I have been silent on social media the last month, but my life has been anything but calm. Kevin and I bought Woods Furniture in Clarkesville, Georgia on January 3, 2019 and my feet have been running ever since.
How do I mold a homeschooling life with four children ages 13 to 2 with an entrepreneurial spirit?
A.K.A. Are you still homeschooling?
Yes, I am. For now. Will it be forever? I don’t know yet, but I am hopeful. Let me begin by saying that I don’t do it alone. My mother said that it takes a lot of people to run my life. I would agree. I have both a full-time babysitter and a part-time babysitter–who also do laundry–and love my kids. They are each amazing in their own ways and bring so much to our family. My mom lives with us in a “terrace-level apartment.” (Most of you would call it the basement.) She helps me with taxi-service, entertaining Morgan and Lillie while I have time with Mont in the mornings, and staying with Morgan so he can get a nap while the older kids go to activities. I have a housekeeper that cleans once a week. We have a store manager, a bookkeeper, an accountant…all of whom are stellar. My prayer life has been strengthened by this http://encounteringpeace.libsyn.com daily Christian meditation. This has allowed me to calm my overly-busy brain and center on Christ. I am not Super Woman or Super Mom. I’m not pretending to be. I AM good at finding the right people to surround myself with in the journeying. I become part of their circle and they become part of mine.
Let’s be real. If I plan to spend four hours a day homeschooling kids, growing a new-to-me business for eight hours a day (and dreaming about it for at least ten more), and sleeping eight hours…well, there are some things I have chosen to outsource. Yes, it is expensive. Yes, it is not for everyone…but this is my story, right? Edwin and Mont are heavily involved in community theater (TWO community theaters at the moment, actually.) I have help getting them where they need to go, making sure they are fed before they get there (for the most part), and have clean clothes to wear while they are there. I have chosen to NOT spend large amounts of my time in the car running them up and down the road or sitting waiting on them to finish. I use this time in the afternoons and evenings to work on my business.
What does my typical morning look like?
I start my day around 6:00am with prayer and planning. The days that I do this are the best for sure! I meet Edwin at 7:00am as he stumbles downstairs in his pajamas. We talk from 7:00am-8:00am–mostly about schoolwork–what he read the day before, what I expect him to do this day, making out a list of assignments, chores, and activities. We also talk about life–you know, typical Mom and Teenage Son stuff. Usually at some point during this process, Morgan and Lillian wake up and come sit with us in the schoolroom. It interrupts our one-on-one time, but that’s just a fact of life when you have four kids. The good-morning snuggles are worth it.
Lillian is in pre-K. She knows her letters and letter sounds, can count to 100, likes to practice writing her letters, and is starting to read three and four-letter words. She doesn’t really need much else for school. She enjoys sitting down and “doing school” with me, so I try to spend this time with her as often as I can. It really doesn’t require much time, though.
Mont needs the majority of my one-on-one time. Part of it is his personality. Part of it is just where he is in life–he will be ten is a few weeks. More of our school time is one-on-one. I have to sit on him a little bit more. I love this part of my day, though, and I think he does as well. Mont also loves to cook, so I try to engage him in that as often as possible. I use those boxed meal services to aid with food preparation. It’s about the same price as eating out, but it’s healthier for both body and soul. We eat at home more often and there is real cooking involved! (Yet, another thing that I outsource.)
Morgan. My sweet boy. He probably gets the least alone-time with me..but he has three big siblings and lots of others to wait on him and translate for him and pet him…so I think he will be fine–but maybe a little bit spoiled. Aren’t most baby-children a little spoiled?
I am also working my way through our current family read-aloud Mary Poppins. Kevin doesn’t really participate in this, but he is often in the periphery and doesn’t mind this tradition. All my kids read aloud to each other. Edwin and Mont share a room and read aloud together at night. My big boys read to their younger siblings at bedtime. Lillie has started “reading” to Morgan. It’s just what we do. It’s one of the ways that we love on one another. I used to read at bedtime, but bedtime has been so random lately with working late and evening play rehearsals that I usually read in the mornings.
My older kids are expected to complete a lot of their work independently. They also have chores that they are required to get done each day. Does this all flow seamlessly. Nope, but that’s part of parenting and part of training. It requires follow-through on my part, as well, to make sure that the chickens are getting fed and the math work is getting completed (and comprehended).
Do we still have date-night even though we work together?
Yes. Kevin and I are a well-oiled machine. We have been having a weekly date night for ten years now. It’s been the best thing that we could have done for our marriage and for our children. I can’t stress how important it is to carve out this time for one another.
