Tuesday, December 30, 2014

Merry Christmas!

December 25, 2014

Our family would like to take this moment to wish all of our friends and family a very Merry Christmas!  Thank you all for your support this year as we have opened this new chapter of our lives.  It has been an adventure like none imaginable and the encouragement we have received along the way has meant more to our family than we can even express. 
We hope that your Christmas is filled with joy and spent surrounded with the ones you love during this special time celebrating the One who offers hope and peace to all during every season of life.  We wish you all a beautiful, prosperous new year chasing your own crazy adventures and embracing every moment with your family.

Unleashing the Boundaries

December 4, 2014

As many of you know by now, this year we made the choice to radically change our lifestyle.  We sold almost everything (including our homes) and set out on a new path with a promise to ourselves to live life in the moment every single day.  However, this left us with a very scary reality—we would be in charge of our children’s education.  It didn’t take long for us to realize that there is a huge difference between sending your kids off to school, helping with occasional homework, to being fully responsible for all they learn day in and day out.  It also didn’t take long to realize that by sending our kids to school we had been missing out on a huge portion of their development and growth.  Roadschooling has put us face to face with our kids and who they are becoming as individuals.    
Both Tyler and Haley have so much potential, but they don’t always see it.  It became evident that our focus this year would be beyond teaching them core subjects, we would show them that they are absolutely capable of anything.  We finally had the time and energy to pour into them and their interests and they had the time and energy to pursue their interests without any boundaries.  The world around them would be their playground and platform of inspiration and we would be their cheerleaders.
Previous to full time travel, they were stuck in the typical routine of go to school, perform well enough to bring home decent grades, and then come home to play video games or whatever they chose to do to escape the mundane routine the rest of the day.  This led to no real ambition for any particular hobby or subject.  This was the consuming life we all lived with no purpose whatsoever.  Going through the motions.
We soon found that with roadschooling, books weren’t necessarily the challenge.  The real challenge was for our kids to discover who they were as individuals.  What makes them tick?  What puts wind in their sails?  What do they want out of life?  What dreams would they like to fulfill?  What kinds of things do they want to learn about?  How do they want to make their mark in the world?  No longer are we teaching them basic skills at age 11 and 13, we are presented with a much harder job as they wander through the most pivotal time of their lives—middle school.  As parents, we are their main support as they blossom into young adults.  As daunting as it may seem, we realized that we were the guides they are looking to as they grow and develop.  No pressure, but we are teaching them how to lead their very own lives and fulfill their dreams.  During our travels it has become obvious that this might be a bigger and much more important task than teaching them Algebra or History.  At what point did they go from being precious little children to growing into young adults?  So this is our new challenge, one that we openly embrace as parents.  We, (not a school, a teacher, a relative or anyone else), WE alone are responsible for molding our kids into independent thinkers who are self-motivated, filled with hope and have confidence to pursue their passions. 
Roadschooling has enabled us to reach an entirely new caliber of learning, but not the core curriculum kind.  It goes way beyond books.  Our growing teen and tween are learning about who they are, their passions, how interesting learning really can be through real life living.  This type of life opens up hands on learning, where we are all learning things together about our country’s history, science, influential historical figures, economics, agriculture, charitable organizations…you name it we are learning about it!  Through our time roadschooling, we hope that the one major thing our kids learn is that they can accomplish anything they choose.  If they see a need in the world, THEY can solve the problem or address the need.  If they don't, who will?  We are cheering them on to reach beyond their wildest dreams.  They are brilliant and capable of anything they choose.  And that, my friends, they won’t learn in a book.
School doesn’t always offer an environment that keeps a child intrigued or nurtures his or her talents or natural abilities.  It is kind of a one-size-fits-all of required subjects that you either pass or fail.  Is it really about learning at all?  It seemed to us that school was teaching them to jump through the necessary hoops to graduate.  It wasn't about learning all they wanted to learn or molding them into the distinct individuals they are.  It felt more like we were putting them through a factory where they needed to fit into a particular mold.  Tyler and Haley are both very different in their learning styles.  The classroom isn’t geared toward each child’s unique passion for learning or the innate curiosity that a child naturally holds.  Our kids aren’t merely lemmings trying to pass a grade or measure up to some invisible standard society sets, they are creative young minds eager to learn.  We don’t want them to be bound by the mentality that there are boundaries to learning.  There are no boundaries to learning or what someone can achieve.  We don’t want anything suppressing their creativity and individuality.  What should they learn, you may ask?  Anything their heart desires!  This new freedom is something we are all getting used to every day.  Roadschooling is anything but acquiring a grade.  It’s about an environment where there is no distinction of where learning ends and living begins.  Everything in life is a learning process that is used to cultivate who we are as individuals.  Learning should be a choice not a demand.  Life should be a journey not a destination. 
In roadschooling, above all, we want them to realize that the sky is the limit and to embrace this life that God has given us with everything inside of them.  Our message to them is to live a life fueled by love, to always strive for excellence in everything and never be scared to live outside the boundaries society sets.  Life is bigger than that. 

