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A Decision To Increase Our Adventures

My husband’s career as a commercial airline pilot provides our family with an amazing opportunity to travel.  We started traveling with our children, Red and Fred, when they were infants.  Now at ages nine and six, they are experienced travelers.  The majority of our travel happens on spontaneous whims.  As Red and Fred have grown older and started to attend school, we discovered that it was becoming more and more difficult to find the time to travel and satisfy the requirement to attend school.  With our flight benefits, we are able to travel on an airplane as long as there are open seats.  Unfortunately, a lot of people travel when their children have breaks from school, and now that our kids are also in school, that makes travel a little more challenging for us.

Enter homeschooling. We were introduced to homeschooling by a friend of ours. I was very curious about the idea but figured there was no way I would be able to handle teaching my children.  I continued with this mindset for about a year.  Once my youngest, Fred, started all day kindergarten it really sunk in how limited our time to travel would be.  We started to do some more in-depth research on what homeschooling would entail and really thought hard about making this drastic lifestyle change.  In the end, we determined that we would be able to offer our children an education with amazing benefits by traveling the world.  We decided to go for it!

What better way is there to learn and retain information than actually seeing and touching something?  We can actually go do things and visit places that pertain to the topics that we are studying.  For example, when it comes time to study the Civil War, we can actually visit the battlefields and museums that pertain to the subject.  I’m hoping to be able to give them a sense of awareness that just reading about something in a book is not be able to do.

Once we made the decision to homeschool, the next step was to determine what materials we were going to use to teach with.  The number of homeschooling families in the past decade has grown by about 60%.  This growth, along with the growth of technology, has provided many different tools and methods for teaching children outside of a traditional brick and mortar school.  This is both wonderful and overwhelming. There was a lot of sifting through that I had to do in order to determine what was best for us.  We’re going into this process with the mindset that we will all be learning together.  Since no family operates the same as another, and no child learns the same as another, I determined this was not a one size fits all situation for materials. I decided to use a few different publishers of materials based on what we thought best fit our needs.  At this point in time, I have ordered and received all of my materials.  The next step will be creating a calendar and determining what we are going to do and when.  That will probably be a future post.

Even though our family and friends may think we are a bit crazy to take on this new adventure, we are confident and excited that we will be able to give our children a quality education, while giving them an opportunity to travel the world.

Our First Christmas in our Motorhome

My favorite holiday of the year is Christmas.  The bright colors, smells, and festive atmosphere everywhere feels magical.  In the past, we have always lived in a place that has the potential for snow on the 25th. The beautiful white stuff adds an extra level of excitement to the holiday.  This year we celebrated Christmas in Florida.  No chance of snow, but it still was Christmas.  We wanted to share with you a little sample of what Christmas in our tiny home on the road looked like this year.

Previous years we had a big tree covered in airplane ornaments, lights hung inside and out, and Christmas music playing as much as possible.  This year in our small space away from “home” we tried to make it as festive and fun as possible.  We hung Christmas lights all around our main room and the windshield.  The colorful glow of Christmas lights always makes me feel happy.  At the campground craft fair, we picked up a mini Christmas tree with shell ornaments made by one of our neighbors.  It wasn’t quite the same as usual, but still felt like Christmas and fit our area nicely.

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We tried to do a few things that we were not normally part of our holiday routine to add more flair.  We polished our paper cutting skills and made some snowflakes to decorate our windshield.  In doing this, we brought a bit of snow to Florida.  We always have good intentions of doing gingerbread houses, but they typically don’t get done.  This year we actually completed them.  The kids were old enough to really enjoy it and get into the process of creating the houses.

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Even though our Christmas was different from what we were used to, we enjoyed it just as much.  On Christmas Eve we were able to host a friend and fellow pilot.  He was working and stuck overnight in a hotel nearby.  On Christmas Day, we were able to spend time with family members in Tampa that we rarely get to see.  So, even though things were not typical, it was a nice change and felt just as special.

And finally, Christmas wouldn’t be complete without cookies.  For quite a few years now, we have spent a day at church baking and making plates of cookies for shut-ins.  We were not able to participate this year, but came up with a new idea to take it’s place.  This campground has many other residents who are away from their family too.  Also, RV’s with their small kitchens and tiny ovens, are not exactly the easiest to bake in.  This may discourage people from even trying.  Challenge accepted.   What normally would have taken us one day, ended up taking 3 days.  Our plan worked and we managed to get several kinds of cookies made.  We boxed them up, loaded them in our little wagon and  delivered them to all of our new-found friends.  This little gesture seemed to make others happy.  I hope we can find ways to do more little gestures like this throughout our travels.  It was a great opportunity for the kids to see how good it feels to give and anyone can do it.  We received an unexpected gift back from one of our friends on Christmas morning when she showed up with homemade cinnamon rolls for us.  Another friend delivered some hand made scrubbers.  Thank you if you’re reading this!  Christmas seems to be so commercialized now.  Gift giving can sometimes be about doing your duty, checking the gift delivered box and not necessarily about giving a well-thought-out gift.  The act of giving cookies and receiving the gift of breakfast on Christmas morning captured the true spirit of gift giving.  The most expensive gift, is not necessarily the best gift.  These small acts of kindness that we received are one of my best memories from our Christmas on the road.

