Remember the Alamo

We finally began our adventure further south into Texas.  It was now Sunday, Feb. 24th, and we still had enough time to travel to San Antonio to see the Alamo.  Before doing so, we stay at a Thousand Trails camp ground for two nights to rest and recharge our emotional batteries after our detour to the Homestead Heritage.

Driving into downtown San Antonio, we parked our motor home on the side of the road right next to the great San Antonio River.   Just a few blocks away we walked to the Alamo, where we were able to enter the historical church building and walled courtyard for free.  Inside the church building we saw a memorial for the brave soldiers who gave their lives to “remember the Alamo” which was a catalyst for Texas to win their freedom.  (Unfortunately they do not allow pictures inside the church building).

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Behind the Alamo church building was the walled courtyard of the mission which held a variety of activities including a live reenactment of the life and time and a complete history of Texas.

Though we could have stayed longer, our 2 hour parking was about to expire and it was time to move on.  We then drove to the National Parks San Antonio Missions headquarters, where we watched a video about the history of the San Antonio Missions and the kids picked up their workbooks for the Junior Ranger Program.  As the day came to a close, the kids found a large tree to climb which they said they wanted to make into their home and stay for the night.

Photo Feb 26, 5 46 24 PM The second (and unfortunately last) day in San Antonio was even better than the first.  We drove our motor home to another of the missions locations (a total of 5 mission locations) called Mission San Juan.

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I was completely fascinated with the original purpose and design of these missions to house and protect the needs of the native people of the surrounding areas as well as being a location to teach skills and trade goods.  The missions acted as a walled city within a city.  I imagined it would be so cool to live inside of one of these self contained structures back in that time.

After lunch we rode our bikes 3 miles down the 15 mile long river walk that traveled alone the San Antonio River.

The short bike ride lead us to yet another one of the 5 missions called Mission Espada.

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A very cool mission indeed, it was a place of peace, tranquility, beauty and devotion.

They even had a working blacksmith shop there.

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And of course, as the day came to a close we stopped by the National Parks office to be sworn in, once again, as honorary Junior Rangers.

Homestead Heritage- Part 2

Our intuitions to reroute our original plans in Texas were proven right by the experiences we enjoyed at the Homestead Heritage (https://www.homesteadheritage.com/).  What was first an afternoon detour to their Homestead Cafe (see previous blog post), turned into an extra-ordinary, four day adventure beyond the limits of our imagination.  No where else have I ever felt the embrace by so many people at once.  Its warmth and depth still cradle me now.

After waking up after the first night of our stay at the Homestead Heritage (again, see previous blog post if you haven’t already), our new friend, Kash, came by once again to spend the day with us.  We were invited into the home of the farmer we met the previous day and spent the entire afternoon there.  Our kids played with the farmer’s three children, whose ages range from 9 – 14.  The kids enjoyed all sorts of fun including a pony drawn cart ride, and played with newly born bunnies among other things.

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Afterwards, Kash invited us to share dinner with his family at his home, giving our kids the opportunity to meet his six children for the first time.  The drive to Kash’s house was only minutes away as most community member of the homestead either live on the 510 acre property or on an adjoining piece of property, as was his case.  On a 3 acre homestead, we saw Kash’s vegetable garden, chicken coop, German Shepard breeding dogs and double wide manufactured home as we pulled in.  His wife Sarah (whom we had met the evening before) and children enthusiastically greeted us as we entered  through the door of their home.  We were introduced to their two older daughters ages 19 & 11 and there four younger sons ages 6, 4, 2, & 9 months.

We ate Malaysian hot dogs (Kash is from Malaysia), beef sausage wrapped in a thin egg omelet for dinner and talked into the night.  This community was a living culture unlike any we have ever experienced.  We were drawn to them, captivated by them, and embraced by them.  After we allowed the evening to advance far too long, we accepted our parental responsibility by politely retiring for the evening and preparing to shuttle our children back to our RV.