I am still trying to get into the groove of being not only husband-wife and Daddy-Mama, but business partners. I had next-to-no involvement in his previous carwash business. This time, we wanted a business that we could grow together. Even though we share an office, we don’t spend a lot of time talking during the day. We both have our roles that we have naturally fallen into given our individual strengths and talents. This is why date night is important. Some people say date night is where you don’t talk about work or the kids. I think that is bologna! That’s all we talk about on our date nights!!! It doesn’t have to be conversation over red roses and candle light. Frequently our conversation is over a shopping cart at COSTCO. Are there any footie pjs in size 5T? What kind of bars would the kids like for breakfast? Which kind of sparkling water is on special? Do we need milk? What do we need for the office? It’s not romantic, but it’s Us. We enjoy doing Us.
What am I doing at work?
There is a huge pressure to update the store. There is no Facebook page. No Instagram. The website hasn’t been updated in over a year. There is also no POS system. All tickets are written by hand and wrung up at the end of the day in a century-old-cash register. (No exaggeration.) We are often overwhelmed by the lack of technology. The paper trail is deep and wide. I have taken ZERO pictures of the store. (How is that even possible?) Can I have a social media presence with ZERO pictures? We don’t even have that stereotypical picture of the two of us smiling and holding up the keys to our new business standing in front of the door. We just put our boots to the ground and starting working.
I am wearing more hats than I originally intended to wear. For now, I am handling all of the marketing with the newspaper, radio, magazines, and charities that we are supporting. I am the connection for the re-branding design company that is updating the Woods brand and also a retail consultant that we have hired. I am also researching vendors that would be fresh and exciting for our customers and building relationships with existing vendors.
I am learning design. Never in a million years would I have expected that my employment would have had anything remotely related to fashion. Never. God has a funny sense of humor. If y’all could see my living room. I have one antique, floral couch I bought for $35 from an auction three years ago. It’s my kids’ (and my cat’s) favorite couch. I have a broken, reclining loveseat we got from COSTCO about eight years ago when I made Kevin give up his recliner–only one side reclines now, and a green La-Z-Boy stationary couch that we got when we moved from Madison County eleven years ago because the couch we had then was too big for our living room. I have one coffee table that is ugly and too tall for the space–another auction find. We have two new cars, a custom-built house, nice clothes…but it was NEVER about the furniture with me. It’s really funny actually. (Note: I did remedy my living-room-furniture-situation yesterday. I have a new set ordered from La-Z-Boy in iClean fabric from the Urban Attitudes collection. This is a new stationary line that we are going to be carrying. I told Kevin I wanted to see if it would stand the test of our four children!)
So…How DO you crop a rainbow?
When I logged onto WordPress today, I was overwhelmed by my current blog space. I had designed it originally as a travel blog focusing on our family travels with four kids. Woodventures: Travels Big and Small is no longer a good subtitle. In God’s infinite wisdom, though, He knew that Woodventures was just the beginning for us. I had no way of knowing back in the fall of 2017 that we would be buying a furniture store. I need my Woodventures blog to reflect our current place. I needed a new profile picture, but I have nothing that feels appropriate–as I said, I haven’t documented at all up to this point. Really, though, I didn’t want to tweak my page…I wanted to WRITE. And RIGHT now. I can fix all the rest of the page later.
I decided to change my picture temporarily to a rainbow that I had taken from our back porch. We get the most beautiful rainbows here. It’s probably the main reason I don’t think I could ever sell this home. You can’t recreate the glorious effect of the rainbows that happen after the storm here. The rainbow symbolizes so much to me: God’s love, forgiveness, and promise of a bright future; Beauty in the rain; Fantasy, mystery, imagination, wonder. The Awesome blend of the spiritual and the scientific. So, I decided to use the rainbow picture this morning. As I was using my inferior WordPress skills to update my blog, I realized that the rainbow picture wouldn’t fit as it was in the profile picture spot. I had to crop it. How do you crop a rainbow? Do you cut off the left or the right? Do you just take the middle part? You can’t crop a rainbow, really, but I did because I had to. It made me laugh again at God’s love for me. I was wrestling with what to title this story–my story–of where I am today. How do I place a title on all of the growing, stretching, bending, and growing pains that this last month has brought to me and my family? This somehow seems to fit perfectly. How DO you crop a rainbow?
First, I need to tell you why I am awake. Today was my first, official day back to work in almost 12 years. I hit the bed tired. Exhausted.