 

Hitting the Road & Wishing We Had a Toad

Getting out and exploring the country is our goal in this unique lifestyle we have chosen.  Over the past two months since we officially hit the road we have seen and experienced some wonderful things, but also have felt limited from doing more.   We have visited family, explored abandoned homesteads, discovered delicious bakeries and restaurants as well as enjoyed family time.  There have been other things we wanted to do, but either the timing didn’t work out or we felt like our truck would not fit the location very well.  Hence the title for this blog post.  A 40’ long fifth wheel trailer and a quad cab, long box, dually truck is very comfortable for traveling, but also limiting.

We suspected going into this adventure, that having a 40’ long trailer may make it a challenge to find places to stay. Our mentality was that this is our home and we want as much interior living space as possible while trying to stay as small as possible. It is a big mental shift to go from a house to a compact space filled with only the essentials. Overall, we have been able to find nice campsites that can accommodate our rig. The options are limited though and that proves to be a challenge since we are short term planners.

Sometimes traveling between locations takes longer than one day.  Multi-day travel requires us to park somewhere overnight while enroute. One option is to find a RV park and set up for the night. Passport America is a great app to find one or two nights at a discounted rate of 50%.  Setting up camp can also be a big time killer when we are focused on getting to the next place.  Finding a suitable park along our travel route can prove a challenge.  The extra time to drive off our route to the park, along with our frugality, often leads us to boondock (be without water or electrical hookups) on travel days.  Some options such as Cracker Barrel, Cabela’s and Walmart allow you to spend the night for free in their parking lot. Helpful apps we use for this are Boondocking and ParkAdvisor.  In the beginning, we assumed it would be easy to be able to pull in and sleep for the night at one of these locations. Spending the night in these places has it challenges.  On our first big push south from Wisconsin to Ohio we figured we would drive until we were tired and then find a Walmart for the night.  We spent the last two hours of our drive trying to focus in on a suitable location to sleep.  We finally settled on a Walmart and pulled in to rest for the night.   Protocol for spending the night is to contact the store to ask for permission to squat for the night.  Upon contacting the management this night, they said it would be fine to spend the night, but we were not allowed to extend our slides.   We have now found it common that stores are fine with us parking there, but they do not want any slides out.  We are unable to use our rig for sleeping/eating without putting our slides out.  With the slides in we are only able to access the master bedroom and bathroom.  We were tired and hungry after traveling beyond our intended stopping point and this was not well received by the younger members of the crew.  We ended up moving another 20 minutes down the road to a truck stop parking lot.  A call to this location in advance helped us to be confident we would be able to stay.  Since hitting the southern half of the United States, Cracker Barrel restaurants are as common as Starbucks and typically close to highways.  These restaurants have long parking spots for buses that they allow RV’s to park in overnight.  Initially we thought this would be a good option, but with our truck hooked up to our trailer, we are over 60’ long and do not fit in these spots.  We did find a few lots that we were able to fit across empty normal parking spots.  This is a gamble as it may look good on google maps, but all it takes is one car to block our only parking option.  Beggars cannot be choosers.  We could book campsites for the night so we know for sure we have a spot to park, but we hesitate because on travel days we don’t necessarily know how far we will get.  Parking in the dark is tricky, and also, it seems silly to pay $30-40 a night just to park for a few hours.

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Parked across open spots in a Cracker Barrel parking lot

Having a big truck to pull our fifth wheel is a necessity.  It is possible to use a single rear wheel truck, but we decided to err on the side of caution going with the dual rear wheel.  The stability and extra rubber on the road in the event of a tire failure outweighed our desire to remain skinny.  We are lucky to have a truck that comfortably fits all four of us and the dog.  Sitting in the truck for several hours on a travel day is not an issue.  Having the big dually truck and using it for everyday use or exploring a new city or attraction is another story.  A truck this size does not fit in a normal size parking spot.  This requires parking in the back of the lot, which we don’t mind because it’s not a big deal to walk a little farther.  The problem comes in when you go to a store or location that doesn’t have large parking lots.  Finding a place to park has become a process that requires some forethought and planning.  Finding myself in tight parking lots and on narrow roads has become a bit of a nightmare for me.

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White-knuckling it on a back road trying to get around traffic in Knoxville, TN

Throughout our first summer we parked our fifth wheel trailer in the same location and it was a perfect tiny home for us.  We also had a second smaller vehicle that we used the majority of the time.  We sold the second smaller car before we hit the road.  After just a few weeks of travel, we both independently felt we needed to change our setup.  Neither of us were willing to be the first speak up and admit we may have made a mistake by going with a truck and trailer.  We sold our house and hit the road to explore and adventure.  We were discovering that our current setup, especially the truck, was hindering our ability and desire to get out and explore.  It was during an excursion on a narrow mountain road, when we almost simultaneously declared to each other that life would be much better with a toad. This is the term used for a vehicle that is towed behind a motorhome.  Not long after that moment we decided to make a switch.  If we were going to be able to enjoy this adventure to the fullest, we felt we needed to be more mobile.  The first step was a new home.  We were in South Carolina at this time and didn’t really have a next destination in mind.  After doing a little research, we found that Florida had a lot of options for RV stores.  Also, the eastern half of the United States was predicted to experience an unseasonably cold few weeks. We decided to head south to an abundance of sun and RV’s.  After looking at all the different options online we decided on the must haves for our new vehicle.  We needed a bunk bed, a drop-down loft bed over the driving area and a diesel engine.  These three things seem simple enough, but really narrowed down our options.  Thankfully, we were able to find one that suited our needs and price point, only two hours away from our campground in Tampa.