Speed Bumps

November 24, 2014

Thanksgiving is in less than one week.  Wow.  The holidays definitely snuck up on us this year.  We have totally lost track of the seasons with our travels.  We’ll be in one state enjoying summer, then the next state enjoying fall, then back again to enjoying summer…well, you get the idea.  How can anyone keep up with seasons when bouncing between them?  I think in our original plans we were supposed to be in sunny, southern Arizona by now.  Ha, original plans.  Have we been able to stick to any plan, yet?  I guess that brings us to now.  We are still in Texas and we haven’t even made it to the central part of the state.  I wish that I could say that this slowdown was all in our new grand plan, but it wasn’t.  We hit a few “speed bumps” this month.  I guess we were due, since it has been pretty smooth sailing up until this point. 
Alright, so we made it to our new hometown of Livingston only to find out that our trailer would need to be inspected and the right side tail light wasn’t working.  No problem.  It can’t be that hard of a fix, can it?  It would obviously be the easy, cheap fix, right?  The four dollar bulb.  Um, no.  Of course that would have been too easy, what were we thinking?  How about replacing the connector from the trailer to the car?  That for sure has to be it, because our previous one had gotten pinched.  Off to the store to get a new cord.  Tom spent hours under the trailer only to find out that wasn’t it either.  Although, now we have a nice new un-pinched cord and Tom has a permanently cricked neck.  Well, after what felt like fifteen trips to Wal-Mart and Tom spending the entire day under the trailer attempting to re-wire while working on his neck injury, that also was a failed attempt.  Next step, calling every RV repair person possible only to find out we couldn’t get an appointment for another ten days to even have it looked at.  Frustration starts creeping in at this point.  Oh, and it gets better.  The week before, our gas stovetop stopped working.  Thank goodness for electric ovens and outdoor grills, we haven’t gone hungry!  (It still doesn’t work by the way.)  Luckily the Camping World in Houston gave us an appointment, so we enjoyed a week-long trip to the beach in Galveston waiting it out.  (I guess there could be worse places to wait it out after all.) 
During our time near the big city we were able to visit the Johnson Space Center, home of the famous command center, which was completely awesome. 
We also made our way out to the U.S.S. Texas navy battleship and spent the entire school day exploring this historical icon. 
We never have anywhere to be, so what’s the point in feeling rush or stressed by any uncontrollable circumstances?  Actually, we enjoyed a fabulous week seeing the sights and enjoying ourselves at the beach that we probably would have otherwise skipped.  Not such a bad turn of events after all.  I think we all needed a change of scenery and the beach was a perfect place to unwind. 
Kayaking in the marsh while watching pink flamingos and herons fly over, playing in the waves, running on the beach, watching the sunrise over the horizon…even when our life hits bumps, how can we complain?  Life really is good. 
We did, however, finally make it to Camping World three hours late for our appointment due to unforeseen traffic (we forgot what rush hour looked like in a big city!).  Unfortunately, only to find out this entire time nothing was wrong with our trailer and it would have passed inspection perfectly back in Livingston.  Nice.  A blown fuse in our truck was the issue.  Go figure.  Knowledge really is power, kids.  And despite what some people may think, no, the internet doesn’t hold all the answers.  My husband and I exchanged some looks of “you live, you learn” as we drove away and then chalked it up to a nice time at the beach.  It really could have been so much worse! 
It led us to reminisce about many of our other smaller speed bumps along the way.  Our very first campground we missed our turn and found ourselves winding up the mountain where Tom had to find a way to U-turn.  That will break you in to the full time RV lifestyle real fast!  Then, everyone by now should know about our chigger experience in Tennessee and the misery of the week stuck in the Land Between the Lakes.  Or even our bike ride on the trail known as the “Devil’s Backbone” that almost left us stranded in the woods.  It doesn’t stop there.  In Michigan, we decided to walk to the Soo Locks from our campground.  Well as everyone knows, we take our dog everywhere with us especially to places where there is an outdoor park.  The staff at our campground assured us that it was within walking distane, so we walked and walked and, well, about 4 miles later we arrived.  Unfortunately, after arriving, we quickly found out that dogs weren’t allowed in the park!  What kind of place doesn’t allow dogs in a grassy, public park?  So we walked all that way without even seeing the Soo Locks at all.  We sang the “bottles of milk on the wall” song all the way back and laughed about getting our exercise for the day and seeing the town of Sault St. Marie on foot.  In Hot Springs we had a similar experience staying in the National Park and finding ourselves hiking into town to eat only to realize that after finishing our meal it would mean hiking back in the dark.  It wasn’t ideal, but we spent the entire time in the woods spooking and scaring each other all the way back to our trailer.  I could go on about the many other silly situations we have gotten ourselves into, but the real point is that it is all part of the memory making experience.  Adventures aren’t always rosy, but they are always memorable.  Texas has been an adventure already.  Who knows how long it might take us to journey across this great state, but we will eventually make it, speed bumps and all. 

