Texas is look'n Up - Stephan F. Austin State Park

Every time we drive through Texas, John says, "One minute in Texas is one minute too long". I'm not sure were this sentiment comes from but I think he might be rethinking things a bit. The last couple trips through Texas have been nice, and we have enjoyed the campgrounds a lot.

On this trip we are not spending any extra time here because we are moving across at clipper speed. I-10 all the way across. Our first stop was the state park 30 miles west of Houston, and for a short overnighter it was GREAT! We arrived about 2 pm and had plenty of daylight left to set up and go for a super hero hike.

The state park sits right on a swift moving river, and the bottomland forest was really neat.

It is hard to believe it is a week before Yule, and the kids are running around in tank tops and shorts.

This is definately a re-do! We could have spent several days hiking on the more than 6 miles of easy hiking trails. Texas is looking better all the time!


Frog Capitol of the World - Rayne La

This stop was the first hop of our skip and jump over to Arizona. We are on the road again, and are trying to rest every 200 to 300 miles, which means about 3 to 4 hours a day.

We left Biloxi, Keesler Famcamp, at around 9:30 am and had no trouble plopping down on the west side of Lafayette, La. around 2 pm. The minute we pulled off the interstate we could see that the town was proud of their self proclaimed title, frog capital of the world. The civic center, where we pulled in to camp, is home of the Famous Frog Festival.

The campground was the craziest/coolest/easiest set-up we have ever seen. Ever light pole in the civic center parking lot and green space had 8 electrical hook-ups with 8 water spickets for a total of 720 spots, and I think there was only about 4 campers there. We picked a 50 amp spot on the edge of the parking lot under an Oak tree, and settled in for the night.

It made for a super easy in and out spot for overnight parking. There was also a Winn-Dixie food store a block away, so John got his beer run in.

This area is part of a city sports complex with bike/walking paths all over, and a playground right across the street. We looked high and low but never did see a live frog but we knew they were around because they serenaded us to sleep on this warm December evening (72 degrees).

On the way out there was even a handy dump station - Louisianna style - open manhole to the sewer system with a water facet next to it.

All this for $20 a night.



Snakes, and Herons, and Allagators! Oh My! - Davis Bayou NP

After getting the camper worked on, we headed over to Ocean Springs to be closer to Heather, the oldest daughter, and our grandsons. Even though we only moved about 20 miles, it feels like an entirely new habitat, and it really is.

At the Gulf Shores National Seashore Park, there is a healthy and thriving bayou, with their own residant alligator.

The visitors center (VC) here is one of the best we have been to. Not only is it educational and they have a varity of activities for all ages but the people working and volunteering are WONDERFUL!!! The big girls got their Jr. Ranger badges for the Gulf Coast National Seashore here, instead of at Ft. Pickens, and I am so glad we decided to do it here.

The Jr. Ranger program is a parents deam come true. I personally love the program because that is a week I don't have to plan what we are going to do. We pick up the work-booklet from the VC, spend several days working through the book, doing experiements, picking up trash, interviewing park rangers, and then turn it back in to the VC in exchange for a badge.

We didn't spend too much time here because we got the call from the Blue Angels that there was space available in Penscacola, which is a most do for me. So, we packed up quickly and headed to the Forida Gulf Coast. The Gulf Coast recharges my soul, and right now this mamma could use a little recharging ;-)



The Trochesset Tornado

Whenever there is a big change, an adjustment period is to be expected, and I knew we would hit it somewhere around 1 or 2 months based on the last trip we made. But even when you know something is going to happen, and then it does, and it sucks, it really doesn't make it any easier to deal with while in the moment.

It all hit us one day in month 3, while I was trying to cook, the tv was blaring, the kids were tired and hungry, it was too rainy and cold for them to comfortably be outside and the tornado began, and once the tornado begins spinning, it seems to consume us for days. I think we loose our ability to think rationally. I start yelling, John start yelling, the kids start yelling, all of our feelings are hurt, and we put up these tough guy walls, thinking we won't get hurt anymore. We say things we don't mean, we draw lines in the sand - knowing they will get crossed over, we stop following through with conequenses, and all hell breaks loose. IT GETS UGLY!!!!