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Our new home, a 2016 Fleetwood Excursion 35E

When we moved from our house into our fifth wheel, I spent several days putting items in and finding the right spot.  This move was so different.  We had a week between when we purchased the new rig and actually moving in.  I spent that week going through everything we currently had with us.  I took two truck loads to Goodwill.  It’s amazing how much stuff we still had with that we didn’t need.  Also, some of the shelves we had with for storage would not fit in the new motorhome.  The actual move day was crazy.  We spent the morning getting a tour of our new motorhome.  Then we sat in the parking lot of the dealership for a few hours while they fixed a few things they were supposed to have done prior to pick up.  Once that was all done, it was 3 o’clock and we finally were able to start moving.  I stayed in the new motorhome and tried to kind of put things away and the rest of the family moved everything over.  It was three hours and fifteen minutes of chaotic moving and stuffing.  It was also our eighth move together and by far the fastest!  It dark when we were finally finished, and we were exhausted mentally more than physically.  There was no way we were sleeping in our disaster of a rig.  We had planned ahead and booked a hotel room for the night.  As a bonus to the day, we made it to the hotel 5 minutes before the managers special and open bar closed. We enjoyed a refreshing beverage and some chicken tenders and tried to wrap out heads around what we just did.

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Moving Day!

After getting the motorhome squared away, step two was trading in the big ‘ol truck for a smaller vehicle.  My husband did lots of research on what vehicles were the best to tow.  A very handy website, http://www.motorhome.com/download-dinghy-guides/ produces annual publications with vehicles for each year that are able to be flat towed. A flat towed vehicle has all four wheels on the ground.  We decided that a Jeep was the best option for us.  It tows easily and is cool looking too.  Florida has a ridiculous amount of Jeeps for sale.  We had many options to choose from.  Our desire was to find something that we could ride around comfortably in but also wouldn’t be afraid to take down a rough road and beat it up a little.  We found the perfect Jeep for us and are excited to be roaming once again very soon.  Now we just need to rig it up for flat towing.

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Our new smaller adventure vehicle

We did not think we would be doing anything like this, especially so soon into our adventure.  After only a few days in our new motorhome, we are so thankful we did.  Surprisingly, the layout is quite homey, and we are all enjoying the new space.   Our thought was we could keep on traveling with the truck and trailer and make do, or we could make the switch, and move on.  It was like ripping off a band-aid.  We both felt it needed to be done and it was the right path for our family, it was just going to hurt to do it.  Moving from our home to the fifth-wheel was a challenge, and this was no different.  We adapted to the change and it became normal for us at that time.  Moving into the motor home feels the same way.  The living space has been reduced once again, but it is quickly becoming normal.  Our travel options have expanded, and we are excited to see how far we can go!

We Will Figure This Out Eventually

October 19th.  When the day finally arrived for us to hit the road, we could hardly wait.  The frost had arrived and the snow was threatening to show up at any moment.  We were eager to head south and seek out a warmer climate.

The route for our first week as nomads was to travel south through Wisconsin and make our way over to Ohio.  This allowed us to reconnect with family members that were long overdue a visit. Looking back, it is always surprising how life quickly becomes busy.  We tend to get wrapped up in our own lives and priorities. It is easy to become complacent and not make an effort to see family and friends that are far away.  It was so wonderful spending time reconnecting, hearing stories from long ago, learning about family members we didn’t know about and exposing the kids to where they came from and who they are.  We enjoyed spending a few days and not feel rushed through a quick visit. We do regret that it has taken so long to make it happen. If you have something on your to do list like this, schedule it.  Today! You won’t regret it, you will only regret not doing it.

Our fifth wheel home spent the majority of its time parked in one spot this summer.  This was a great way to transition from a sticks and bricks home to living in a camper.  This let us ease into this new lifestyle, get used to living in smaller spaces and figure out the mechanics of a home on wheels.  Our knowledge base has expanded now that we have a few thousand miles under our belt. Here are some rules of the road for us.

  • Use Google Maps when route planning.  In the past the Waze app was my go to gps.  Now that we are close to 60 feet long, the faster routes that Waze likes to give, are not necessarily big rig friendly.  Even using Google Maps, we have found ourselves on some roads that were a little to curvy and cozy for our comfort level.
  • Stick to the planned route.  Do not be lured into that civil war battle ground location sign.  Let your navigator troubleshoot the route before the driver gets impulsive.  It may lead you into the hills of Kentucky. On a side note we did find some roads that would be fun on a motorcycle.
  • Certain places allow rv’s to park overnight for no charge.  It is a best practice to contact the manager of where you stay at and ask permission.  This is an option for time in between campgrounds to save both money and time. Before hitting the road we were aware that Walmart and Cabela’s may be a good option for a quick night’s rest.  What we did not know was that the some of the Walmart’s do not allow you to put your slides out when parked. This is a problem for us. We are not able to access anything other than the master bedroom and bathroom without putting our slides out.  Since we started driving more, we discovered that Cracker Barrel restaurants, truck stops and some rest areas are also options. Cracker Barrel has a section designated for buses and rv’s to park. Unfortunately, we are often too large to fit in these spots.   Truck stops have worked out all right for us too. We read the reviews on the truck stop beforehand to make sure it’s a good, safe spot. We found a helpful app to use is Trucker Path. The biggest negative we have found with sleeping in a truck stop is that they are quite noisy.  Trucks are coming and going at all hours of the night and morning. It is a good option when we have a long way to go and a short time to get there.
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Our most recent truck stop parking spot.
  • Meal planning is very important for when we plan our driving days.  As we travel throughout the day, we can’t exactly run through a drive through to get our meals.  Also, eating out can become expensive very quickly. Having a plan for each meal is important. We try to pack up and pull out of campgrounds around 10:30-11:00 a.m.  We don’t want to pull over and stop soon after leaving to eat lunch. Therefore, I try and pack snacks and lunches, especially for the kids, to last for at least 2 hours after we depart.  We try to arrive at our destination later afternoon or early evening. I make sure we either have leftovers or something easy to prepare for the first meal in a new location. Traveling all day is not exactly labor intensive, but it is amazing how tired we are at the end of the day.  We really don’t feel like cooking too much. Having something ready to go tempers the temptation of trying the local pizza delivery options.
  • We did not make any future campground reservations prior to our initial departure. This was in part to not knowing my husbands work schedule in advance, and we also did not want to be too restricted.  Not knowing where exactly we were going and planning about a month in advance was the plan. Since we left Wisconsin so late in the season, we found that many campgrounds were closing for the season. As a result, we decided to head south quickly.  We are part of a few Facebook groups that are about fulltime families like us. It seems like this lifestyle is becoming very popular. Baby boomers retiring and the ability for people to work remotely has created a boom in the RV industry. This leads to more people wanting to camp.  From what we hear campgrounds are filling up much faster than they used to. This is presenting a challenge, but we have still been able to find some very nice locations to hang out.
  • My biggest pet peeve since hitting the road is recycling.  I always try to recycle when I can and it has become quite difficult while on the road.  From Wisconsin to Florida, there was only one campground that had a recycling bin and it was only for cans.  Thankfully, our current campground is better.

