Monday, May 2, 2016

Southwest Virgina, who knew?

I have to say, I am a little smitten with Southwest VA. 

It's beautiful.

It's quirky.

The homes (with land!) are affordable.

 Having spent a good portion of my life in Northern VA/Washington DC I thought I knew Virginia. 

(Spoiler- I was wrong)

We have spent the last 11 days in Natural Tunnel State Park. We were fortunate enough to be here during two different events; one being an 18th century re-enactment weekend and the other being a Children's Fishing Derby (with archery and target practice) put on by the wildlife troopers. I figured we'd hit up the Muster Fair for a little while and then move onto the Fishing Derby. (I mean, come on...grown men dressed up like frontiersmen, pretending like they are REALLY in the 1700s?) 

Man oh man was I wrong. We stayed ALL day. This is one of those events that you really have to engage with each person in order to learn from we set ourselves the task of doing just that. I talked strangers. Not just strangers, but strangers in costumes. Not just strangers in costumes, but strangers in costumes pretending like they really were from the 18th century. And you know what? I learned a lot. I learned how to turn flax into linen, how to spin wool, how to make lye soap, tan a hide, basic blacksmithing...and as an added bonus we learned to speak some basic Cherokee and got to hear some awesome Cherokee and frontier lore. 

The people were so willing to let the kids participate.

Laurel looks happy...but really she was petrified, especially 
when the horse jumped over a log!

Us watching an old fashioned horse race.

We spent so many hours talking and interacting with all these guys that we decided to go to their church service the next morning too. It was a little awkward, as you can imagine...but also very cool. One of the guys was an amazing musician and singer, he pulled out no less than three instruments during the service, and gave every old church hymn an appalachian twist.  

Eventually we did make it over to the fishing derby, with just enough time for Luke to hit bulls-eyes with the bow and the BB gun...I guess being obsessively into a million hobbies pays off sometimes.

Besides looking at a whole bunch of properties, and falling in love with two, we also had time to visit some of the local towns, catch up on school work, hike, bike and do some crafting. Luke seems to be in his element here, he would wear his coon skin cap more...but it's hot. He's been inspired by the music, the crafts and the history all around us. He's started whittling whenever he gets the chance, and now he wants to build his own blacksmith shop. (He tried to convince us that he could start right away using the fire ring and our regular hammer...thankfully we convinced him that this was not a good idea.) 

Southwest VA...who knew?

Tuesday, April 19, 2016

Homestead Hunting

Part of the purpose of this travel year is to find our homestead. It's a big undertaking to try and find the place where you want to finish raising your kids, and put down roots. Usually you just stay where you are, or move for a job...the idea of having the whole country (or whole world) to find the place that feels like home...well, like I said, it's a big undertaking.

We started with a couple of nationwide searches, and over time we found a large swath in Tennessee, Virginia, West Virginia and Kentucky that seemed to suit our needs. The prices were good, the acreage was large, the farmhouses are adorable and there are usually barns and other outbuildings. Sometimes there are creeks, waterfalls, caves and other hidden treasures. (This is what makes searching for property so much fun!) 

One of the many covered fireplaces we've seen.

It's very different from looking for property in the city. Don't expect granite counter tops or seamless glass showers. This is not HGTV folks. Most of the properties we are looking at are from people who have passed away and the properties are being sold by their children and grandchildren. These are OLD homes with crooked floors, low ceilings, dead mice, holes in the roof...the good stuff. (Luke even found a collection of syringes on the floor...oh yeah!) These are old farmhouses that people put strange additions on, covered fire places with plywood, and carpeted over hardwood floors. Most of them don't have HVAC, some don't even have bathrooms! (Mmmmm...can't you just imagine the smell of a 100 year old outhouse?)

I wasn't kidding about the low ceilings!

It's like a treasure hunt! The kids found a creek with dozens of frogs that jumped in all at once, old tractors, antiques in the barn and so much more. Seriously, looking for property might be more fun than actually buying one. (Especially cause then we own it, and have to fix the wonky floors and janky ceilings!!)