More Than the Ringing of Bells

November 4, 2014

As our journey continued, we made our way to Tyler, Texas.  The week before heading to Tyler we contacted the volunteer coordinator with the city to seek out opportunities in hopes of lending a hand while we were in town.  Immediately we received a response back from Jennifer, the volunteer coordinator, at the Salvation Army of Tyler, Texas.  She enthusiastically invited us to meet with her when we arrived and we discussed some possibilities where we could contribute.
We arrived to meet her first thing Monday morning at the Salvation Army of Tyler's campus.  We found her energy and passion nothing less than contagious.  She welcomed us with open arms and introduced us to the entire team that we would be serving with for the day.  We learned that this organization does so much more than we ever realized.  They are more than just ringing bells at the store front during the Christmas season, they are truly changing lives.  Everything from the Angel Tree Kids at Christmas, which helps around 1,000 families in the Smith County area, to taking food out into the community to feed the hungry, they are committed to our communities across America and in 126 countries!  We learned that this organization began over 150 years ago in England as a man, William Booth, saw the homeless and hungry and decided to act.  He believed that he alone could impact the lives of others and did so by making soup in a big kettle to serve in the street.  This kettle would soon be a recognizable icon for the Salvation Army among communities, keeping it in touch with its roots and humble beginnings.  This “not so” random act of kindness by one man, William Booth, launched a worldwide effort to care for the less fortunate in our communities.  Their mission “doing the most good,” is a mission we could all live by, and we were blessed to have had the opportunity to work with such a wonderful organization. 
Our family had the privilege of helping with the Angel Tree project.  We organized the tags of every girl in the community that would have a Christmas blessing because of the generosity of the Smith County community.  While we have never met any of these children, we somehow felt connected to each name we read.  We talked as a family during this process about how humble their wants were, how their needs were things we take for granted, and how so many families have so little.  
After finishing up with the Angel Tree tags, our gracious host, Jennifer, guided us on a detailed tour of their impressive facility.  Tyler’s Salvation Army is unusual in the sense that their facility is rather large for such a small town.  We saw everything from the chapel that offers full services including a coffee shop, dorms that house over 220 homeless individuals, food bank/donation center, retail store and classrooms for the various after school programs they provide to the children of the community.  They even offer an inpatient substance abuse program, which offers a high rate of success.  To say we were blown away would be an understatement.  The variety and the level of services they offer are world class and it is evident when speaking with the staff, the many other volunteers, and conversations with the many people this organization serves. 
The tour of the facilities led us to the soup kitchen, where we would have the privilege of serving lunch.  This was our first opportunity in a soup kitchen and we were all very excited and eager to serve.  We all had a part to do, working the line, serving drinks and assisting with trays. 
This was also a great opportunity to have one on one conversations with some members of the community that benefit from the services of the Salvation Army.  For us, seeing firsthand the people of the community and their appreciation for these services was touching.  Working side by side we were able to see how the volunteers and staff had hearts that were dedicated to reflecting God’s love and mission. 
However, we were caught a little off guard when we were welcomed by the local news crew to interview us.  While our pleasant hosts, Jennifer and Chantel, made a huge deal out of our public service by informing the news, the people serving there every day are the true heroes.  They inspired us. 
After lunch service was finished, our host took us on a tour through the town of Tyler and off to eat some infamous Texas barbeque we have heard so much about.  Stanley’s, voted top 10 best in the entire state, was the perfect place to give our taste buds a whirl with some authentic Texas barbeque.  Truly some of the best barbeque we had ever eaten and if you are ever in the area, we would highly recommend.  We were lucky to have it paired with good company and conversation.  After lunch, Jennifer escorted us on a tour through some of the historical districts of Tyler, as well as some of the communities that the organization she is so passionate about serves.  It’s a charming little town with lot of unique character.
When we arrived back at the campus, we were able to put some of our former retail experience to work at the retail store.  Sorting through donations, restocking shelves, straightening and even helping a few customers were some of our duties for the afternoon.  We, ourselves, couldn’t leave empty handed as we discovered all the great reading material and even a great telescope for our star gazing out west. 
The beauty of our travels comes down to the relationships we have built and friendships we have made.  That is what makes this trek across America special and mean so much more than being merely “tourists.”  We love seeing the sights and history, enjoying the miracle of nature, but in every state, we have been welcomed with open arms by strangers and have been introduced to the people that are changing this world.  We have been honored to have a small part in it.  This is giving our family a completely new perspective.  We no longer watch the news and stay in our home, wishing the world would change and wondering if there is any good left.  Our family is finally out seeking the good happening every day and there is SO much good happening that gets overlooked by the pure evil that unfortunately is much more broadcasted to the world.   