And then it happens, someone can no longer sustain the enourmous amount of energy it takes to be angry. Physically, emotionally, and mentally exhasted someone drops out of the tornado. Then another one, and another one, dropping in a heap feeling bruised and battered and unloved. Someone reaches out and loves them, holds them even in the chaos, and then another one chooses the calm rather than the chaos, and pretty soon the tornado has lost power. It is the calm after the storm.

Thanks to years of therepy, the tornado is not nearly as powerful as it use to be, so it is over quicker and the damage is not as brutal. The clean-up becomes easier, because we are a team, and we have the tools to mend things quicker.

There are several specific things that work for us. The number one things is that we know matter what, we are all in it together, we love each other, and nothing is going to break that bond. We all took vows (John and I when we married, and the kids when we adopted them) to be in this family and those vows will not be broken. So, when there is no way out, then we HAVE to face what is going on, and how we can honor each persons feelings. Also knowing "this too shall pass" helps get out of the distructive rotation a little easier because we can see the light at the end. Usually there is a quiet walk by myself, or for John a game of disk golf, or taking the kids someplace where they have no restrictions - an empty playground works wonders. Just stepping outside the turbulance to breathe.

Then we regroup by having a family team meeting. Where everyone gets to speak, and we all listen, and try to resolve some of the issues. At this last team meeting, John and I asked the kids to think about how daddy and I could have some alone time, without leaving them alone. We gave them a day to think through some ideas, and they came up with some really creative ones, but one was creative and realist :) They gave daddy and I a night out. They stayed in the camper watching a movie, while John and I sat outside and had a "date". So even though John and I could hear the squabbling inside, it was the effort the kids were putting into it, with the older kids trying to keep the peace, that made the night grand. It is amazing what some snuggle time in a hammock and a glass of wine will do to a relationship.

We also started the bean count. We have two jars - one for poor choices, and one for good choices - and even John and I's choices are counted in the jar. What we realized very early on was that we all made a lot of good choices. So we celebrated the good choice, rather than dwelling on the poor choices at bed time. We all know we need to work on the poor choices, so I don't feel we neede to dwell on them. What is happening is that the poor choice jar is getting less and less filled each day, and as a result, we are able to treat each other with kindness more and more. I doubt we will ever have a day where there is nothing in the poor choice jar, and I am okay with that.

Another thing that came out of the team meeting was helper day. This is easy since we have 7 kids, and there are 7 days of the week. We have Freya Friday, Joclyn Saturday, Hanna Sunday, Maia Monday. . . . This is working GREAT!!!! It is solving the problem of who's turn it is to do what or sit where. The helper for the day helps the adult do chores, plan activities, and think about choices. I wish we would have started this years ago. Even Ciara has a helper day, and it warms my heart seeing her engage with the family like this.

One more shift was going back and doing some things I knew worked. One of them is our schedule cards. Even though we all know when we are suppose to be doing what, just having the cards visiable helps. The kids need a routine, and ours is a rather loose routine but it is still a routine.

And finally, Grandma flew out to see us, and there is nobody better to put things in perspective than my mom and a LOT OF LOVE! Most grandma's have a way with the world, and my mom is no exception. She knows just the right amount of love, discipline, and light heartedness that we need. Plus John and I got a REAL date DAY.

So. . . the tornado has blown through and we are now on the mend, and because of teamwork and commitment and love, we are stronger now than we were before.



