed we walked around to survey the damage and check on others.

Many people had left, apparently heading east or west to get out of the path. We were surprised to see how vacant the park had suddenly became.

With the exception of some fallen limbs and one uprooted tree, there wasn’t much damage at all. The river had risen and was quite raging, but we were able to walk around and talk to some of the others who had stayed to ride it out.

The next day — September 12 — we packed up to return home, and it was so difficult to say good-bye to our new friends, both the evacuees like us and the incredibly kind people that took such good care of everyone. On the way out we stopped by one of the buildings near the pools, where everyone was gathering one final time. We all shared one more meal, exchanged contact information, and took a group picture together. Then we tearfully passed out hugs, climbed into Bertha, and left.

We didn’t get back home until the next morning. Traffic was heavy and many areas were blocked due to damage or flooding. Electricity had miraculously come back on in our neighborhood before we got back to our house, and the only issues there were a few broken limbs, some debris, and a small amount of washout where we park June next to the house. The water level in our canal was up, but the day Irma had come through the water had actually come up to within feet of the uppermost level.

All in all, our friends and family fared well. Papa’s step-father and visiting step-brothers went without electricity for nearly a week, as did Mama’s parents’ home and where her brother had stayed. Regardless, everyone was safe.

Many weren’t as fortunate. The Keys suffered the worst damage they’d experienced in a very long time, and it will be awhile before they fully recover. The death toll was not nearly as high as feared, and the assistance that showed up from other states was underappreciated and understated.

It was a scary situation, but it was also one of the most memorable experiences of our lives. Never before had we been on the receiving end of help, and we could never thank all of those kind people of Blue Springs State Park in Alabama enough for their kindness…and now friendship.

Never gamble with Mother Nature. She’s stronger than you’ll ever be.

And if you’re fortunate enough, she could also guide you toward happiness and incredible memories, even in the middle of instability and chaos.

A Year of June

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

And it’s been an amazing match!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

And that’s the goal for us.

The Reality of Downsizing

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

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

And that’s all it is: stuff.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

But do you know what they haven’t forgotten?

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

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

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

Stuff.

And we put so much emphasis on “stuff.”

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

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

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

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

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

Pumped Up Birthday Party

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Worst Mother’s Day on Record

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

He was in hysterics.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

What If “One Day” Never Comes

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

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

Or putting off for next month.

Or putting off for next year.

Or putting off until retirement.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Then we realized “one day” may never come.