We're so glad you joined us!

Here we are – kids, dogs and all! Thanks for visiting our page! We're hoping that you will enjoy hearing about our travels and experiences as a family. We intend for this blog to share more than just travel journals, but also insights and lessons learned during our daily adventures. Please share your comments and come back often! * update * as of August 2010, we finished our journey, so new entries to this site will be rare. Linda's starting a new personal blog here. Enjoy!

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Back on the horse that threw you

As promised, the RV repairs were completed on Friday, however the camper was not ready to go until 3:00 pm. They did a great job and worked fast with all that had to be done, but paint, decals, caulking and such simply must have some curing time before you pull it out on the road. With our next planned stop 200 miles away, we wanted to delay our departure to the next day. Thankfully, the RV repair shop had offered that we could hook up to water and electric from their building and park in the parking lot. This worked great! We had our first parking lot experience (great practice for a future Walmart stop) and we got an early start for the next park.

Driving to Otter Springs RV park, we watched the countryside get more rural and more heavily wooded. The GPS had more and more trouble listing and tracing the surrounding roads. Approaching Otter Springs the GPS just pictured our truck in the middle of a pink sea without surrounding roads or even the road we were traveling on. We were so thankful that we were led to stay in the parking lot rather than groping through the dark in the woods searching for the rural roads.

We were struck by the rugged beauty of the park as we pulled in. I held a white-knuckled grip on the wheel as we wound along the main dirt road circling the park. Linda gazed wide eyed at the camp sites carved out of the majestic trees most of them larger than the one that took a bite out of the back end of the RV. The sites were loosely connected by vague grassy openings in the trees. Our first lap around the perimeter yielded no obvious fit for our 40 foot long home on wheels. Linda suggested we just park on the road and walk into the forest to form an entrance and exit strategy. Prayer and planning revealed a site that we could thread our camper through.

Scary as it was, the park was wonderful. Beautiful nature in the trees and springs, there were good facilities, few other campers, great sniffing areas for the dogs and (number one item with the boys) a heated indoor swimming pool!

Besides the great things to explore in the park, a short drive took us to Manatee Springs State Park. We did not get to see a manatee, but the other sights were amazing. The boys could wade into the springs as they bubble up underground. Despite the cold (72 F) water and a couple of water snakes standing guard near the stairs, the boys climbed right in. We then followed a great boardwalk that traced the path of springs as they flowed into the famous Suwanee (also known as Swanee) River. We are so blessed in this chance we have to build such rich and vivid memories for our family.

Thursday, March 19, 2009

Big Cypress Seminole Indian Reservation

Next stop was in the northern area of the Everglades. We were struck by the rural nature of the central region of Florida south of Orlando. Miles and miles of open spaces and lakes - even in a period of serious drought. The good news from last hurricane season for Florida is that they were relatively unscathed. The bad news was that the state had well below the quantity of rain needed to replenish the lake areas and the Everglades.

We stayed at a campground between Ft. Myers and the Okeechobee Lake. It was so quiet and peaceful - very welcome respite from our adventures at Disney World and Cape Canaveral. This location gave us the opportunity to camp on the Caloosahatchee river near where it flows out of the huge Lake Okeechobee and empties into the Gulf of Mexico. The river, lake and a canal dug east out of the lake create a navigable waterway across south Florida from the Atlantic Ocean to the Gulf of Mexico. We saw a number of fairly large pleasure boats making their way across the state.

From our campground, we made an easy day trip south into the everglades and visited the Big Cypress Seminole Indian Reservation. Quite the educational adventure, we split our time an Indian run Everglades Eco-Tour and the AH-TAH-THI-KI Museum. The BILLIE Swamp Safari was a replica Seminole village that included animal shows and exhibits as well as a swamp buggy eco-tour that took you into a huge everglades wildlife preserve allowing you to view native and exotic wildlife and vegetation close-up. The tour guide provided lots of information and made the experience interesting and educational. We spent the late afternoon going through the museum. This focused on the history and experience of the Seminole Indians in Florida and was very well done. Much of the information was new for all of us and a great amount covered the time in history that Cory is covering now thereby enhancing his history studies.

Among the many blessings we are experiencing on this journey, we also had a mishap as we were leaving the Cape Canaveral campground. We were amongst beautiful tall trees - but they were very close...too close! Craig had the foresight to have me watch the trees as he pulled the camper out. I did - but failed to warn him in time as the rear slide awning scraped a tree. I called out on the walkie-talkie to him, but it was too late. We not only had scraped the tree, but it was stuck on the awning. Thankfully, two gentlemen came over and provided well seasoned guidance for Craig to back up and get out successfully.

The insurance is going to cover the damage as well as our lodging during repairs. We had planned to visit the Ft. Myers area next and the insurance recommended repair shop was in nearby Port Charlotte. So, here we are in a beautifully located Best Western (which allows pets!) with a view of Charlotte Harbor at the base of the Peace River (see photo) while our camper gets a new awning, body repair, refrigerator vent and rubber roof. We're thankful that the camper wasn't incapacitated and humbled regarding our need to take better precautions. Craig was kind to me in the midst of the chaos - demonstrating his compassion for me more than aggravation and frustration with the damage. He's a good man!

