Valentine’s Truck Stop Date

Valentine’s Day marked for us our first full day in Texas.  Being a very LARGE state, it will require much time to drive through it.  Though not nearly enough time (did I just have deja vu?), we will be spending about 3 weeks in the state.  Our basic itinerary is as such:

Feb. 15-19:  Belton (Asher’s Birthday is on the 18th).

Feb. 20-23: Amistad National Recreational Area (including a border crossing into Mexico).

Feb. 24-26: San Antonio and The Alamo.

Feb. 27-28: Austin.

March 1-2: Waco (including Waco Mammoth National Monument).

March 3-6: Dallas/Fort Worth- Visiting friends and family.

March 7-8: Traveling to Kansas city to see Mel’s brother, Matt, and his family.

Not giving much thought to Feb. 14th when we originally planned this itinerary, we found that our regular Valentine’s Day routine would be unlike any other we have ever had during our 14 years as a married couple.  A typical Valentine’s Day for us normally consists of farming our children out to a babysitter or grandma and grandpa (overnight in many cases), and dinner for two at our favorite restaurant.   Afterwords, we might go out for a movie or hang out at our favorite gathering spot, often time till midnight or later.  We would return home to children already asleep in bed (or better yet, no kids at all) giving us an excuse to put each other to bed instead of the children.

All these thoughts were pleasant distant dreams to me the morning I awoke this year on Feb 14th,  2019.  I could hear the sounds of cars driving around us in the Walmart parking lot, where we had parked and stayed the night before.  It was a travel day for us.  I did some early morning grocery shopping before we spent the rest of the day driving.  We stopped at a state park in Texas, where the kids played at a large play ground and we ate lunch.  Because we were running low on water in our fresh water tank I had to fill up three – one gallon water jugs at the park drinking fountain to supply us with the water we would need for the rest of the day.  It was just past 2 pm when we left the park.  We had over three hours of driving ahead of us.  Just after 6 pm, we pulled into a truck stop where I was able to dump our dirty tanks and fill up on fresh water.

It you didn’t catch the weight of what was just said, I will say it again, another way.  Instead of getting ready to go on a Valentine’s date alone with my bride, I was pumping poop out of our RV.  Very romantic indeed.

Once that was over, we drove a short distance longer, where we camped along side the noisy I-35 interstate at a rest stop nearly taken over by idling truckers.  Now almost 7 pm, we still had the chore of making dinner and putting the kids to bed.  Once in bed the kids continued to bounce around like jumping beans due to several naps they had taken while we drove earlier in the day.  I was all too pleased when they finally settled down.

I write all this to get to the point I am finally trying to make.  Though I have accurately described the day without exaggeration (this is a hard thing for me to do) I have intentionally painted this picture to create a contrast.  The contrast is this:  Though Mel and I were not privileged with a babysitter, dinner out, or a movie to ourselves, our Valentine’s Day this year will be remembered like no other.  After a hard days travel we settled down together with a glass of red wine and dark chocolate.  We traded cards and poems that we had written one another earlier.  And though we laughed at the irony of the time and place of our date together, we both agreed that this Valentine’s Day might be the best, more memorable Valentine’s we have had in our 14 years of marriage.  I love you, Mel- Happy Valentine’s Day.

 

 

 

NOLA

This past week we stayed in NOLA (New Orleans, Louisiana) and did everything New Orleans style.

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From ferry boat rides across the Mississippi river to eating fresh hot beignets at Cafe du Monde.

From listening to jazz music at the National Park Jazz Center to watching street performers act in front of large crowds of curious people.

New Orleans has a culture and style unlike any city we have ever seen.  We spent several days in the French quarter, exploring the French architecture with its second story balconies and ornate decorations.

We walked along the shoreline of the Mississippi river near the steam powered river boats.

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We visited the Louis Armstrong memorial park, and enjoyed the artistic sculptures that paid respect to legends of jazz.

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We rode the street cars along the waterfront, down Canal St. and through the Garden District.

We visited the famous above ground cemeteries.

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We even saw skilled glass blowing artists wielding their craft (unfortunately photography was prohibited).