We found one beautiful property where the painstakingly-built beautiful wood staircase got progressively shorter on the way up. It's as if you're Alice and on the way up the stairs you just start growing. In a new house you wouldn't stand for that, but in this 100 year old property, it's just plain charming. 

We have about 25 more properties to see over the next few weeks. So far we've worked with four real estate agents, all very different, and all great. It's been nice getting to talk to them, find out about them, the local area, and whatever else they'll talk about. One of our agents who was well into her 60s is an active hunter, and hopped fences with us without blinking an eye. Another told us about a wild beehive he relocated to his own farm, and wild ginseng he collects in the mountains. 

Who knows when or where we'll find the right property, until then we are enjoying the process of learning and getting to know new areas.  

And in the meantime we'll just keep enjoying the ride.

Wednesday, March 2, 2016

Falling Waters State Park: Slowing Down, Savoring Little Moments

You'd think since we're traveling full time that it would be easy to remember to slow down and savor the little moments. 

That is sort of the point of doing this after all.

The one and only attraction to see at Falling Waters, 
a single waterfall falling into a sinkhole.

You'd be amazed that it is just as easy to; waste time, lose yourself in technology, let time get away from you, get short with your kids, get snappy with your husband, let the dishes pile up, etc etc. Truth is, time can get away from you whether you're living a traditional lifestyle (house that's attached to the ground and whatnot), or a less conventional one (house that can float or fly away in any big storm). 

For the first few months of our trip, I feel like I was letting time get away from me. 

It was still great, and we did some cool stuff...and by default we were spending more time together doing things that we normally don't get to do. But it took a while to find our groove. I feel like we're just barely getting in to it now, and we've been on the road for nearly 4 months now! 

Luke's version of fishing, cast it in, and start sketching.

The finished sketches.

Sometimes you just need time in a quiet park, where there are no beaches, manatees, space shuttles...or anything else to run off and do. Sometimes you just need a place where you can bike and walk, hang out and talk, and remember that there is beauty in the everyday enjoyment of life.

Sometimes you just need to curl up with your Dad and take a nap. 
(Please don't tell him I posted a picture of him in his underpants!)

These aren't big things, and that's exactly the point. Life is rarely made up of big's all the little ones that count. When I'm at the end I won't remember all the things I pinned, or read on Facebook or updated to Goodreads...but I will remember today. I will remember Orion shining bright in the sky above us while we ate our dinner under a star-lit sky, and giggling in the hammock with Luke, and pushing him on the swing in his bright red overalls. 

These are the moments to slow down and savor. 

Wednesday, February 24, 2016

Florida Caverns State Park

Have you noticed that I am partial to State Parks yet?

I am.

I couldn't get an RV spot at Florida Caverns State Park, but I still wanted to see it. So I found a nearby park to stay at, and came here for the day. We came to do the cave tour and kayak, but when we got there all boating was shut down due to flooding. 

But that's ok, we can adapt.

So first we went and did the cave tour, which must be every hour...ours was almost right away. The cave tour lasted nearly an hour and it was really a lot of fun. (Aren't caves always fun though?) I feel like every time you go to one it's like you're seeing stalacgtites and stalagmites for the first time...and since I can NEVER remember which is's like learning it new all over.

This time I will remember though, because our tour guide taught us that stalacgtites hold "tight" to the ceiling, and stalagmites just "might" grow up tall. (Anything to help me remember!

We saw different formations, learned about how the CCC dug the whole place out in the 1930s (by hand with pick axes and buckets...for $1 a day!), saw a bat and learned about how oils (from hands) and algae (from lights) destroy the formations. It was just one of those neat fun-ducational tours.

After that we had a picnic, went to check out the visitor center museum (a very cool little museum actually), and went on a hike on the Bluff Trail. This ended up being a huge hit, which is good, cause hiking isn't always a big hit with my kids. BUT, this hike included many sinkholes, partial caves, a tunnel cave you could walk through, and even a cave/overhang that was used by native tribes long before the Spanish came to Florida.

By the end we were hot and a little may be February, but it was warm and the spring flowers were blooming! But we were also muddy, happy and felt like we had really made the right choice by spending the day there.

If you ever get to visit this park, ask about the dinner bowls embedded in the ceiling....those CCC guys were ingenious!