Every Conversation Opens a New Door

October 28, 2014

After a restful stop and meeting new friends in Branson, Missouri, our journey carried us southward into the historic town of Hot Springs, Arkansas.  Hot Springs is best known for its natural thermal springs, elegant bathhouses dating back to the early 20th century and was even the boyhood home of former President Bill Clinton.  For us, Hot Springs will be known for Julie. 
When we arrive at new destinations along the way, we usually tend to keep a keen eye out for local stores and supermarkets, a place where we can restock our much needed supplies and by doing so it gives us an opportunity to mingle with the locals.  In Hot Springs we went to a small regional chain of grocery stores to shop.  This is where we met Julie.
Soon after filling our buggy with a few sale items and the essential supplies we were looking for, we headed to the checkout to make our exit.  As we were coming to the front, as we typically do, we were spying the checkout lanes for the easiest escape route and headed to the only register with no customers in line.  The cashier greeted us with a smile and some pleasantries as she began scanning the items in the shopping cart.  Usually when we find ourselves in these settings we like to ask about the area and what there is to do.  Although our cashier didn’t have much to offer outside of the touristy stuff, because she wasn’t originally from the area, it did open up a conversation about what brought her to Hot Springs. 
Julie was originally from a small town in north Arkansas.  It wasn’t long before she revealed to us the reason she moved to Hot Springs.  Julie was facing some serious health issues, issues that were potentially life threatening.  Thankfully, Hot Springs offered her the medical attention that she needed to recover.  And although it was a long, hard recovery process (including learning to walk again), she did recover.  And as she claimed, God was definitely looking out for her and helped her through the entire journey. 
When we were fortunate enough to run into Julie that day, it had only been five days since she had been able to return to work.  Five days.  How cool is that?  She couldn’t hide her gratefulness for the opportunity to stand behind that cash register and graciously serve every customer with a welcoming smile, positive attitude and friendly conversation.  We were blessed to meet her that day.  Amazing how opportunities can present themselves when your heart is in the right place.  Before even exiting the store, we were brimming with excitement and plotting what we could do for Julie.  It just so happens, we were in Hot Springs, Arkansas.  In the early 20th century, these natural thermal hot springs were routed into these elegant bathhouses and used as health spas, not only for the rich and famous, but were also medically prescribed to ailing patients by doctors.  It was obvious what we needed to do.  The next day we headed to bathhouse row and proceeded to purchase a certificate from Buckstaff, one of the still existing original bathhouses left on this infamous row.
Unfortunately, Julie wasn’t at the store at the time we meant to give her this small gift.  So we left it with the customer service manager, along with some kind words about Julie and proceeded along our way.  It wasn’t long before Julie responded back to us, thankful that we were thinking of her and of course for the certificate to the bathhouse.  Truth is, we were the ones who were thankful just to have the opportunity to meet Julie.  She is an inspiration to our family.   

It's a New Day, It's a New Dawn

October 17, 2014