Overall the past few weeks on the road we have put on many miles and gained many memories. We have reconnected with family and reconnected with each other.  There have been tense moments, times when Fred thought mom and dad may actually argue about something, moments when we have questioned what the heck we are doing and moments where we were so thankful for what we are doing. This is only the beginning of our journey. So far, so good and no regrets.

 

Time to Get Moving

Our summer of leisurely staying in one place is coming to an end. Very soon the time will be coming to start heading south. Not soon enough for my tastes, but a few commitments are holding us in the north a little while longer. Seeing the vibrant fall colors are making the delayed departure worth it. We have enjoyed being near family and friends this summer. We will miss them when we go but excited for the adventures to come.

Our summer has been quiet and laid back, hence the lack of blog posts but that is alright. We have been enjoying the slower pace of life and the Northwoods of Wisconsin. We did embark on one big exciting adventure this summer that bears mentioning. We took our first family trip across the Pacific Ocean, to Australia. We traveled in August during Australia’s winter. A few days were spent in Sydney taking in the sights along the harbor. It was warm during the day and cool at night. It felt like spring except the trees were without leaves. We then traveled to the warmth on the northern coast to a city called Cairns. It was much warmer and more tropical in the north. Seems odd, since it is opposite of what we are used to, but that is how it works in the southern hemisphere. While in Cairns, we took a once in a lifetime opportunity to snorkel the Great Barrier Reef. Australia was an amazing experience. It felt like another world with the beautiful blue water, koalas, parrots instead of seagulls, giant fruit bats, exotic looking fish and trees along with a few deserted beaches. Thankfully, it was not stinger season (jellyfish). We also avoided the salt water crocodiles, meter long worms, poisonous snakes, spiders, stingrays and the many other creatures that can kill you in Australia.

During the previous school year homeschooling went very well. We did feel there were things that we could change or do better. Before starting this new school year, I researched many different types of curriculum. There wasn’t anything particularly wrong with what we were using last year. The main problem was the large volume of books required. It was not conducive to living in a camper. Within a homeschool Facebook group that I am a member of, I found an online program called Acellus. After reviewing it, I was quite excited since this was exactly what I was looking for, but then I saw the price. Acellus is an accredited academy that’s designed for charter schools to use. This accredited program is very robust and all inclusive. Thankfully, the school has developed an unaccredited version, Power Homeschool. This condensed version has the same quality of content at a much more manageable price point. We have been using the program for a month now and are very happy with it. The Power Homeschool program has video lessons taught by actual teachers. This program uses quizzes and tests to check the student’s comprehension. It will then adjust their lessons topics as needed. One of my favorite parts of the program is that I can track their progress on my phone or laptop computer. Through the parent portal I can see what they are working on and their scores. I can see there are a few areas that we need to supplement with additional materials. We are loving the program and it suits our lifestyle very well. Most importantly, Red and Fred enjoy their lessons. It is fun to have them share their new facts and knowledge with us.

Being in northern Wisconsin means that it gets cold early and it seems like it is cold extra early this year. Perhaps, I am extra sensitive because I am eager to stay ahead of the frost. We will begin our travels on October 19th and start working our way south. As of right now we have our route planned through the end of October. It is difficult to book our campsites any further out due to my husband’s work schedule. We will know what our next month’s schedule will hold for us around the 15th of the current month. This leads us to have a general plan for the upcoming month, and a finalized plan after the 15th. For October, we will make our way through Wisconsin, Illinois, Indiana and part of Ohio. After Ohio, our plan is to work our way east to the Atlantic Ocean. We will then travel the coast through South Carolina, Georgia, parts of Florida and along the Gulf. The only campground we have reserved beyond October is in Texas for the month of February. My in-laws from Wisconsin will also be down there during that time. As you can see we have flexibility in our plans. It will be an adventure to see where we end up and what we will discover along the way.