On to Fort Myers/Punta Gorda/Port Charlotte. This is a lovely area and definitely worth a stop. One unexpected perk is that the Blue Angel pilots are staying in this hotel. The Florida Air Show is being held in this area on the weekend and the boys were excited to see the pilots at breakfast this morning! We toured the Edison/Ford Winter Estates yesterday afternoon. Thomas Edison built a beautiful home and surrounding buildings on the bank of the Caloosahatchee River and came here with his new bride in 1886. The grounds are beautiful and the buildings well-preserved. Mrs. Edison 'sold' the property to the City of Fort Myers for $1 in 1947 and the estate is open for visitors year round. Many of the furnishings remain along with exhibits about Edison's ongoing work and experiments. Mr. Edison encouraged Henry Ford to purchase the neighboring property in 1915 and the two maintained a fantastic friendship and business relationship for years afterward. It was amazing to walk the grounds and imagine these innovative giants chatting casually in the beautiful setting!

Today we will work on school assignments and visit the nearby shopping area, Fisherman's Village. We're also watching the Blue Angels practice over our heads and the harbor - spectacular!

Tomorrow we hope that the camper is fixed and ready to go. We plan to head north and inland to an area near Manatee Springs for a few days.

Thursday, March 12, 2009

Cape Canaveral

We extended our stay in the Cape Canaveral area to attend a home school event scheduled for March 7th. It was great and the extended stay also allowed us to watch a Delta 2 rocket launch on Friday night. We didn't even try to photograph that experience as it's just impossible. The launch and rocket's rise to orbit is over in 2 minutes, but it's well worth the trouble to get to a vantage point and observe if ever within a reasonable distance.

While waiting for the home school day, we invested some time in touring the Merritt Island National Wildlife Refuge. Within the 140,000 acre refuge are hundreds of species of wildlife. We found more varieties of birds than we could count and many that we had never seen before. We were able to see an eagle's nest, but were too far away to see the eaglets. We also saw many alligators of which this one was the largest. She's 14 feet long and weighs 800 lbs. and she's pregnant. We were careful not to wake her as we captured the photo of her! No fences at the wildlife refuge!

We did not catch any glimpses of the river otters or manatees living within the refuge, but we enjoyed our afternoon in the peace and quiet with the animals.

We drove to Jetty Park to witness the rocket launch and it's an excellent vantage point. We barely arrived in time, but just made it and were glad that we did. We had to wake the boys as the launch was just before 11 p.m., but I think they will remember the sight and sounds.

Home School Day at the Kennedy Space Center was great. We were divided into groups by virtue of color coded arm bands and were provided an itinerary for both touring and participating in activities. The Astronaut Encounter was a very enlightening experience as we listened to Jack Lousma, astronaut, Sky Lab 3 pilot and Columbia commander. This gentleman had been within the NASA program from 1966 forward and had so much personal experience to share. The program was only 45 minutes long (but 20 minutes longer than the normal public presentation) and we could easily have listened to a whole day of this man's experiences. The kids were place into teams to gather information ('treasure hunt') in the Rocket Garden. This enriched their tour of the various launch vehicles on display with bits of facts. After lunch (which was included in the ticket price), the kids were back in their teams to build and test 'rockets'. Using balloons for 'engines', a straw for the vessel, paper clips for payload and masking tape for assembly, the kids launched their rockets on a piece of vertical fishing line. The charge was to determine the appropriate maximum payload with a successful launch - and design and build it in 20 minutes. Cory and Will were part of the only team that ventured to carry less than the maximum payload (8 paper clips instead of 15). Their rocket sailed twice as far as the others and their team won the competition. Not to brag or anything.....
We then toured the space center by bus to see the Apollo/Saturn V center, the International Space Station Center and an observation area near the shuttle launch pads. The home school event was $5 less than the normal admission price, included extra time for the astronaut encounter, lunch and the activities. Normal admission provides for a 2 day visit which we would heartily recommend. The second day allowed us to view the two IMAX theater presentations and ride the Shuttle Launch Experience (tame compared to Disney's Mission Space ride - but still worth doing).
We also visited Cocoa Beach while we were in the area, but didn't stay long. We haven't been gone from Corpus Christi for very long and a day at the beach - even one on the Atlantic ocean wasn't as appealing as some of the other choices. We visited an orange grove and purchased honey tangerines - the sweetest and juiciest we've ever tasted.
We're off to south central Florida - just north of the Everglades for our next stop. We're trying to miss the spring break crowd that's arriving for beach time.

Friday, March 6, 2009

Settling Down

Compared to our time at Disney World, this week has been practically stagnant as far as activity goes. We were up each day at 6 a.m., to the kennels by 7:30 a.m. to drop off the dogs and to one of the parks by 8:00 a.m. most days. We sometimes returned to the camper for lunch or dinner, but generally didn't stop until well after dark each day. We've no idea how far we walked each day as we toured the parks. We were having so much fun that it didn't seem like exercise! Wouldn't it be nice if we could feel that way about our daily exercise routines?