Just before 1:00 AM, my will-be-five-tomorrow daughter, Lillie, starts screaming from her room across the hall. My first-responder-Mama feet hit the floor. BLAM! I rush in to diagnose. She is shaking, hot, sobbing, crying so hard she is gagging. The flu, I thought. She has the flu. Are you going to throw up? I don’t wait for a response. I wrench her out of bed. She can’t throw up in the bed…on her bear-the-size-of-me that she sleeps with. Oh, no. She’s still screaming. I can’t believe she has the flu. Shhh…. She can’t wake up her two-year-old brother sleeping in the same room. Shhh… Shut the bathroom door. Flip on the lights. We are both blinded. She’s crying harder now, standing on the cold, tile floor in her bare feet and nightgown. I’m in such a hurry to get her to the toilet before the mess flows that I wrench off the toilet seat–like ALL THE WAY OFF. It was broken anyway. My daughter is sobbing, shaking, standing over a gaping seat-less toilet in the glaring light of the bathroom. I am instructing her to throw up in the toilet. It’s ok. It’s ok. I keep repeating. Shhh… I grab a rubber band and pull her hair back. I am prepared. Rubbing her back. Breathing for her. I take a deep breath and realize in about six more seconds that she is…not sick…NOT going to throw up. My precious girl has had a bad dream. I have just dragged her out of bed, flipped on the lights, and stood her over a toilet bowl without a seat. NO WONDER SHE IS HYSTERICAL. Oh, my word. Quiet apologies. Tuck her back in the lap of the huge bear she sleeps with. I asked her what in the world has her so upset. “Dudder (Her nickname for her oldest brother) is carrying a sloth.” A sloth? “Yes, and in my room there is a WORM, not a sloth, that is tearing up my ro–oo–om.” And just like that she falls back to sleep. Just like that. She is fast asleep and I am wide awake. I have laughed out loud at my huge mistake already this morning…and wanted to tell someone. This seems terribly funny in the middle of the night when no one is up to laugh with me.
I’ve been wanting to write for days. On Thursday, we bought a local, established retail business that has been almost a year-long process. I’ve wanted to share with you our hopes and dreams and the adventure of it all. God’s fingerprints are all over this right now and it has been beautiful. I want to talk about my struggle to merge homeschooling-mother-of-four-from-teen-to-toddler with entrepreneur-wanna-be. There is a story there. I am sure of it. Right now, though, I am stuck in the peace that comes in the quiet of the middle of the night. I am inside a moment that had me laughing out loud and wide-awake enough to decide to write it down. My split-second, wrong deduction that created a story worth sitting up and writing down. I hope to get back with you soon and tell you of our Woodventures…how this word is changing and growing before us… For now, though, I am going back to bed. 2:16 AM. I think I lost an hour and twenty minutes of sleep. It was worth it to write this down. Thank you for listening. Excuse the mess. Pardon my progress.
This morning, my four-year-old daughter, Lillian, was up with me before daybreak. We were snuggled up together in the passenger’s seat of the RV, trying not to awaken her two-year old brother asleep in the pack-n-play next to us. She interrupted the silence and whispered, “Mama, what’s that sound?” What was it? I listened. It was 6 AM. The sky was still dark. It was not the sound of coyotes or owls or frogs…we can get all those noises on our farm at home. It was the sound of the highway. I laughed out loud. My little country girl didn’t recognize the sound of traffic.
I guess for most people “camping” is a break from a busy life into something quieter and simpler. So far, for us, “camping” has been in RV parks off of the interstate–in the middle of everything we want to see and do. While we have had the occasional fire in the small fire pit outside the door of our camper (steps away from where our “neighbors” tie out their tiny travel-dogs), we have yet to grace the gates of a state or national park in our RV. We’ve gone to them…just using our car and coming back at the end of the day to the RV park. The only boon-docking that we have done was in a Lowe’s parking lot.
It works for us. We like having as much electricity, water, and sewer as we need. We don’t really sit and rest well anyway. We must not be alone in this; I think that there are probably 150 other RVs, campers, and tents sharing this KOA with us. There are lots of things for the kids to do: a playground, a pool, a jumping pad, and a putt-putt area. Of course, we haven’t DONE all of these things…but we COULD. I have taken advantage of the free pancake breakfast once–and spilled the orange juice and the microwave bacon trying to get them back to my campsite.
Although we are not at the beach, our home base is providing quick access to St. Simons Island, Cumberland Island, Jekyll Island, Timucuan Ecological and Historic Preserve, and the Okefenokee Swamp. We are near lots of good seafood restaurants. (We can always come back to the RV and make s’mores!) We will be moving our rig to Savannah next week–where we will be staying at another RV park. That one is on a farm!
Today, however, we plan to visit the Okefenokee Swamp and get acquainted with some alligators–hopefully from a safe distance. Yes, I know that we aren’t really camping. I’m ok with that. I’m not much for sleeping on the ground anyway–although I did sacrifice my nice pillow to my nine-year old son, Mont, last night who’s pillow was “too squishy”. Now, that’s roughing it!
Kevin and I spent the last two days learning about the agritourism industry in Georgia. As fledgling members of the Georgia Agritourism Association, we attended a convention at Unicoi State Park absorbing all we could about this potential new business venture for our family.