The following day we spent more time with the animals,

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and visited some of the other buildings including an “aquaponics” greenhouse.  Not ever seeing one of these before (and not even knowing what one was), Kash explained to us how the large glass fish tank in the middle of the green house was used to provide nutrients to the plants inside the building.  Through pipes buried in the ground, the waste from the fish water was re-purposed as valuable fertilizer for the greenhouse plants.  It was fascinating to see how, and why, the intricately connected system worked.

Friday, we were invited to the community’s weekly Friday evening meeting including a community wide shared dinner.  This was a smaller “cell group” meeting of about 150 people (including children).  We were served a Mexican style buffet in an old red barn made of reclaimed lumber.  The discussion that evening was about the Old Testament story of Samson and the discussion was insightful and interactive.  We got back to our RV earlier than the night before (thankfully), and got the kids to bed after another busy day.

Our final day at the homestead, before we finally headed south to San Antonio, was just as rich as the previous three.  After eating lunch by ourselves in our RV we headed to Kash’s house to celebrate together with them their oldest boy, Reuben, as he turned six years old.  I (Josh) had the privilege of helping construct a “tree house” for his son, feeling like I was serving in the farming community.  Several other boys from the community also helped including Caleb.  Even Eva put on her tool belt.  The evening celebration included “naan pizzas” and the kids created a fire in the back yard and played together as the parents hung out inside.

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Though we didn’t want to leave, we knew that “the show must go on”.  Our hearts had been overloaded with delight by our new friends but now it was time to say good-bye.  Our detour had come to an end and it was now time to finally be heading south for San Antonio.

Heritage Homestead

Feb 20th, after sleeping in the Walmart parking lot in Waco, TX, felt just like any other day on our now, almost 7 month trip.  But the ordinary became extraordinary as the day advanced.  Around 10 am, we arrived at the Homestead Cafe (http://www.cafehomestead.com/) which was located on the Heritage homestead property (https://www.homesteadheritage.com/).  Our intention was to eat lunch at the cafe and tour the community including visiting the woodworking shop, pottery shop, fabric shop, and seeing the property.

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We had a couple hours before lunch which we spent visiting various location on the homestead including in the visitors center, metal working shop, pottery shop and water powered gristmill.

Even in our first two hours there we began to notice something that stood out to us.  When ever we chatted with a member of the community, they immediately stopped what they were doing, gave us their full attention, made us feel welcomed and important, and seemed in no hurry to “get back to work”.  In fact, when we got to the metal working shop we set down on a bench set up for visitors (like us) to watch the metal smiths work.  In no time at all, the craftsman put down his tools and engaged us in conversation.  Soon after, another craftsman (the first man’s brother it turned out) joined us and we chatted for at least 20 minutes (probably longer).  This theme of people stopping in the middle of their work and treating us with such priority was experienced over and over all through the day as we continued our tour.

Next, the main attraction (or so we thought at the time).  Lunch time.  It was now just past noon and we were anxious to get a table at the cafe and sample the farm fresh flavor of home grown food.  Passing through the entrance of the cafe, we asked the server behind the counter for a table for 6.  The energy in the cafe was alive and the aroma of the country harvest lingered in the air.  A tall gentlemen (later we discovered he helped run the cafe) also greeted us, and like previously mentioned above, seemed to have nothing more important than to spend time with us.  Soon after, still standing in the lobby of the cafe, a second man joined the conversation.  20 minutes of conversation passed with these men as well, before they invited us to enjoy lunch at the table that was waiting for us.  Before we sat down, the second man, who’s name is Kash, asked if we would like for him to give us a personal tour of the homestead property.  Already being touched by the overwhelming hospitality of the morning, we agreed and he told us he would find us after lunch.

On the menu: Grass fed beef hamburgers, artisan style bread made from flour milled on site, red country style “smashed” potatoes and french fried potatoes, both grown on the homestead.  The food was amazing, the service not only great but delivered with care and respect.  We spent our time eating, relaxing, savoring and chatting about our short, but unbelievable experience so far, and our personal tour of the property to come.