Now that all that excitement is over, we needed to recuperate physically and adjust our expectations of what each day would hold. Our ongoing challenge as we take this adventure is to balance some basic level of academics for the boys with the opportunities in our surroundings. Getting our books out this week reinforced the need to make sure we keep those basics going! I also think there's a life lesson in learning that everything mustn't be at the brink of exhilaration every day to be interesting. While I hope and dream that my boys will be able to work in an area of their own unique passions someday, some jobs and a lot of days are full of just plain old routine. Developing the patience and fortitude to carry on with routine activities and to maintain a level of contentment is just as important as any academic lesson of the day.

Someone asked me some time ago about how to stay motivated for the daily rigors of teaching. My immediate and unchecked response was "I'm NOT very motivated most days!" Further explanation of that response includes that I'm not all that motivated about a lot of things in each day, but they still get done through force of habit. It doesn't hurt to have a particular spark now and then, but persistence and diligence are much more important to assure continual positive progress. I also have learned to take comfort in the knowledge that God in heaven above loves my kids more than even I do, and He's not going to allow me(due to my ignorance, laziness or stubbornness) to do irreparable harm to my children. He has lovingly and persistently corrected us and guided us all along the way.

We are often asked what curriculum we use, so I'll write something about that soon. We've been home schooling our kids for over 9 years now, we we're pretty settled in our academic choices. Today, however, I hoped to share some 'reality' of our new life with this post. Some things never change - clean clothes become dirty, satisfied children become hungry again, dirt and pet hair collects in every corner of our living space. Living in a house on wheels is in some ways just like living anywhere else. Our surroundings and the opportunity to regularly change them is exciting and tempts us to look for something amazing every day. But sometimes, in our life, what is amazing may need to be that my kids (and students) just need to learn how to read, write and do their math. If we happen to have the opportunity to include some very interesting vocabulary words to support our trip to the Kennedy Space Center tomorrow – great! But maybe our vocabulary word can be something about the amazing bird in the pond across the way (we have to find that bird book to find the name!).

Enough soap box for today. Here's an inspiring quote from the very eloquent Oswald Chambers "My Utmost for His Highest"

Ask God to keep the eyes of your spirit open to the risen Christ, and it will be impossible for drudgery to discourage you. Never allow yourself to think that some tasks are beneath your dignity or too insignificant for you to do, and remind yourself of the example of Christ in John 13:1-17.

Monday, March 2, 2009

Walt Disney World

We stayed at Fort Wilderness Campground, a well designed and maintained facility with cabins, tent and RV sites near the Magic Kingdom. Access to the Magic Kingdom is easiest by boats while the other amusement parks are accessed by Disney buses. Because we were gone for so much of the day, the dogs stayed with the on-site kennel. The staff was fantastic and after the first day, the dogs walked right in and greeted the staff with wagging tails so we assume they were content. At the end of the days and on days 'off' from touring parks, we walked the dogs at the new dog park. Well fenced and quite large, the dogs enjoyed time to run off leash and meet other visiting dogs and owners.

Some of our favorites at each amusement park

Hollywood Studios (formerly MGM): new Toy Story ride at Hollywood Studios (be prepared for very long waits and stiff competition for Fast Passes), Star Tours, Indiana Jones adventure show, Fantasmic light show

Magic Kingdom: Space Mountain, Buzz Lightyear, Big Thunder Mountain Railroad, fireworks (including the flying Tinkerbell that was suspended over our heads), Pirates of the Caribbean

Epcot: Mission Space (boy favorite), Test Track (boy and dad favorite), Soaring (mom favorite), Illuminations, food from the different countries, blooming landscapes (mom favorite)

Animal Kingdom: Kali River (boy favorite), Dinosaur, It's Tough to be a Bug show, Kilamanjaro Safari

January and February

We've got some catching up to do! After picking up the fifth wheel in mid-January, we stayed the rest of the month at a KOA in Abilene. We were able to celebrate birthdays with Linda's parents and found we could withstand temperatures as low as 13 F with wind chill of 7 F. For the folks we've met from Canada, Michigan, Ohio, etc. that doesn't sound so tough. For Texas folk that have been most recently in Corpus Christi, it's extremely chilly! We were pleased to find we could manage those temperatures o.k. and learned how to insulate our water supply as best as we could. Fortunately, we plan to avoid those types of temperatures as much as possible!

From Abilene, we travelled toward our first destination – Walt Disney World. Craig was past due for a vacation (over 2 years without one) so we are viewing this indulgence as his retirement celebration. To travel from Texas to Florida, we took a much slower pace than we were accustomed to sans fifth wheel. We have determined that 250 to 350 miles is a good distance for us, our kids and our dogs. In the past, we would have made the trek in a couple of days, but at our new pace the trip took 7 days (including a couple of longer stays to catch up on laundry and visit relatives in Austin).

These photos were taken in a beautiful rest area off of IH 10 in Florida. The woods are such a contrast to the scrawny mesquites of West Texas!