The first day was the farm tour! Since the convention took place in our Northeast Georgia area, we were already familiar with several of the farms on the schedule. It was very interesting, however, to see these same places through the lens of their agritourism operations. Other farms on the tour were new to us.
and Georgia’s newest state historic site, Hardman Farm
The second day, we spent in educational sessions learning about the different facets of the agritourism industry in Georgia. As a former Georgia educator, I found the session linking what people are doing on their farms to Georgia STEM requirements (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math) of particular interest. Speakers encouraged participants to learn about the standards that educators are required to teach in their classrooms and bridge together how these translate into real-world food and fiber production at individual farms. Also of personal interest, participants were instructed how to connect with bloggers to promote themselves and use other social media tools in order to grow their businesses.
Other sessions focused on food safety, getting Georgia products into Georgia schools, marketing displays, and employee management. We learned so much! We also met some really amazing and helpful people. I took lots of notes and hope to spend the next weeks and months processing what I learned and following up on industry connections that we made. I am so thankful that we found out about this association, it’s partnership with Georgia Grown, and the contacts that we made with farmers and farming partners around the state.
We now have two trips under our belt. (How does time get away so fast?) I really need to give you an update!
Our first trip to Pigeon Forge, TN was the last week of November. We stayed here:
Since this was, at the time our first trip to a campground, I didn’t really have a comparison. Now that I am REALLY experienced, with TWO more campgrounds under my belt, I know that it was a really nice place–especially for kids! The campground had a great playground with equipment for all ages of kids–even a swing that was on a roller-coaster type system that teens (or adults) would enjoy. There was a large air-filled jumping mattress that my kids loved. There were scheduled outdoor movies. It was too cold to swim, but a pool and splash pad area provided more entertainment for warm days. Even though we were really close to our neighbors, we had a fire pit and a small fireplace area. We made s’mores!
The first two nights with my littlest kids were rough. As I mentioned in the last post, we put Morgan on the dining-room-table bed with Lillian. Well, as expected, he didn’t want to stay in bed. I woke up in the middle of the night to find that he had fallen asleep with his legs dangling off the bed. It didn’t look very comfortable! After the second restless night, we bit the bullet and went to Walmart and bought a pack-n-play. Best $60 ever spent! Oh, my word. Once he had his own space again, all was right with his world. Sleeping for all was much better after that! It was also nice to have a place to contain him when there was a lot of going in and out of the RV. With two slide-outs in this main area, there was plenty of room for the pack-in-play. We decided to leave it up for the remainder of the trip rather then taking it down and putting it back up each night. I anticipate that we will probably need it at least until the summer.
We adapted nicely to having only one tiny bathroom for the six of us. The boys showered at the bathhouse. It was very close to our RV and I sent them together to watch out for one another–with a bag of supplies and flip flops. The bathrooms were very nice and had private areas to get ready with more room then we had inside. It enabled me to get ready in the morning with some amount of privacy (with the exception of my three-year-old and one-year-old under my feet!) as well.
To bathe my little ones, I had them sit down on the shower floor so they wouldn’t fall and used the hand-held shower nozzle to rinse them off. The shower door doesn’t open all of the way because of the placement of the toilet, so it was a bit awkward. I managed, though. I used command hooks to hang all six of our bath towels. Everyone had their own towel color. Like at home, the towels were to be used twice before being put in the dirty clothes hamper.
My family generates a lot of dirty laundry!!!! This, unfortunately, does not stop on vacation. We have a teeny tiny washing machine and dryer in the RV (located in the master bedroom area). This is truly a blessing, but I had to reorganize the washing a bit. After every cycle of changing clothes/showering, I had to run a load. Two or three loads a day had to cycle through with the six of us wearing winter clothes, PJS, using bath and kitchen towels, etc. At home, I would have separated all of our stuff into separate loads; in the RV, I just thew it all in together. There is NO extra room with six people in an RV for a bunch of dirty laundry!
Hook-ups and such
I didn’t understand all of this before I actually did it, so this is for others who may be ignorant, too. If you stay at a campground with full-hookups, you have basically unlimited water and power. The toilet stuff gets flushed down into the sewer drains the campground. The water flows right in from a hose–through the hot water heater–just like at home. This, in my opinion, is the truly only good reason to stay in a campground like this. I have way more privacy at home. I can literally see inside the homes of about ten people from inside our “home”. (At our “real” house, we see NO neighbors.) Taking a hot shower for as long as I want (or as long as my kids will let me) is nice. Sewer is nice, too. We were able to connect to cable to watch cartoons–you know, important things.
I want to write soon about the actual things that we got to do on this trip…and the next one, but I know there is curiosity about how one would do a trip such as this with four kids! We also have had quite a few problems with the rig itself that I want to write about as well. We knew it would be a learning process!
Today is the day!
It’s 5:00 AM and I wanted to write to you before the day gets away from me. I planned our first trial run–a five day trip to Pigeon Forge, TN. We are going to Dollywood, seeing a couple of shows, and admiring the Christmas lights. I made our campsite reservation at a KOA located on the trolley line. The reviews said that it was cramped, but convenient.