The Sweet Life - Biloxi

M. I. crooked letter. crooked letter. I. crooked letter. crooked letter. I. Humpback. Humpback. I.
Six hours in a car from Grenada to Biloxi, and I began having teachers remorse.
We pulled into Keesler AFB Famcamp a little later than I would have liked but the wonderful camphosts stayed about 20 min. after closing to help get us in a great spot. We didn't waste any time before heading over to MaMa's and PaPa's house to surprise them (they didn't think we were coming for another 2 days). I poured me a big glass of sweet tea, and enjoyed a nice southern evening, while the kids enjoyed some new to them toys. One of the the best things about family is that no matter how long it has been since you last seen them, it seems like just yesterday.
The next day was a beautiful day, and the sun sparkled off the water, so I convenced John to let us go to the beach, which was only 4 blocks away. John is always reluctant to let us go because he grew up in Biloxi, and back in those days they use to dump in the Gulf. One can still see the ducting extending into the water at low tide. But since Katrina there has been a revamping of the beach area, and it is now a wonderful place to spend a warm October afternoon. The kids swam in the water, and we all enjoyed some tanlines.
It was exciting spending Halloween with the grandkids. I spent the better part of the day getting the kids ready with their Day of the Dead Sugarskulls, which turned out better than I imagined; although, the removal was not quite so fun. I think it took three days before the last trace of white could no longer be seen.
There is so much to see and do in Biloxi but we never seem to get any of it done; mainly because we spend so much time with the family.
We also took a break from school work, except for couple days. I never worry about taking time off because even though they aren't working from their curriculum, they are learning some really cool things - everyday life is FULL of teaching moments. The days at the beach were science days, learning about hermit crabs, jellyfish, and salt water buoyancy. We played disk golf one day for Phys. Ed., and Art/HomeEc was fullfilled when we made grapfruit birdfeeders.
Sweet Tea, Good Company, and the BEACH.
Life is Good!


LONG DAY - Getting to Lake Grenada

The day started out as any typical moving day.

Get dressed, eat breakfast, move all shifty items to safer ground, bring in slide-outs, empty holding tanks, do a walk around, hook-up the truck, un-plug from electric, do another walkaround . . . .

Not normal - "John, does this tire look low to you?" John replies, "Maybe a little. Let me get out the tire gauge". After finding three tire gauges that no longer work, John said those stomach wrentching words, "Why yes Christine, the tire is flat - 50 psi". "What is it suppose to be"? was my reply. "75 to 80". "@%*@#%$*@"!!!! I replied.

So much for our early start.

The good news was that we were still in our site, not on the side of the interstate, and the kids could go to the playground to play. The bad news was that someone reserved our spot for that day, and we had to be out of there ASAP. So I did what any girl does - I called my Mom and Dad. After being able to talk things out, we had a plan, so I put the slide outs back out, fixed lunch, and began rummaging through all the paperwork that came with the camper. Come to find out, we were covered by not just one but three different emergancy roadside policies. Talk about being over insured. We had our automobile/camper insurance ($100 deducable), we had the dealership insurance ($200 deductable), and the manufactures one year warranty (FREE), so you know which one I called first :) And I couldn't have been happier. The lady on the phone was so nice, and within an hour she had Goodyear tire and repair out to our camper, on a Sunday afternoon no less. The repairman was super nice and had our flat tire off, screw pulled out, tire patched, and back on the camper in less than 40 minutes. What a great experience for such a crappy start. I would definately recommend the Forest River Coachnet membership to anyone.

So, even though we were a little late getting started and had to stop four times (in just a 200 mile stretch) for potty breaks, we still arrived at Lake Grenada before dark. We have driven by this exit everytime we visited Biloxi but never had a reason to stop, which is too bad because the lake is a really neat area. Senic route 332 goes right over a beautiful Dam, which over looks an oak lowland.

We stayed at the North Abutment COE campground, and were not disappointed. They have beautiful full-service hook-ups right on the lake with nice bathhouses and a brand new playground area. We were actually camped over in the wooded area to the right in the pictures but decided the next time we stay we will be over in the water area.

Although we only stayed two nights, this is definately a redo. We spent most of our time here repacking, cleaning, and crossing things off the honey-do list. We were just too anxious to get to Biloxi to really stay and enjoy the area (it's been two years since we have seen MawMaw, PawPaw, the Big Girls, and our grandsons).

Even though the day started out rough, alls well that ends well, and who could stay mad with a view like that.