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The only thing we did choose to avoid with our children was Bourbon St.  We could go on and on about all the adventure we had in this city of unique culture.  But, there is one specific experience that we had that epitomized the city of New Orleans for us and that will forever be a family memory that we will never stop talking about.

Last Saturday we went into town with the intentions of staying out later than usual to take in the full flavor of the New Orleans night life.  To our surprise, we experienced much more than we originally bargained for.  Because of the large size of our motor home, it is difficult to drive through narrow streets (like those in New Orleans).  We solved this problem by parking a half mile east of the french quarter and walking into town from there.  After a full day of sightseeing, street car riding and dinner with live music, the kids were exhausted and I myself (Josh) was at my emotional limit for the day.  Walking back to our RV through the now dark streets of New Orleans, we enjoyed the lively bustle of the night life scene.  Walking through the French Quarter and then along French St. the energy and the vibe of the city grew louder and more energized.  It was confusing to me why the crowds of people seemed to be increasing as we walked away from the city’s center.  There seemed to be a large gathering up ahead of us with loud music and I realized there was some sort of live concert in the street.

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Getting closer and closer, we moved ourselves into the crowd to find not a concert, but a night time parade.  This parade, as we had been told about by someone earlier in the day, was the 9,000 person strong “Krewe of Chewbacchus.”  With a cast of people I thought resembled nothing like any of the Star Wars movies I had seen, we watched an eclectically costumed hoard complete with neon flashing lights, multi-colored “brain” wigs, space vikings, illuminated human sized hamster wheels and creatively designed parade floats.

Though we thought the parade to be a fascinating display of human creativity, we were all tired and wanted nothing more than to be back home (in our RV I mean).  We followed the parade route, pushing through the crowds of drunken spectators.  The crowd watching the parade seemed to be getting thicker with inebriated onlookers the further we traveled, until finally we reached the street our RV was on.  At this moment we realized two things.  1.) Our RV was on the opposite side of the parade, making it impossible to get to it without walking directly through path of the parade.  2.) Even if we could get to our RV, the parade route was in a perfect circle around our RV making it impossible to drive away from the city with diving directly through the path of the parade.

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The kids, overwhelmed with all the stimulation, started to become worried that we would never be able to leave.   Talking to a police officer helping out with the parade, we were told that not much could be done about our situation, we would just need to wait for the festivities to be over.

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Then, a sudden misfortune for a costumed man on top of one of the parade floats became our ticket to the other side of the street.  A large, low hanging tree branch snagged the top of the parade float, nearly knocking the man off.

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The parade stopped as they tried to remedy the situation, and, in a flash, our family dashed through the parade to the other side of the road.  Mission one accomplished.  Jumping into our motor home I cranked the engine and sped away, looking for a passage way out.  Seeing the parade in front of us I did a U-turn (yes a U-turn in an RV) and drove the other way.  Seeing the parade in front of us again (like I said, a circle around us, I turn left and drove East.  Mel, giving me turn by turn instructions through the narrow streets we had earlier made sure to avoid, we sought to find the street on which was the start of the parade, with the hopes that it would by now be empty of people.  Following other cars, who being stuck in the “circle of death” like us, were searching desperately for a way out.  We did finally find the correct route and, to our relief, was free from the madness of people we had recently left.  Free at last, we were able to escape from the chaos that was, in fact, the very reason we had stayed out late on Saturday night to begin with.  We had been given a truly unique taste of the night life culture of New Orleans city.  I am confident that our children will remember this day for the rest of their lives.

Just a Matter of Time

It was just a matter of time before it happened.  It was inevitable.  How could one plan on driving 20,000 miles around the country and not expect it.  Which is why when it happened I (Josh) was neither surprised nor worried.

We left Florida yesterday (Yes, after two beautiful warm months, we had to say good-bye).  We traveled along I-10.  Our plan was to drive from Tallahassee, Florida through Alabama and Mississippi and finally to make it to Louisiana, in one day.   That might sound like a long distance, but it is only a 5 1/2 hour drive.  OK, so very doable.  As we drove down the interstate, we were in awe of the spectacle of damage that had taken place due to Hurricane Michael back in October.  Like broken toothpicks standing straight up in forests on both sides of the road, most every tree was snapped in half, 10 to 15 ft from its trunk.  The power of the hurricane’s force was obvious, even months after it was gone.