We spent a small fortune getting everything we “needed” to stock the RV. I really did try to use doubles of things I already had in the house–but the occasion just seemed to deserve new dish towels! I did reuse older bedding that we were no longer using.
The boys’ bunks were a VERY odd size. They were 25 inches wide and 6 feet long. This is extremely narrow. I took unused queen sized sheets and wrapped them over themselves (like a burrito) so that they would stay in place. They aren’t pretty, but I think it’s functional enough.
My mom gave me a nice first aid kit for the RV as an early birthday present (42nd tomorrow–eek!). I bought some cute signs to hang up to make the space more personal. Everyone has ONE towel in their own color and a command hook on the wall to hang it up on.
I don’t anticipate needing a lot of food for this trip, but we have some drinks, milk and cereal, eggs and biscuits. I plan to stop for s’more-making materials on the way. I think it would be a crime to have our first camping trip without s’mores!
I have plans for ways to organize clothing for future trips, but for this short excursion, we each have a drawer. We have the basic essential supplies: kitchen items, dish and hand soaps, cleaning supplies, toiletries, and emergency tool items. We have diapers and wipes. I packed two tablecloths (one holiday-themed). I also hid away advent calendars as a surprise for my kids–but they found them already! Oh, we have a bottle of wine and two stainless steel wine glasses. I’ll let you know what we forgot to include…
The forth slide still does not work. Parts will need to be ordered before our next trip (to Florida after Christmas). In the meantime, the plan is to get the RV parked and use the “manual mode” which involves climbing under the coach with a big wrench and ratcheting the thing about 50 times until it moves into place.
Oh, for all you moms and dads out there who may be curious about how we handle sleeping arrangements with littles. We have debated about what to do about a bed for our youngest son, Morgan. He is 20 months old and still in a crib at home. We have room for a pack-in-play if we choose to go that route. However. We have decided, as of last night, to go ahead an put him on the table-folded-into-a-bed with his three-year-old sister, Lillian. We are prepared for a bed-time battle tonight trying to keep him in the bed until he falls asleep. As this is our forth time undergoing the crib-to-bed transition, we feel prepared to undertake this task. I’ll let you know how it goes!
Another big decision that we have discussed is what route to take. Most of you reading this will be familiar with the Blue Ridge Parkway and the winding road through the Great Smokey Mountains up from Northeast Georgia into Pigeon Forge. I am going to be following the RV this time in our car so Kevin won’t be towing a vehicle–but that also means that we won’t be riding together. I anticipate that we won’t have cell service either to talk with one another while we drive this stretch. He has poured over blogs trying to figure out if you can take a 40-ft-long coach on Blue Ridge Parkway. The alternate road is a whole lot longer. As of last night, I think he has decided that it is possible. He’s a great driver. He also has a CDL and experience driving cattle trailers through Atlanta traffic. If it can be done, I have every confidence that he can make it happen. (Did I sound convincing enough?)
I am so excited to get started. I promise to take some pictures and good notes! I will update you on our successes and areas for improvement. Have I told you that neither of us have ever traveled in an RV? Yes, we may be a little crazy.
To catch you up:
After looking for the “perfect” used coach for our family–class A diesel pusher with bunkbeds–for months, we found it! We purchased a 2010 Newmar Ventana. It took about three weeks after making our decision to bring it home. The dealership that we bought it from did an inspection on it, serviced it, and made a few repairs that you would expect in an eight-year-old coach. When Kevin went to drive it off of the lot…the check engine light came on! This was a huge disappointment. The mechanic was already gone for the day, so we had to leave the coach to have it checked out again. Kevin and our oldest son, Edwin traveled to Guatemala (post to follow!) just over a week later, so it seemed like a very long wait before we finally, FINALLY got to bring it home.
We live nearly two hours from the dealership, so it was agreed that we would meet half-way. Picking up the rig was a family affair. We piled all four kids and my mom in the car to go out to meet it. My three oldest kids, of course, wanted to stay with Kevin in the coach. My mom, my littlest, and I followed in my car. First thing, it needed gas.
As I pulled in behind Kevin at the service station, I realized that one of the tail lights was out. We had only crossed the street and already there was something to be fixed! As Kevin put $120 of diesel fuel into it, I gingerly told him about the problem. He took it in stride.
I watched him through my rear-view mirror on the way home. I was super-proud of the way that he navigated the highway in it, looking like a pro, and knowing full-well that he was alone in there with three very excited kids.
The first true test however was when we hit our road. We knew that navigating our one lane dirt road would be a challenge. It’s very narrow and curvy. Our driveway is steep and the steep part is gravel. I was told to pull in front to watch for low-hanging branches that may scrape the roof of the coach. My mother and I joked. What exactly were were supposed to do if we saw one of these branches? We couldn’t exactly back the coach up the road or turn it around. Y’all it was WIDE. Kevin did it, though. And I don’t think any trees were harmed in the process.