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Even before we could pay for our check, our newest friend, Kash, sat down at our table and began asking us what we wanted to see on our visit.

Leaving the restaurant, Kash escorted us in a golf cart and drove us to a larger van to begin our tour of the property.

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Farm animals are always a favorite thing to see and Asher was particularly pleased to see the goats and Lydia the horses.

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Next stop was the overlook, giving us a 180 degree view of the 510 acre homestead located in the fertile Brazos river valley.  Our host informed us that 40 families lived on the property, tending and caring for the land.  Other families also lived on adjacent acreage giving them a total number of members in their community of over 1000 people including children.

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Then he drove us down to the farm valley to chat with the farmers and community members looking after the land and animals.  Once again, though the farmers where busy at work, they stopped what they were doing to give us their undivided attention.

After spending some time at the river, we drove back up to the high land and toured some of the facility buildings including the cheese shop, and “cheese cave”.

As our tour for the day was coming to an end, Kash asked us if we wanted to stay the night at the RV spot located on the property, just a stones throw away from the craft shops.  Though we had reservations at a Thousand Trails camp site about 45 minutes away, we felt compelled to accept his invitation to “stay a while longer”.  But his invitation did not end there.  He invited us to come to the Wednesday night community church gathering (also on the property) including refreshments together after words.  With only one hour between the time Kash dropped us off at our RV and the time he came back to pick us up for the evening gathering, we frantically worked to eat a quick meal as a family before we rushed out the door again.

The church gathering was a “smaller” meeting of the community where around 400 people came each week to worship, listen to a message and gather to build community and relationships.  The fully packed room was quietly reverent as we walked in and we felt that those in attendance were filled with a waiting expectation for the coming moments ahead.  The music started slow and calmly, but with growing intensity, eventually erupted into genuine praise from the body of worshipers.  The message was about surrendering to God’s direction in our lives and the crowd seemed cut to the heart by the words delivered.

Afterwords the “refreshment” socializing time was actually a catered meal from the homestead cafe of an enchilada cheese burger and french fries.  Actually a full fledged second dinner including caffeinated sweet tea at 9pm in the evening!  Sitting at a table big enough for 8, about 12 people gathered around our table, everyone actively engaged in conversation.  We laughed, talked and made ourselves known.  It was a strange feeling of being with family who we had just met for the first time.  People who, just one day before, didn’t know we existed, now, anxious to welcome us and find out who we are.

We left that meeting filled with awe and wonder, curious what tomorrow would hold.  Kash dropped us back off at our RV for the second time that day, agreeing with us that we would see him again after lunch tomorrow.  As he drove away we allowed our heart and minds to be filled and overwhelmed the memories of the day.  We had found a place, after searching a vast, beautiful country for over 6 months, that seemed beyond compare to it all.  Though our country, as we had witnessed first hand, was incredible beyond words, we had found something even greater.  A place that did not welcome us as visiting tourist.  No, a place that embraced us as family.  We were beginning to see something greater than we had ever seen before.  A community of people that was serenely devoted to functioning as the family of God.

Waco Mammoth National Monument

On Feb. 19th, we visited Waco Mammoth National Monument.  To those of you paying close attention, you will have realized that we have gone astray from the Texas itinerary we posted earlier in our blog, stating that we would not be visiting Waco until March 1st.  This occurred for several reasons and will be mentioned more in our next post.  For now, know that due to weather and flexibility, we decided to travel even further north into Texas, before eventually, we will head south just to head north again.

Weather- the day was a perfect day to visit Waco Mammoth National Monument.  Seeing that the weather forecast called for heavy rain showers, we were pleased to find ourselves indoors in a state of the art, climate controlled, excavation site protected from the elements; 70 degrees with 50% humidity, 365 days of the year.  We began our journey on a ranger lead tour from the visitors center to the dig site, all piled in an extra large sized golf cart.