Teams of road workers, we imagined, spent weeks cleaning up all the debris lay strewn across the interstate making it impassable for days after the mighty storm.  As we imagined what the trees must have looked like, bending and snapping against the force of the menacing weather, we heard a startling loud BANG from the back side of our RV followed by a fast, repetitive DU-DU-DU-DU-DU noise coming from the right rear of the vehicle.  I quickly slowed down from 75 mph as I pulled over to the right shoulder and came to a stop.

“What was that?” the kids all screamed.  “Did the propane explode?” one of them asked.  “Did the bikes fall off the back?” said another.  “Settle down,” I said.  “Let’s go outside to check out what happened.”

We all dashed out of the right side door and examined the surroundings.  No explosions on the side of the RV, bikes-still there.  Then I stuck my head under the motor home and discovered the problem.  A blown tire.

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And of a magnitude I have never experienced in my life.  This wasn’t just a limp flat- not a half deflated, need to fill up air problem.  No this was a full on explosion of a tire.  This was hurricane force kind of damage; with 360 degrees of the bottom tire tread completely missing and a hole large enough for me to stick my entire fist through.  Metal wire making up the inter-strength of the tire was exposed (I didn’t even know tires had metal in the treads).

Like I said, I wasn’t surprised.  I had expected, at some point, I would need to deal with a major tire issue on this trip.  We were now at 14,000 miles of road travel on this trip and the inevitable had finally happened.  I was actually a bit excited.  It was part of the adventure of a great road trip to deal with a flat tire.  I have actually created a motto for myself this trip that I try reading every morning when I wake up “Life is a great adventure that I choose to enthusiastically enjoy every moment of.”  I think it helps and it had prepared me for this moment.

Going back inside the motor home, I collected my thoughts and began to think about what to do next.  Lydia suddenly burst into tears, terrified that “Advi” (the name for our motor home), was permanently ruined.  After praying together as a family and reassuring her that everything would be alright, we looked at our GPS to find out where we were.  3 miles away from the nearest city.  With the traffic light and a generously sized shoulder on the right side of the road, we reasoned that our second right rear tire would be strong enough to get us into town.

Driving at 10 mph on the shoulder of I-10 we slowly “limped” along until we were able to turn off, onto the city exit.  We stopped at the nearest parking lot, took a deep breath, and sighed in temporary relief- we had made it off the interstate, away from the dangers of the other cars racing past us.

Next we called tire companies in town and discovered one about 2 miles away that had the tire we needed in stock.  Not only relief this time, but happiness and excitement came alive inside us all.  This might not be that bad after all.

And it wasn’t.  Driving once again at 10 mph, we crept through town, on our way to our salvation.  National Tire Broker in DeFuniak Springs saved the day.  With fast, friendly service, they are the kind of people that give the name to southern hospitality.  Small town, family owned- just what we needed.  They quickly assessed the problem, took off the old tire, put on the new, and got us back on the road in no time.

With very little lost (what’s a few hours on a 10 month trip) we were back on our path.  The road side tire insurance we purchased with the motor home even covered the cost of the replacement tire in full.  We continued on with our plan, driving though Alabama, Mississippi, and landed in Louisiana where we sleep last night.

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Today we are camped at a state park, just outside of New Orleans.

Nothing lost, but so much gained.  The thrill of the adventure.  The ever increasing faith that God is good and He is with us.  The life lessons that our children can learn only through experience.  Knowing that no matter what happens, even if our recovery is not so swift next time, we are together and we have each other.  That, I feel, is what it is all about.  That was what was gained yesterday.