It has set for several weeks in the yard. Friends have come over to walk-through and share in our excitement. We have started learning…and started repairing.
After repairing the burned-out taillight, the next thing that Kevin noticed wasn’t working was the hot-water heater. (I need to learn more about how all of this works so that I can better explain it to you, but I find all of the different energy sources on the coach rather confusing.) He found all of the manuals that had been tucked away in a nice case in the master closet of the coach and began to research the hot-water heater.
Obviously, the hot-water heater is important for hot water. It is also important for the furnace. The coach’s main heat runs on a heat pump. Like most of our homes, the heat pump switches the air flow from heating to cooling as needed. This works if it doesn’t get TOO cold. I don’t remember the magic number that he told me, but somewhere in the 20s, the heat pump will freeze so a furnace is needed to take over the heating. The hot water heater runs the furnace. The hot water flows through the bottom and floor of the coach, keeping the water parts from freezing and circulating heat through the floors keeping it nice and toasty. That’s about as technical as I get, folks. So. This wasn’t working. If the temperature were to get low enough, the water in the coach would freeze and pipes would burst. This would be ugly.
My amazing husband spent hours working on this. He used a volt meter. He called the service department at the dealership. He did other things that he told me about that didn’t stick in my very non-mechanical brain. I DO, however, remember the solution. He jiggled it. Yep. There was some part on the top of the motor that jiggled and he heard the darn thing click back on. Yay!
At this exact same moment, I was inside the coach with a friend who had stopped by for a tour. I was showing her how the slides worked. The fourth slide wouldn’t come back in. The motor was motoring away, but nothing was happening. Kevin hadn’t even made it back inside, yet! Upon inspection, it appeared that part of the rotating mechanism on the slide had rusted and broken. He was able to manually move the slide with a wrench from underneath the coach. This moved it back into it’s home position so that it could be driven. (FYI: We could not do this if he were not quite so mechanically savvy!) Deep breath. Fast forward one week.
My husband and I returned from our anniversary cruise to Key West and Havana, Cuba on Saturday. This was just days before new tightening of restrictions were announced yesterday on U.S. citizens visiting Cuba. I don’t know what this looks like for the future for tourism from the United States, but I do know that our trip would have looked quite a bit different if these policies had already been in place when we traveled last week.
I have had such a difficult time deciding the direction of this post. I want to tell you how I perceive these current changes will effect current travel to Cuba for everyday tourists. I want to tell you how thankful I am to live here in the United States with the availability of products and services we have (like toilet paper!) and can provide in a private market. You need to know about the beautiful Cuban people and delicious Cuban food. Most of all, I want to tell you about the lesson I learned from allowing crazy ladies braid my hair in the market without my consent. All of these rabbit trails, demand their own space and time. Given the freshness of the information that came from the White House yesterday, I will start with explaining how I understand the current system to work and how the proposed changes will effect the type of trip that I took.
I should have begun with a disclaimer. I knew almost nothing about Cuba before we booked our anniversary cruise. We had a narrow travel window, lined up all of the possible options, and chose the Royal Caribbean cruise to Key West and Havana. It was a new destination for us. Very few U.S. citizens have traveled to Cuba. We like learning about new places and cultures. It fit our time-frame for travel. There was one balcony cabin still available. I booked it first and asked questions later.
As I was researching tours that we could take that were not through Royal Caribbean, I discovered a FaceBook group specifically for Royal Caribbean travelers to Cuba. It provided a wealth of information to me and gave me a place to ask questions of those who had recently traveled the same route. This was where I first learned about visas to Cuba.
There were only 12 ways that a non-Cuban U.S. Citizen could legally travel to Cuba. We had to fill out a visa form and pay $75 for the visa before we were allowed to disembark in Havana. There was an informational session on the boat instructing us how to fill out our forms and telling us about how to meet the governmental requirements for travel to Cuba.
There were two boxes on the form that applied to the cruise passengers. We were to choose one of the two boxes on the visa. The first was a full-day educational tour in Cuba. This option was met only if you booked a minimum 6-hour tour through the cruise line. Half-day and evening excursions through the cruise line did not meet this requirement.
The second was a “person-to-person” option that allowed us to book excursions meeting the educational travel requirement outside of the cruise companies. This option gives U.S. travelers the freedom to satisfy the full-day history and cultural lesson on our own. This visa option, as I understand it from the above CNN article, will no longer be allowed with the amended policy.
We had an evening excursion booked through Royal Caribbean to see a show at the Cuban National Hotel, but this shorter excursion did not meet the requirements for checking box one. We also had a private excursion booked online through recommendations from the FaceBook group and Trip Advisor. This seven-hour excursion satisfied the “person-to-person” requirements of our visas. So, we checked the second box on the visa form.