The Best Days of Our Life - Memphis

Rock 'N Roll and Memphis - We really are living the best days of our lives. There are times when I feel guilty about the life we are leading beacause I know there are so many people in this world who are not having these kind of days. Life truely is a blessing no matter what road one is traveling but some roads are easier to enjoy than others. Memphis is a city that exemplifies this juxtaposition. There are beautiful townhomes right next to the homeless person on the corner. The sinners and the saints walk Beale street side by side. Memphis has so much to offer everyone in every walk of life. I told John I could spend a couple months here easy but alas, we only got 6 days.
We pulled into T.O. Fuller State park, which is located on the south side of Memphis around 2 p.m. after an easy drive from Poplar Bluff. The park was easy to get into, and John did another amazing job backing the beast into our spot.
Right out our back door was the playground, which made morning coffee extra easy for me.
As part of our Oak Meadow curriculm, the kids create a seasonal table, so they made a beautiful plate of autumn things, and have been adding their favorite findings. It is nice for me because now instead of them dragging all thier cool stuff inside they have a special place to put it, and the best part is the stuff stays outside.
The twins came from the playground holding hands and were soooo precious but you could just see the mischief in their eyes - Double Trouble!

The park itself has a lot to offer with wonderful hiking trails, and some ancient Native American mounds. One evening we set out about an hour before sunset on a short hike, and the fall forest was wonderfull. We also found the cutest little acrons to add to our nature tray, as you can tell by my fingers, they were teeny, tiny little things - perfect for making fairy caps.
We also spent one day on Mud Island, which was so much fun! We didn't even make it inside the actual museum because the Mississippi River replica was so fasinating to walk. This was better than any classroom or park we have ever been in and it was FREE. A definate must see for kids. We also took a lunch with us, and ate where the Mississippi River dumps into the Gulf of Mexico.
Our real mission while in Memphis was to go the Juice Plus conference, which was a blast. The kids had a great time socializing in the family room with other healthy Juice Plus kids, and John and I learned so much more about how good nutrition really changes the body on a cellular level. Plus the kids got to say they seen Elvis :)
We also drove up to the Naval Air Base one day, and the camping up there is definately a try next time camp. The base is about 20 minutes North of Memphis, and an easy drive. And no trip to Memphis would be complete without a drive by Graceland, so not only did the kids get to say they seen Elvis but they got to see Graceland and his personal jet Lisa Marie.
Goodbye for now Memphis but we shall return.


Beautiful Fall Days - Lake Wappapello

The sunshine, the people, and the food - that is what makes life in the south so great, and I do believe we have crossed over.

We could not have asked for more beautiful weather, and after having such a cold drizzly time in St. Louis, we were ready for some sunshine. We spent everyday outside soaking up our Vitimin D, and energizing our metabolism. Lake Wappappello has a lot to offer. We played on the playgrounds - we got to three of them and know of two we didn't get to visit. We played volleyball at two of the three sand courts. We hiked two trails - both easy hiking, found two geochaches, lounged in our hammoucks, and hung out the laundry to dry. We even got in some S'mores, and sat out listening to the owls. It really was perfect weather.

We also met some really nice people. One of the nice things about camping during the off season, and during the week is that we get to meet the people who get things done. Our neighbors, Sam and Sherry, are volunteers here, and they made our stay extra special. One day Sherry even brought over goodies for the kids from a local bake sale - I am mean LOTS of them. Thank-you Sherry, they loved having Oreo pops for breakfast :) Typically we eat healthy breakfasts like smoothies, or steel-cut oats but it always special when we can add a bit of sugar with the smoothy. At the very kid friendly visitors center, there was a volunter who took an extra special interest in the kids and showed them around like they were royalty, and at the end each of the kids got a Junior Ranger COE badge. And people worry about our kids being socialized - REALLY???????!!!!!!!!