Eva turns 6 years old

Today, February 2, the day Eva has been counting down to for over two weeks now- Her birthday.  And oh was today a celebration.  Eva started off the morning by letting everyone know that she was queen and that she had the right to control us and that we had to do as she said all day long.  Actually she had already started making plans weeks before as she had already instructed me what to cook her for breakfast and dinner two weeks in advance.  The breakfast menu: Grampy’s famous crepes and bacon.  Well apparently I wasn’t listening to her very closely two weeks ago since I only heard her say she wanted crepes for breakfast.  When I told her that, in fact, I did not buy any bacon- she was shocked that I had not remembered correctly.  The offence was short lived and she settled for salami and pepperoni instead of bacon.  I dodged a bullet.

IMG_0297Eva’s eating her crepe.  Notice the salami and pepperoni is already eaten.

After breakfast we played a family game of Settlers of Catan, per Eva’s request, and not to long after that it was lunch time and the kids ate left over baked potatoes.

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Eva’s next command, I mean request, was to ride our bikes 2.5 miles one way to Walmart, where she could choose her birthday treat, birthday snack, and birthday dessert.

 

After the bike ride back, Grandma and Grandpa (Mel’s parents) called to wish Eva a happy birthday.  The conversation was short lived as Eva had already set her heart on watching a movie and eating her birthday snack.

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Not long after the movie ended Eva was asking when dinner would be ready.  As I was cooking dinner Grammy and Grampy called (My parents) and sang happy birthday to Eva over the phone.

At last dinner was served.  Hot dogs, chicken nuggets, seasoned curly fries and fresh steamed green beans.  I even received a thumps up for excellence.

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Of course no birthday is complete without a family round of “happy birthday.”

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And, as if it was truly the moment all the kids had been waiting for all day- dessert.

 

As you  can see, the girl was truly treated like a queen today.  Her smile says it all.

Now I could easily stop here and I am very tempted to do so.  But it would not be honest for me to say that today was a perfect day and we lived happily ever after.  Eva was treated like a queen, Eva was the star of the show, Eva did get everything she ask for- with one exception- Mommy.

For 3 years now, Mel has been involved with international travels with World Vision.  This last week she has been in Guatemala (hopefully you got to see the blog she posted yesterday).  She was scheduled to arrive back in time to celebrate Eva’s birthday with us today, but due to scheduling conflicts with the team, her schedule was change after she had already committed to going on the trip.  It was a huge sacrifice for her to miss our families special celebration, but I believe the work she is doing to improve the lives of hundreds of families across the world (literally- Mel has personally been responsible for over 120 families across the world to live a better life) is worth it.

I must confess that as I was cooking dinner, organizing the celebration and helping clean up, I was exhausted and frustrated that my suitable helper was no where to be found.  But as I reflect in the darkness of the RV, typing this blog as the children are calmly asleep, I can’t help but believe that she is doing the right thing.

Mel I missed you today.  But it was worth missing you today so that you can continue to do the work that is so good for you to do.  Thank you for your courage and sacrifice.  We love you very much and look forward to seeing you tomorrow.

Guatemala

Hello dear friends and family. I (Mel) am writing from my hotel room in the beautiful city of Antigua, Guatemala. My time here has been full of so many emotions. I have so much I want to share but for tonight I’m sharing my new family with you. I have prayed and prayed (and I know so many of you have too, thank you!) over my meeting with Vanesa’s family. In case you don’t know, Vanesa was the little 2-yr-old girl I sponsored in preparation for this trip. She passed away about a month after I sponsored her due to a heart condition she was born with. The World Vision staff still arranged for me to meet her family. Leading up to the time of the meeting, I was so nervous. What do I say? What do I do? What will they think of me coming to meet them? As I walked up to the restaurant we were meeting at, I knew the moment I saw them that they were her family. When I saw their faces, all the nerves washed away. The Holy Spirit took over and created the most beautiful and intimate space in the midst of the brokenness. The staff introduced us and Marta, Vanesa’s mom, fell into my arms and sobbed for her baby. She held on to me so tight. We stood there crying together for so long. I just held her for as long as she needed. Then, Martin, Vanesa’s dad, came over and held me tight and cried on my shoulder too. I could feel all their deep pain as they grieved their baby girl gone so soon from them. In that moment, God grew my heart even more to embrace this family and love them fully.