There is nothing quite like waking up, taking in the chirping of the birds and the calmness of a brand new day.  Cup of coffee in hand, collecting my thoughts for the day and all the while choosing how the day will soon be spent.  There is no sense of hurry, stress or worry unless I choose to find some reason to make those feelings appear.  (And, please notice I said choose.) 
I am fortunate that this is how I now spend my mornings, with a new day before me full of many possibilities.  For once I’m not relying on someone else to make up my mind for me on what the day will bring.  Unfortunately, after travelling for a little over two months, I have already started to take this for granted.  During these moments, I have to remind myself of the hussle and bussle of my past mornings, crazy mornings, where the last thing I was thankful for was waking up. 
So let me say, before our change of lifestyle, most of my mornings sure didn’t start with the chirping of the birds.  In fact, to be brutally honest, most days I didn’t even hear the darn birds at all.  And, appreciate the miracle of a new day that God had given me?  Um, yeah…I didn’t notice the miracle, because I was caught up in the noise of my life.  This noise coincided with the constant urge to be somewhere.  Sad, I know.  I was living a life where I wasn’t living on my own time, but the time of others and their clock didn’t always tick in my favor.  I typically found myself frustrated.  First at my alarm, then second, at the small time window I had to get the kids out the door and all the while making sure we all made it out with as little drama as possible to our desired (or not so desired) destinations.  Days where “Mom, I don’t have any clean school uniforms!” or “How could I forgot to get gas…are you kidding me!?” were part of the equation, than you might as well forget any chance of me seeing the sunrise, taking in the day or giving praise to the all-powerful God of the universe—those things weren’t likely to happen first thing in the morning. Unless it was a weekend, a new day was pure exhaustion.
Nights were no exception and they didn’t bring any reprieve from this mentality.  There is the drive home and then a couple of hours to get all the chores done, dinner cooked, homework checked, kitchen cleaned and pretty soon off to bed with barely a thought on the actual day’s events or progress.  I should have taken time to reflect on the day, but I didn’t.  How much quality time were we even spending with our kids or as a family?  Where was the main focus?  I wanted to appreciate the day, I wanted to stop and smell the roses and I wanted to be mindful about doing heartfelt deeds in reflection of a loving God.  I did in moments at a time, but not consistently.  Not every day.  Looking back life reminded me more of a test of endurance.  I was shooting a shot of double espresso instead of sipping a mocha latte.  It is amazing how quickly life passes when you don’t stop to check out the scenery.  Years gone in what felt like a blink.
So, then there is our new life.  We now have a slower pace and the absolute privilege of living on our own time. 
I won’t let this simple blessing go unnoticed, and it is just that—a blessing.  We are fortunate beyond words.  I will strive to remind myself of the pleasure to wake up without the burdens of the world weighing on my mind.  I will find a way to give out of a thankful and cheerful heart to make the world a little brighter. 
I will learn to relish in the miracle of a new day dawning, giving thanks for the chirping birds, my cup of coffee and the chance to spend another day as I choose with the people I love.