 

Sorry For The Delay As We Reconstruct Our Lives

Well, we did it!  We sold our home and are homeless in the traditional sense, but not really.  We now have a nice home, it just happens to be on four wheels.  The past few months have been a whirlwind of activity.  These past few days have been the first few days, that we have been at rest in over 2 months, hence the delay.

We officially signed the papers to sell our house on May 11th.  Anyone who has sold a house before knows that the days and weeks leading up to the closing are very busy.  Also, no matter how prepared you are, the last day or two is always a crazy mad rush to the finish line.  I have moved several times in the past, but nothing had prepared me to move from 2,500 square feet to only 450 square feet.  (In the scope of camper living space, we really do have a lot of room.) In the months prior to moving into the camper, I spent a lot of time downsizing and planning how to fit all of our belongings into a much smaller living space.  Those who use campers for recreational use only need to take with them enough items for a short period of time.  We need to take everything we may possibly need while on the road within the weight and space limits of the trailer!  I attempted to prepare as much as I could prior to taking possession of the camper, but there was only so much I could do without actually being in it.  The plan was to have the camper in our possession for at least a month prior to closing on our house. A month would allow us enough time to leisurely move into the camper and ensure that everything had a home, as well as being organized.  Due to the location of our house, we were unable to park the camper on our property.  We made arrangements to park it at a nearby storage facility.  Having a home in Wisconsin makes a person cautiously optimistic regarding the timing of the spring thaw.  Well, Mother Nature and I were not on the same page this spring.  We had several significant snow storms all the way into mid-April along with cold temperatures.  We had to then wait for the snow to melt in order to access our camper.  This extended winter left us with a very short window to make the transition.  Somehow, we managed to sell what we needed to sell, fill the camper with our necessities and cram everything else into our storage unit and hit the road on the date we planned.

We closed on our house on a Friday.  That Friday also happened to be the opening weekend of the campground we would be staying at for the summer.  Being the newbies that we are, we didn’t really feel like practicing our driving and camp making skills in front of everyone at the campground.  Therefore, we parked in a family members driveway for the weekend and decided to “move in” to our summer site on the following Monday.  Prior to seeing our designated site on that Monday, we had only seen it via google earth and on one very snowy day in late winter during an on-site visit.  Thankfully, it is a very nice site.  We are in a quiet corner of the campground and have been very happy with our location since moving in.  There is a large park that has been keeping the kids busy nonstop and lots of kids to play with on the weekends.  The campground is very family-orientated and we feel that it will be the perfect spot for us to transition into this lifestyle.  The kids have been missing their friends, but have been making new ones, which has helped them cope with the big transition.

Something we have noticed developing since moving into the campground is that the kids have grown in their confidence to do things on their own.  Due to our feeling that the campground is so safe, we have allowed the kids more freedom than we ever would have in our previous neighborhood.  They feel comfortable to go for bike rides, play at the park and also in the rec room all by themselves.  The thing they like to do that has given us the most joy is to see them pick up their fishing poles and go fishing for an hour or two by themselves.  They work together to put worms on their hooks and take the fish off.  Most often they keep a walkie-talkie with them so that we can keep in touch.

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Off to catch a big fish or “Big Bessie” the snapping turtle

Following the sale of our house, it seems like we have been constantly on the move even though our home has been parked in the same spot.  We selected our summer location to allow us the availability to help our family with some large summer projects. Living away from our family and friends for the past few years has made us appreciate all of the time we are able to spend with them now.

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Fred learning how to make hay bales with his Uncle

Even with all of the different things we have had going on, we have continued to fit in school.  It hasn’t necessarily been consistent on a day to day basis, but we get it in.  I was finding that it was easy to get in the subjects that they do individually (math and language arts), but the subjects that we studied together (science and history) were getting set aside more than they should.  I decided to try and use all of the time we were spending on the road more wisely.  I found these great DVD sets that covered the subjects of science and history and were much more interesting than when I was doing the teaching.  At the beginning of our school year I split the year up into 3 sections and set goals for where I wanted to be at the end of each section.  Thankfully, even with all of the chaos that has been going on in our lives we are only a few days behind.

On our agenda for the next few weeks is to do some research and planning.  Our plan after leaving Wisconsin will be to head east and then south.  As far as anything more specific… we need to figure that out and get a tentative plan together. If anyone has suggestions of places we should visit, feel free to leave a comment or send us a message.

I also need to get a plan together for how school will proceed next year.  This year I have learned a lot about how my children learn and how to be effective as a teacher.  I need to take all of this into account and figure out how the next year will proceed.

It is amazing how quickly this summer is going by and yet at times it seems to be endless.

 

Only 45 Minutes From Home

Our first adventure with our “new home” happened earlier than we anticipated.  Our little family was in the process of bringing our truck and camper to our sticks and bricks home when we had an unexpected major issue with our truck.  We were only 45 minutes from home, traveling down the highway pulling a 40-foot-long camper and lost almost all of the pulling power of our truck.  We were able to limp the truck and trailer off of the highway and into a Walmart parking lot.  Thankfully our issue happened right near an exit with a Walmart right around the corner.  Of course, this event had to happen on a Sunday evening when nothing relating to diesel repair was open.  We were able to drop the camper in the Walmart parking lot and drive the truck over to an auto parts shop. While we were there, we diagnosed that the truck needed to be seen by an expert asap and there was no way we could pull the camper.  Now what?