Through the rest of our time together we shared stories of our families, I learned more about Vanesa and her three older siblings, we cried, we laughed, and we cried some more. My gift to them was the picture of Vanesa from her sponsorship folder. They don’t have any photos of themselves and I wanted them to always have a picture of her. When I presented it, they grieved more and yet they were thankful. When it was time to say goodbye, I knew I would see them again. I’m in process of being able to sponsor her oldest sister. I will be back with my family to visit them again some day. After all, they are my family now too. I’m so thankful for how the Lord orchestrated our time together.

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Martin, Marta, and their children live in a community that WV is just starting out in. They live high in the mountains, in a place called Chiantla, where resources are extremely limited. Every time they needed to take Vanesa to the doctor or hospital it would take 3 hours to get there and they would stay for days. Now that WV is there, they will work with empowering and equipping the families with what they need to not only survive but to thrive. My heart breaks to think that if WV had only been there earlier that maybe Vanesa would still be with us because they could have had access to health care and do something about her condition at the start. But now, we can be a part of changing the story for the families and children of Chiantla. We can support this community and lift them up. We can empower them to overcome their challenges and make a better future for their children and their community.
Will you join me in sponsoring a child in Chiantla? It’s only $39 a month. There are so many children waiting for sponsorship because it is a new Area Development Project. These families have so much potential and they will overcome with our support.
I am including pictures of two children in Chiantla. If you would like to sponsor one of them, message me and I’ll send you the link for it.


Sponsoring is life changing and we get to be a part of it! Please join me!

One More Thing

I believe there is a right of passage to becoming a true RVer.  I’m sure you’ve all seen them.  The fancy colorful stickers that RVers slap on the side of their rigs to show off to the world all the wonderful places they have traveled to in their shinny RVs.  Our family is no different, and about a week ago we too did the same.  We have now become “one of them.”

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In total, we have driven our RV through 31 states in less than one year.  Here are the states listed in order:  Washington, Oregon, California (We traveled to OR & CA last April when we took the RV to Disneyland),  Idaho, Montana, Wyoming, South Dakota, Minnesota, Wisconsin, Michigan, Indiana, Ohio, Pennsylvania, New York, Vermont, New Hampshire, Maine, Massachusetts, Rhode Island, Connecticut, New Jersey, Delaware, Maryland, Virginia, West Virginia, Kentucky, Tennessee, North Carolina, Georgia, South Carolina & Florida.

We plan on traveling through 13 more unique states before the end of this trip bringing our grand total to 44 state in a little over one year.  Such an adventure!

6 Months of Financials

Here is a simple spreadsheet of all the spending we have done on this trip so far.  For those of you who wonder: Yes I do this sort of stuff for fun.  (I can’t explain it- I have been drawn to financial spread sheets since I was a kid.  Financial management is in my blood.  I couldn’t be true to myself if I didn’t do this for fun.)  OK, enough about me already:

Month Food Gas Camping Propane Laundry Parts Attraction Eating Out Tolls/Transit Other Total
August  $      1,369  $         1,839  $         501  $         27  $         34  $         58  $               72  $            186  $         871  $        4,958
September  $      1,220  $         1,255  $         216  $         66  $         14  $       280  $            146  $            117  $             106  $         558  $        3,977
October  $      1,382  $            895  $         664  $         20  $         49  $       257  $         1,391  $            287  $             319  $         666  $        5,929
Noverber  $      1,228  $            818  $         170  $         38  $         15  $         87  $            292  $            397  $             363  $         254  $        3,660
December  $      1,310  $            577  $         140  $         19  $         50  $       103  $                –  $            281  $               30  $         868  $        3,378
January  $      1,312  $            361  $         210  $         25  $         20  $          –  $               88  $            148  $               17  $         124  $        2,305
Grand Totals  $      7,822  $         5,745  $      1,900  $       196  $       181  $       785  $         1,989  $         1,415  $             833  $      3,342  $      24,208

(Sorry about the formatting.  This blog site does not accommodate spreadsheets very well.)