The tour company that we used was a privately-owned company. In Cuba, many of the tour guides and drivers–including those used by the cruise ships–are employed by the Cuban government. Privately-owned companies pay HUGE licensing fees to the Cuban government in order to stay in business. However, this seemed to be the only way that normal Cuban citizens felt that they have any chance of getting ahead. We were told that the Cuban government was no longer issuing new private licenses to its citizens because so many people left government jobs in search of higher-paying, private ones. Even careers that are considered prestigious in the U.S. like doctors and college professors make next-to-nothing in Cuba.
If U.S. citizens are no longer allowed to book tours outside of the cruise lines, privately-owned companies such as the one we used will surely suffer. These knowledgable private guides provide a valuable window into the lives of Cubans. They teach tourists about Cuban history and architecture, but also provide a foundational link in building essential relationships from “person-to-person”.
I am thankful that we were able to travel to Cuba when we did. I appreciate the information that we gained on the history, culture, customs, and everyday life from our knowledgable host. We wanted to experience Cuba before the borders opened up completely–before it lost it’s old-world vibe. Given the news yesterday, however, it seems that may still be a long-time coming. I will keep my eye on this situation in the news. Once you have experienced a place, you can no longer be ambivalent towards it. I care about the outcome of this situation. Meanwhile, I will pray for better opportunities for the Cuban people and a more peaceful relationship between our governments.
Taking our kids on the Great American Road Trip across the country in an RV has been on our bucket list for awhile. We love to travel, explore, and learn about new places and we want to be able to experience this with our kids. We are looking to take multiple, extended trips to different areas of the continental U.S. (and maybe Canada) over the next several years. Don’t pinch me, but we are actually in a position to make this a reality. First, though, we need an RV.
Kevin and I have been educating ourselves on RVs–trying to determine what will be best for us and our four kids for longer-term travel. This is what we have learned about ourselves. We are “glampers”. We do not enjoy roughing it. While we have our boys in scouts and we have participated in events with them, “roughing it” is not really our cup of Starbucks coffee. We like extra space, bells-and-whistles, and nice finishes. We don’t want to pack up the kids’ beds every morning in order to eat breakfast. We want an actual door between our sleeping space and the kids’ area. We may even (eek!) want our own bathroom. A full-sized refrigerator, room to prepare meals, and homeschool space are also amenities that would make life on the road doable for us. We also need to be able to tow a car (big enough for our whole crew–so at least a Ford Flex-sized car) so that we can explore the places we visit.
This is our list. We want a Class A or Class C motorhome. We want a bed-over-cab space for our older boys and a bunk space for our younger two. Everyone should have their own sleeping area that doesn’t need to be transformed from another piece of furniture before sleeping every night. We want a diesel pusher (as opposed to gas). In order to tow a larger car for our family, we need the power of the diesel engine.
All of this totals up to a very large RV. Kevin has very few reservations about this. I, however, have some concerns. I know that this will limit us for entrance into state and national parks. If we end up with an over-40-feet-long rig, we will not be able to fit into most of the parks. I have tried every way around this. We have looked at smaller coaches that would fit our tribe and also fit into the smaller sites at national parks. We just really think that we will be setting ourselves up for failure if we go this route. We want to love the experience and feel like we will be so much happier with a little more elbow room then this situation would allow. Larger water tanks would allow us to wash clothes and take showers. More cabinet space would allow us to bring toys, homeschool materials, and have a space for dirty clothes. Walking space around the bed in the master bedroom would allow us to actually get dressed in the morning without crawling onto the bed to put our clothes on. An extra bathroom (Did I say EEK already?) would give us some much needed privacy. (Where will we hang all the bath towels?)
How do other families/couples do it? This is where my current research is focusing. There are lots of people with large RVs out there. How are they getting around? Where do they stay? How many nights will we camp in one place? Would boon-docking be a good option for us? What does road-schooling look like for our family?
We are not looking to be full-timers. (We love our home and our community too much to pack up and leave indefinitely!) We are, however, trying to plan our future schedules (and those of our children) with caution. I know that this is up the not-so-far-ahead road for us, and I want to limit our commitments to allow for this experience for our family. I want to bring others along with me on this journey. This was one of the greatest motivators for starting this blog! We are extremely excited to be planning all of this. I look forward to sharing our Woodventures with y’all.
FDR, a.k.a. Franklyn D. Resort, is such a blessing for families. This tiny little gem of a resort is tucked into an area called Runaway Bay just outside of Ocho Rios, Jamaica. This is an all-inclusive resort for families that includes VACATION NANNIES.
All of the expected amenities can be found here, as well. The resort offers three meals a day, free drinks, water activities (glass bottom boat rides, snorkeling, fishing), organized activities for both kids and parents, an on-site nurse, and coordination for off-site excursions. FDR is not shiny. It’s not Vegas…or Sandals…or Disney. It’s Jamaican…and it feels like home.