Well, we couldn’t leave the trailer parked in the Walmart parking lot with no one with it, so we made the decision to sleep in the trailer overnight.  Thankfully we have an onboard generator that can power the camper and allow us to have electricity and heat.  But, since the trailer is still winterized, we did not have any running water or a bathroom.  We also had an empty RV. We did not have any bedding or pillows as we had not outfitted the camper at all yet.  So, we took advantage of our proximity to Walmart and outfitted ourselves to make it through the night.

Walmart Breakdown

Once we had enough supplies to get us through the night and the morning, we headed out to dinner.  We ordered drinks to drown our sorrows or celebrate our first adventure, depends on the perspective.  The kids had kiddie cocktails and the adults enjoyed an adult beverage.  After dinner, we settled in for the night and watched a DVD from the Walmart Redbox.  I anticipated having a few issues getting the kids to sleep but they were surprisingly fine.  They had a great time looking out of their windows and falling asleep watching and listening to the semi-trucks parked all around us.  All was going well until about 2 a.m. when our generator ran out of propane.  We checked the tanks when we got there but were unable to tell how much was in them.  So, our proximity to Walmart again came in handy in allowing us to get a new propane tank.  Unfortunately, after we hooked that back up our generator decided to not work as it should.  It would run for about 30 minutes and then shut off.  Since it was about 25 degrees outside, we definitely needed electricity and had to continue to turn the generator on again frequently throughout the early morning hours.  Thankfully, the kids woke up in the morning oblivious to our issues, but the adults didn’t get much sleep after the initial propane run.

Once we were up and going in the morning, we found a shop about 20 minutes away that was able to look at our truck. Sadly, we discovered that our emissions filter was 100% clogged and needed to be replaced.  This is a VERY expensive fix, but something had to be done to resolve our problem.  We found a shop that thankfully was able to get our truck in to get worked on that evening.  Prior to dropping the truck off for repairs, we very carefully towed our trailer into a nearby parking lot that we received permission to use for the night.  Next, we dropped off the truck at the shop. We then borrowed a car from family to get home. Even though our time without was short, indoor plumbing and a hot shower are wonderful things.

Our savior of a mechanic was able to get our truck done by the next afternoon. By that evening we had our truck and camper moved to its resting place for the next month, near our sticks and bricks home.

It was a whirlwind of unexpected and stressful moments, but we are thankful for the timing.  We broke down in a safe place and close to our family that who were able to help us out.  We didn’t officially move into the camper, so we had another home to go to.  It was a good opportunity for us to reaffirm that we have the right mindset to take on this adventure and whatever may happen in the future.

The kids and the dog were great throughout the whole time and they just went with the flow. Fred woke up during one of the generator shut downs and told us, while he was half awake, “I could get used to living like this.” I think we all passed this test and are looking forward to the next adventure.

shelby-camper.jpg

You’re Doing What?!?

In the past, I have mentioned how our family has become desensitized to our sometimes out of the box ideas or very last-minute travel plans to random places.  Well…we really tested them with our new plan.  There has been this idea floating around in my husband’s head for several years now.  He has proposed it a few times to me and I have shot it down for various reasons.  This fall I was watching a YouTube episode while working out and it caused me to think about his idea again.  I thought about it for a bit, saw the potential, got excited and this time I proposed the idea:

Let’s sell our house, move into an RV and travel the country!

He was very surprised to hear this idea coming from me.  We talked about it for a while and realized that it really was something that we were interested in doing and the timing for us was perfect.  A few of the things bouncing around in our heads were:

  • The home and neighborhood that we live in are very nice, but we knew it was not the forever home for us.
  • The local housing market is definitely a seller’s market.  Now would be a good time to take advantage of that and cash out to help make this all work out.
  • We started homeschooling this year and all really enjoy it.  It should be an easy transition to take it on the road.
  • With my husband working as an airline pilot, we have some flexibility with where we can live.  We currently do not live in his base city so he commutes right now.  This involves him riding on an airline flight to his base, it is a common practice and allows a lot of freedom.  Since he is commuting already, life really wouldn’t be much different.  All we would need for him to be able to get to work is to be near an airport with airline services.

We tend to jump into things head first and then figure out things as we go.  We knew that this was a drastic life change and needed to be done slowly for both kids and adults.  By slowly transitioning into this mindset and change, we gave ourselves the opportunity to really make sure that this was something we wanted to do.  Therefore, we made this decision last fall and have been working towards the point we are at right now.

We have gone back and forth and back and forth again about what kind of RV we wanted to have.  After lots of research, talking with others, touring units and working out a budget, we decided to go with a fifth wheel trailer and truck.  We have now purchased a camper and truck and will be bringing them home soon to start getting it ready to live in.  We went a bit bigger than we initially planned to. But, in the end, we decided it was going to be our home and we would enjoy a few house-like comforts.  We ended up getting a model with a bunkhouse in the rear portion to allow the kids to have their own space with room for all of their stuff.

Truck and Camper

Speaking of stuff, we really had a lot of it!  I have been slowly whittling down the amount we have.  Once we made this decision, the “stuff” in our home was looked at differently and we realized that we didn’t need a lot of it.  There were so many things that we had kept because we might use it again or because we have so much space in our house to fill.  Going from 2,800 sq. feet to about 300 sq. feet will be a big change.  We are putting things in a storage unit, but I’ve been trying really hard to let go of things that do not have a specific purpose.

The last step to make this process happen was to sell our house.  We finished all of the projects that we had kept putting off and listed the house this past week.  Due to the craziness of the housing market in our area, we were able to sell our home in four days!