Food - Oh how we love the food. On Friday, the town of Poplar Bluff has their farmers market, so we slid in and got fresh green beans, turnups, pumpkins, and jalopino peppers, and boy were they all good. It was nice getting fresh produce, since we hadn't had any for a while. When we left Iowa, we dontated our Tower Gardens to the local school because the gardens were just too big to take traveling with us :( So I have been going through produce withdrawls. The greenbeans cooked up so nice in my new Insta Pot, and I wish we would have gotten twice as much. We also drove into a Sonic for a Cherry Limeade and Onion-rings, which is our special southern treat.

I leave you with this video.



St. Louis - The Magic House

St. Louis was a bit of a disapointment for us this time around. The weather turned into typical fall weather, which was rainy, cold, and not much for outdoor activities unless you are a seal.

We actually pulled up into the parking garage for the Gateway Arch, got out, put all our rain gear on (it is about a 3 block walk from the parking garage to the Arch), stepped out to the edge of the overhang, watched the rain coming down sidewys for about 5 minutes, and decided the national monument wasn't worth our own personal discomfort, so we loaded a couple screaming, and disappointed kids into the Tahoe and pressed on.

The Magic House (St. Louis Children's Museum) was next on our list, and once we got there I think the kids completely forgot about The Arch. The Magic House lives up to its name. We spent 3 hours in kiddy Valhalla.
Lexi enjoyed applying one of her studies - the tangram. She just finished a story "Loawnu and the Fallen Ssky", which is about a women who put the sky back together - like a tangram. At home, Lexi had even made her own paper tangram to play with. So, it was a wonderful surprise to see, and play with, the tangram display at the museum.
The little ones enjoyed the water play - they stayed there for over 30 minutes. Maia figured out how to make a dam and spent hours rearranging the water.
There was also this amazing construction area where the kids could actually build and dig.
We finally wrapped up our visit in the magnetic area - we all took turns getting electrified.
I know the kids could have stayed a lot longer; however, the adults were EXHAUSTED! At least we all slept good that night.


Slowing Down

One of my problems while on the road is settling in. I always feel like we might be missing out on some great cultural or educational opportunity we might never see again. I want to jam as much adventure in as possible.

Last night we got into St. Louis (Scott AFB), and before I even drank my coffee this morning, I got on my Ipad to see what the hours were for the Gateway Arch, The Childrens Museum, The Cahoka Mounds, and The Zoo. But what I kept thinking was how nice it would be to have a down day. A lazy Sunday. After several hours of hem-hawing, we decided to forget the sightseeing and enjoy the beauty of US. I lounged on the couch - for the first time ever - watching Sunday afternoon football, and enjoying my view.

Maybe it is because it is a drizzly day or maybe it is because I realize this is our home (not just a vacation camper) that allowed me to slow down and relax. I am not going to feel guilty about letting the kids play in their room, or letting the dishes pile up, or ordering out.

And look what happened when I just let the kids do whatever

Maia drew a picture of our campsite - the road, grass, shower-house, and the camper.

I became to subject of a hair clip fashion show,

and now,

I am going to finish enjoying my snuggling and lounging.



Wapello Fairgrounds

Southeast Iowa has so many great things about it. Having grown-up here, I take a lot of them for granted, and only now as we are beginning our southward migration, do I really appriciate them. One of them is the small rural town in the fall. The bake sales and fall colors are my favorites right now.

Before finally leaving Iowa, we have decided to stop and stay in the little town on Wapello, which sits right on Highway 61. We are staying at the local fairgrounds - full hook-up on a cement pad for only $10 a night. Gotta love these small town rates. Not only is it a great little find but they have a free dump station, and a playground for the kids right out our door.

John enjoyed playing ball and disk golf in the crisp autunm evenings with the kids at the wide open field to the west. In it's prime, the field was home to one of the few horse harness racing tracks in Iowa.

With-in walking distance there is a Casey's General Store, a local Mexican restaurant, a tavern with food, a Dollar Store, and great views of the Iowa river - all of which we would visit again.

These kinds of days make it harder and harder to leave the Midwest; however, John does not own a pair of pants, only shorts, and he says, "If I can't wear my shorts because I'm too cold, then it is time to move further south". AND since he is the driver, I guess our stay here will be over soon.