FDR’s strength is in it’s warmth and hospitality. It’s small size promotes relationships with both the staff and other guests. The staff greeted our family with hugs and “Welcome Home’s.” Many of the guests had returned from last year at the same time so there were many familiar faces. This was our second trip to FDR, but asking around, we realized there are many returning families. One eighteen-year-old girl was there who has spent every every summer of her childhood at FDR!
We requested the same nannies. One nanny is included with the reservation, but a second nanny can be added for a very reasonable cost per day. Due to the size of our family and the age spread of our kids (11, 8, 3, and 1), we hired a second nanny to help out. The nannies are available from 8:30 AM-4:40 PM with an hour break for lunch. If you would like them to stay longer, like for an adult-only dinner and karaoke night, arrangements are made directly with the nannies. Extended hourly rates set are set by the resort and are moderate. We love our nannies! The care that they give our family is top notch. They molded seamlessly within our family; we all cried when it was time to leave.
There are a lot of amazing travel experiences for families to share together, but this is truly the only RELAXING way to vacation with children. We went swimming with all of the kids in the pool. When the little ones were ready to get out, the nannies were ready to help with towels, dry clothes, drinks, and more sunscreen. We took our older boys to Dunn’s River Falls, while the younger two stayed at the resort and enjoyed the slower pace of the activities at the kids’ club. We were able to have one-on-one time with each child–which is hard to find when you have a large crew. I took my daughter, Lillian, to the small, on-site beauty shop where she had her hair braided and nails painted. My oldest son, Edwin, went fishing with my husband. My middle son, Montgomery, chose to go snorkeling with Kevin. My baby son, Morgan, didn’t want to leave his nannies. He was totally spoiled!
The food was very adequate. The truly Jamaican foods–coffee, fruit, anything jerked, and the fresh fish were exceptional. In an effort to please the diversity of guests, the chefs prepare a wide array of dishes from all over the world. They are also happy to accommodate dietary requests. I heard one Mom talking to a chef about her daughter’s celiac disease. She had brought gluten-free pancake mix for them to use to prepare her dishes. The mom requested clean pans to prepare her daughters eggs that hadn’t been contaminated with wheat and ice cream that hadn’t been touched by other children’s cones. I really feel like the kitchen staff goes above and beyond for their guests.
Most days there is one main dining option–a themed buffet or a dining room-with-menu option. The menu is limited, but I feel that all but the pickiest eaters could find something they enjoyed. The grill is also available for lunch and dinner with sandwiches, burgers, and kid staples.
The beach that is owned by FDR is a small, kid-friendly wading area. There is a mat a little way out from the shore where guests can float and sun-bathe. The larger, more traditional beach at the resort next door is only a couple of steps away and accessible to registered FDR guests. This was also the site of the photo shoot for our family pictures.
This is Harry, our boat captain. The kids loved his funny sayings. He was fearless, honest, and hard-working. He knew the best fishing holes and the best snorkeling spots. He patiently baited the kids’ fishing hooks over and over again.
Oh, how I cherished having the time with my husband and the other wonderful couples that we met at the resort. We were all from vastly different backgrounds, but we were all parents vacationing with our kids. That was a common bond, but, really, we didn’t talk about our kids that much!
The wonderfully diverse people that we got to know there were the highlight of our trip. I met a lovely woman who is a dentist in the D.C. area. She was born in Suriname, speed reads, speaks many languages, and lives life passionately. Kevin and I also connected with a preacher and his wife from England. We talked about Christianity in the UK versus our small town in Georgia. Both of our oldest boys are 11 and loved talking about culture. Another family from Long Island, NY, lived in a 750 square foot apartment. The dad, an iron worker by trade, builds sky scrapers for a living, but is scared to death of water. There was a group of Single Moms By Choice traveling together–six moms with eleven kids between them, searching for commonality and respite. Another family from Virginia traveling with five children, asked me about homeschooling. The mother is a lawyer; the father is considering quitting his job to teach their kids at home. A family from Queens encouraged their two-year-old son to greet my daughter every morning in French. I find it interesting how people from different areas feel the need to give their children different skills. They were teaching their child French. We were teaching ours how to fish!
I love people. I love to hear their stories. It was fascinating to me to get to know all of these people that have such different experiences from me. My kids got to play with their kids. This is one of the blessings that the small size of FDR promotes that is hard to describe. The staff knows everyone by name. It really feels like a family.
Everyone has a story. I loved my time at FDR and the people I met. I loved the time to connect with my tribe away from the schedules of everyday life. If you are looking for a truly rewarding family vacation, I encourage you to look into Franklyn D. Resort. It’s less expensive (and less hectic) then Disney World!