The puzzle pieces are all clicking into place and we will be setting off on our adventure very soon.  When explaining our plan to others, we typically get asked where are we going to go?  Well, our first stop will be in Northern Wisconsin for the summer to help my family with their own major housing change.  They will be moving out of a home that they have been in for 30+ years and be building a new home.  We will be there to help with the transition and construction.  This will allow us time to adjust to camper life before setting off around the country.  I have a feeling we may overpack the camper initially.  After this summer…we are not exactly sure.  We have narrowed it down to south/southeast.  We will see where life takes us and figure it out as we go.

Don’t Be Afraid to Choose Adventure is our family motto and we will definitely be going on an adventure.  Even the cat and the dog will be joining us on this adventure.  We have had many discussions about should we or shouldn’t we do this.  In the end, we keep coming to the conclusion – Why Not?  Life is about the risks you take and the memories you make.  We are going to make some memories exploring and seeking out some of the amazing things our country has to offer.  If you have any recommendations for our future journey, feel free to throw your ideas in the comment section below!

Grand Plans & Schedules

Going into the adventure of homeschooling, I had many of ideas for how it would be.  My main objective was and is to travel often, experience different parts of the country and world and have us all learn some things along the way.  We have been very fortunate to take several trips this year.  Regrettably, the majority of these trips have been quite short; lasting only a day or two.  While I am thankful to have had these opportunities, these short trips have made it difficult to do any actual educating while we are in a new location.

I am someone that likes to have a schedule of what is happening and when.  So, of course, starting out the school year I had a plan.  We would do school in the morning and then the rest of the day we would finish what wasn’t accomplished in the morning or we were free to do whatever else.  That plan worked for a few weeks.  Soon we started to really embrace homeschooling.  I went into this thinking I needed to structure our “classroom time” like a normal public school.  We began our day out with together doing a daily planner, then Red and Fred did their individual work at the same time as I went back and forth between them teaching and helping as needed.  We found out that working like that did not work well for us.  Red & Fred are much more productive and there is less resistance, tears and arguing when they do their school work separately.  I am able to devote myself to each child during each of their school time.  Removing the distraction of having the other child nearby, has made a big difference for us.  By having peace and quiet and me all to themselves, our classroom time has become much more relaxed and constructive.

In addition to switching up how we lay out our school day, we have also changed when we do school.  I have learned to become more laid back (which is a bit difficult to do).  My kids are typically ready to do school after lunch.  They seem to have the best attitudes at that time.  But, some days are different and we end up doing some school in the morning or at night.   We try and let them determine when the best time is to complete their schoolwork.  This self-coordinating promotes a sense of responsibility and accountability.  Sometimes they do not complete their work because they didn’t want to at the time, or they didn’t factor in enough time to complete the task.  When they return to their schoolwork the next day they realize it hasn’t gone away just because they didn’t do it.  The work will always be there waiting for them later, so they might as well get it done when it is assigned.   They also love to surprise me by sneaking into the classroom and doing what they can in their workbooks without me.  This is a wonderful surprise and I love when they take the initiative to do what they know needs to get done for that day.  I’m not going to lie; this surprise is sometimes followed by a request to do something fun that they know is not possible without getting their school work done first.  As parents, we have tried to teach our kids that before asking to do something, it is important to look at the big picture and see what needs to be accomplished before something else is possible.  It can be as simple as helping to clean up from dinner before we can play a game or doing school before going to play with friends.  There are many “life” skills that children need to learn before becoming adults.  We hope to really be able to build up those skills in all of the time that we get to spend together.

***Stay tuned for our next blog post that is going to introduce our new adventure.  It is going to allow us to spend much more time exploring and educating in different locations!

 

A Note from the Principal (a.k.a Dad)

Red and Fred refer to me as the principal, although I do very little to warrant this title. My wife does 97% of the work supporting our homeschool. My three percent contribution stems from teaching when I am able, recess and reminding the kids that their mom is their teacher and she deserves respect. I cannot take credit for the direction of this journey we are on, but I am more than happy to accompany Red, Fred, and the Teacher, as we figure it all out.

My acceptance of the possibility that we could provide an education that would be as good as the public-school system was gradual. But I am pleased to report that my confidence in our ability to succeed as a family is growing as we work together through this first year. Lately, I have felt more connected to Red and Fred. I believe this connection is because I am more aware of what they are learning about. Another perk is that I am learning, and relearning, with them throughout the school day. It is a pleasure to look at the world around us together and find ways to apply what we are learning. I consider our family to be very lucky to have this opportunity. I look forward to the day when Red and Fred become my teachers but, I fear that day will come before my pride is ready.

Let’s Tackle the Question on Everyone’s Mind

What about socialization? This question is the most common question I field after I inform someone that we are homeschooling. Sometimes it is followed by an example of a homeschooled child that was just a little “different” or couldn’t function very well in the real world. This is a justified question and a valid concern, but who is to say this is a result of the child being homeschooled? Many factors and influences go into the development of an individual. We are electing to have a little more influence and control over those factors, hopefully for the best, but that is yet to be determined. We do our best to socialize Red and Fred in any way we can. We frequently attend museums, go to church, and participate in our local YMCA’s homeschool gym and swim program with other kids. We also travel a lot. During these travel times, we encourage the kids to be brave and talk with others. There have been times while traveling on airplanes when we don’t always get to sit next to one another. The kids have then ended up engaging in small talk with their new seat partner. It is fun to hear the stories they come back to us with. One of my favorite memories of Red was when we were in Scotland. We met a woman walking her dog, while we were in a park. We ended up all walking in the same direction for a while. Red walked next to this woman and had a long conversation about what kind of dog she had, what she did for work, what life was like in Scotland and much more that was lost in her short report back to us. It was a great moment to see her striking up a dialogue unprompted by us. Fred is a little more cautious, but still randomly surprises us with his willingness to talk with strangers and other kids. A challenge we can see ahead is to not become homebodies. Although we do get out often, I think we are all introverted and would be just as happy hanging out around the house. I have no fears regarding Red and Fred’s socialization. It is not something that we ignore, but we also will not force it.