Less is More

September 11, 2014

“I need…” what a silly phrase to use.  What do we need, really? We need food and water to live and we indulge much more with that than even necessary. We need air to breathe. And, above all, I believe we as people need to feel love—the real, unconditional kind that accepts you even after your biggest screw-ups, the kind of love that doesn’t stop pursuing your heart and captures every need your soul could ever long for. That is what we need. We don’t need a flat screen for football season. We don’t need a 4,000 square foot home.
And, what makes us feel like those things are necessary to happiness is beyond me. Or, the thought that those things will fulfill us? Yeah, we’ve all been there trying to satisfy our hearts and souls with empty wants. When you look at celebrities who have all the riches, fame and glory, do they have all they need? If they did, we wouldn’t see tragedies time and again of them taking their own lives.
The saying “less really is more” couldn’t be more truthful.  I wasn’t aware how true this phrase really was until recently. When you think about the things in life that make a person happy, the true happiness almost never involves material things.  Sure, those items bring a moment of happiness, but when you look back at the times in your life when you were truly happy, I would dare say that the most cherished moments wouldn’t be about “stuff” at all.  There’s the moment your child takes his first step, the last embrace of a loved one or the time your family laughed until they cried. Those moments can’t be bought in a store.
In fact, I might even go further and say that the more you gain, the less you really have.  I personally think it clouds the landscape of your life. I say this not from a stance of looking down on any individual, but a personal reflection of my own mistakes and past mentality. Only now am I beginning to realize how diluted my view on this had been. I thought I understood the concepts of need versus wants, but I was so far off. When you take it all away is the absolute moment when you realize how liberating life is without that extra “baggage.”
To say we sacrificed by selling most of our stuff, now seems almost ridiculous to me. The truth is without seeking out material gain to make us happy, we are for the first time present in our own life for the moments that will forever shape who we are. I’d say that’s a pretty good trade. We aren’t living for when we move into that fancy house or when we save up for a vacation. Our happiness isn’t centered on “when we have…” because we now understand we have everything. Each day is an adventure, a chance to see and experience things that we may never have the chance to again. For once, I feel like I have everything I need and could even want. I have a family who, although can be the source of my frustration, I wouldn’t trade my moments with for anything. Yes, we currently reside in a 28 foot trailer. It is truly a miracle, because we have heat when it’s cold, air when it’s hot, a fridge that stays packed with food, clothes on our back, shoes on our feet, love for each other and a hope beyond any other that guides us. Heck, we even get free Wi-Fi and television…most of the time! Unbelievable, isn’t it?! I can’t think of anything that would make this experience better that we could “buy” at the store (except for the occasional resupply of bug spray…lol). We are learning, and it is a daily lesson, to appreciate the gifts that come from something bigger than us and to live with an essence of gratitude for what we have. We for once realize that we have oh so much more than we need! What is amazing to me is that we sold 95% of our stuff, but we are still living richer than probably 95% of the rest of the world. Mind-boggling. How is that even possible? There is something to be said for perspective.
For us, less really is more. We don’t have it all figured out, but with each day brings a deeper understanding and appreciation for the things we used to take for granted.