Monday, February 22, 2016

Manatee Springs

I have learned that when RVing in Florida...

do not hesitate. 

If you want to stay at a specific park (particularly the state parks) you better book it right away. With some parks, that's not even possible. The closer you get to the Keys, the more difficult it is to book. But, there are many gems in Florida when it comes to state parks, and they book up as well. Unlike the Keys they are possible to book, but you do have to grab them early. (The Keys really should be on a lottery system, it would be easier than what it is now, and arguably more fair)

I felt like Myakka and Alafia fell in this category, but one of the ones I really wanted to visit was Manatee Springs. So as we were planning our Northward drive through the state, I checked for reservations. Booked. So I started scrolling through availability and found 3 days that we could stay there. It meant changing around our plans and other reservations, but man am I glad that we did!


Whew, sorry, I'll regain my composure. (But it REALLY was)

We snorkeled with manatees for two straight days! And when we weren't snorkeling we were kayaking, biking, or eating BBQ sold and smoked right there in the middle of all the action. This was the most laid back, beautiful park with the most awesome pay back ever...crystal blue waters, manatees, and SNAKES! 

Yes, snakes. 

I shouldn't be excited about snakes, cause, you know...they're snakes. But, as we were snorkeling, we saw several snakes swimming at the bottom of the water. I didn't even know snakes could swim at the bottom of the water! Don't get me wrong, I am petrified of snakes. When I looked down and saw the first snake swimming only about two feet below me, I panicked. I didn't want to put my face back in the water because I didn't want to see it, but I didn't want to put my feet down because I didn't want to step on I just skittered across the top of water until I got back to the edge and got out. After I calmed down a little, I convinced my kids how it was a good thing that I saw it, because it made me realize that they really don't want anything to do with you. They'll just leave you worked! When they saw snakes under water (and they both did) they were calm, and they didn't rush out of the water. However, they did know to tell me calmly so that I didn't freak out. (They know me so well, I only talk a big game!)

Do you see the snake coiled up on the 
log...only one of the many!

And it's like I tell my kids...if nothing bad or scary every happens, the stories are WAY less cool later.

This is AFTER they saw the snakes, 
and yes, they are still snorkeling!

Sunday, February 21, 2016

Space Dreams

As a child my biggest hero was Sally Ride. I collected every Odyssey Magazine (space magazine for kids in the 80s), punched holes in them and kept them in a binder. In case that wasn't space-nerdy enough, I had a mural of a space shuttle on my wall, and dreams of NASA when I was grown.

So obviously, THAT dream never came to be...but my giddy-ness about space never quite went away. I think my excitement, plus my kids own natural interest in space has made this one of the most anticipated places we've visited yet! Rockets, shuttles, IMAX documentaries, a launch...what more could you ask for?

A real live rocket launch!

We did SO much while we were on the Space Coast.

We visited the Kennedy Space Center (twice),

Luke with his hands in John Glenn's handprints.

Space Fountain in Titusville.

Always fun in the gift shop!

Yep, that guy is fake...tee hee.

This was the only place where you had 
to wait in line to take a picture!

the Orlando Science Museum (twice),

We saw the Orion Nebula, the moon, and Jupiter 
from the powerful telescopes in the observatory.

Landing a plane in the museum, it was tricky.

Luke making a friend in the science exhibit.

we kayaked with dolphins at Merrit Island Wildlife Refuge, and played at Cape Canaveral Seashore.

Talk about an amazing two weeks; we kayaked, swam, played, learned and watched SIX documentaries on either IMAX or cinedome screens! (and somehow in the middle of it all we managed to get some school work done and our taxes filed)

We were sad to say goodbye to the Space Coast, it is the strangest mix of the highest technology in the world and beautiful expanses of nature. Not too many places give you both so close together.  I am so glad that we stopped here, originally we hadn't planned to come up the west coast of Florida at all. We ended up staying at a county park (Brevard County), called Manatee Hammock. It was a crowded park, but still very natural (lots of trees, water view)...AND...we could watch the launch right from the park's dock. And, if you want to stay a while, you can actually camp here for 6 months. (While that didn't help us, a lot of people seemed excited about it.)

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