Before we considered homeschooling, we were concerned with lack of social interaction that would result from taking our children out of the public-school system. After we committed to the idea of keeping the kids at home, I had images in my mind of our kids staring out the window each morning crying at the sight of the other neighborhood kids boarding up the bus for another fun day at school. Even though last year, as the bus approached the bus stop, we would be running around the house arguing about getting dressed in whatever themed clothing was necessary for the day; getting their shoes tied; finishing last-minute homework; packing lunches, backpacks and snow gear; forcing food into their mouths and anything else that became an emergency situation as the bus entered the neighborhood and made its way to our house. There were many mornings where I was not the ideal parent. I was not patient. I was not kind. There was a lot of pressure to get them out of the door on time and that would typically result in raised voices on both sides and a half-hearted hug before they ran out the door. No matter what we did to make the mornings easier, there still was a feeling of being rushed during those last few minutes of the morning. Was this the image we wanted our kids to have of us while they were away at school? This concern was often in our thoughts after the house was quiet once again.  Returning to my fear of the kids crying at the window, that fear was unfounded. This year the kids are not sitting at the window crying, they are not fighting with us about what they should be wearing and I am patient and kind.

 

Something we have noticed missing from not being in public-school is the social drama of playground antics. The kids seem to be much less stressed out. We still have conflicts about book reports that need to be completed, expectations of what work needs to be done and sometimes household chores, but these are minor compared to what came home from school last year. Red and Fred seem to be very happy and worry-free. They are not concerned with who said what about who, or who is doing what to who. I find it hard to see the benefit of them having to deal with these situations at this age. I agree that kids need to learn to cope with certain situations. We do not intend to shelter our children in any way. We hope they will be able to make informed decisions based off of their thoughts and feelings, rather than what is expected of them from others. We as parents are trying to instill common sense, empathy, kindness and conflict resolution techniques by setting good examples.  We hope that these types of social skills will serve them well in the future.

 

Whirlwind Trip to Scotland

For as long as I can remember, I have been intrigued by castles and their history.  Due to this interest, my children have grown up surrounded by books featuring castles and watching documentaries about that time period.  They endured and over the years developed their own fascination regarding the culture, history, and lifestyle of the time period surrounding these mid-evil structures.

Red and Fred have been fortunate to fly all over the United States.  Red has had a fear of flying over an ocean for the last few years.  She has finally overcome that fear and we figured it was time to expand the travel beyond our continent. So, we set about planning a new adventure.  We made sure to dedicate a lot of time to the planning this trip.  Not!  We decided in late September to make a trip to Scotland during the first week of October.  We would only be in the country for 2 ½ days, but that’s plenty of time for a few adventures. We can sleep on the plane, right?  We are known for being a bit spontaneous when it comes to travel, so leaving only two weeks to plan and not spending much time there was not out of the ordinary.  We have been getting a lot less, “You’re doing what?!?”, and more sighs and okays as our families have slowly gotten used to our whims of adventure.

My plan for homeschooling and travel is to teach a topic and then visit a location that allows us to combine the previous education with hands-on experience.  Since my kids have been learning about castles their whole lives, I figured that Scotland and the wealth of castles and culture available were a perfect learning opportunity.  Prior to leaving, we made sure to spend extra time reading all of the books we owned regarding castles.  We have several really neat lift-the-flap books that are great learning tools.  We also spent some time at the library reading many of the books that they had.

Our plan for the trip was to rent a car and drive around a small portion of the country to see as many castles as possible.  I booked a rental house that was in a central location to all of the areas we wanted to see.  Since my husband and I had been to Scotland previously, we were comfortable with trekking around the country and seeing what we could find.  I made a plan of the castles that I wanted to be sure to see and also made sure to leave enough time to be flexible with whatever else we may discover and find.  With such a short time there, we knew we needed to limit the number of miles we were going to cover.  Thankfully, Scotland is not a very big country.

Being in a new country where things are done a bit differently was enlightening for the kids.  One of the things that they were able to learn about was currency conversion and how different other countries money looks like.  It was quite a shock to realize that in Scotland the dollar is worth less than it is at home.  One evening while waiting for our dinner to arrive, we spent our time examining the size and shape of the coins and understanding their value.  Another thing that was a new experience was driving on the opposite side of the road.  That ended up being one of the most exciting parts of the trip for the kids.  Due to the fact that the roads are so narrow and curvy, we had quite a few exciting moments of close calls with other vehicles.  I closed my eyes a lot!

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We had a wonderful whirlwind of a trip!  We were able to explore nine castles, one abbey and find two large parks to play at.  I had grand plans of the kids keeping daily journals, but in reality, they lived in the moment and were exhausted by the end of every day.

During the school days following our trip, we went back through the castle books that we had and compared the books to what we saw.  It was truly wonderful to see their excitement correlating what they had just seen in person, to what was in the books.  We also did a few journal entries about what they saw and what they enjoyed doing.

Overall, our first trip relating to education was a success!