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Before entering the facility we learned valuable information about how the first bones were found near a river bed, eventually leading to the discovery of the largest find of Mammoth bones together in one place in the entire world.

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Once inside we were amazed at what we saw.  A real live archaeological dig preserved for public viewing.  With a ranger lead tour, we learned about the type and size of the giant elephant like mammals.  From age to era, gender to temperament, the ranger explained the findings and history.  One of a kind, I believe, is an understatement.  It was history, science, archaeology and wonder all contained in a climate controlled box.

To better understand the size of the great beasts, they had a life sized picture of a Columbian mammoth (not to be mistaken with the Woolly mammoth) painted on the wall.  Our kids stood by it for perspective.

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After a fascinating day of discovery and fun, the kids placed their hands on a replica mammoth tooth to be sworn in as honorary Junior Rangers of the Waco Mammoth National Monument.

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Happy Birthday, Asher- 8

February 18th- We celebrated Asher’s 8th birthday all day long.  For those of you who know him, you will not be surprised that our celebrating was as creative and silly as he is.  The first priority on Asher’s birthday was a scavenger hunt to find the missing “Legend of Zelda” triforce pieces scattered around our RV.  This adventure was complete with detailed treasure map and cardboard treasure chest.

Of course this lead to the inevitable costume change into Asher’s favorite adventure hero- Link.  Once appropriately dressed he opened his other birthday cards and gifts including a crown from Eva, dubbing him “King for the Day.”

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Next priority- A breakfast fit for a king.  By request: Natural sausage and cheesy eggs with a candle on top.

The middle of the day was filled with all kind of activities all by request of Asher.  These included playing an online game called “Block Bros.,” (which has now become the favorite screen time game of the Miller kids); visiting a grocery store to pick up birthday snacks and treats; shopping at Target to spend Asher’s newly acquired birthday monies;  and finally, building and playing with the new Lego set Asher purchased at Target.

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The day was full of fun and laughter and though the sun was beginning to set, the adventure had only begun.  The grand finale came at dinner time when we went to Olive Garden (a family favorite) and the staff sang an upbeat version of “Happy Birthday” including a chocolate birthday massage and free desert.

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Asher finished off the sweets completely, knowing full well that our next stop was our family’s favorite ice cream stop- Menchies.  There we filled our bellies to our heart’s content with frozen yogurt, syrup, gummy worms and candy bliss.  Our celebrating was complete.  Happy Birthday, Asher.  You are becoming such a big boy.

 

Belton, Texas

You might be wondering why we chose Belton, TX as our first stop in Texas, especially if you consider its location (in the center of the state) in proximity to all the other places we want to visit.  Naturally it would make more sense to visit San Antonio and Austin first, before heading further up North into Texas on our way to Missouri.  Let me explain.

Back in December we visited a bookstore in Florida to stock up on materials for our road schooling adventure.  Among them was a book & magazine about homesteading that our family become drawn to.  In the magazine was an ad for a homesteading EXPO in Belton, TX on Feb 16th & 17th.  https://www.motherearthnewsfair.com/texas/ (hopefully this link is still active) We were very interested to go and since the dates seemed like they would line up with our schedule, we made it a date to be there.  Because we ended up staying in Florida for so long (2 months) we had to drive straight from New Orleans to Belton, bypassing San Antonio and Austin, in order to make it to the EXPO on time.  As you will read about below, it was well worth it.

The homesteading EXPO was a two day event with break out sessions every hour from 9 – 5.  With 8 different stages, all with varying focuses, there wasn’t enough time in the day to see everything the EXPO had to offer.  Among the sessions we visited we saw: Planning a Homestead, Building (and playing with for the children) with clay and straw,

creating a homemade composting toilet, making homemade bread (with demonstration & free samples) and making homemade mozzarella cheese (with demonstration).  Also we saw many farm animals and vendors.

A group of people there called the Heritage Homestead, had many hands on crafts at the EXPO.  All four of our children created something homemade at their stations including; Caleb- a wooden spatula,

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Lydia & Asher- cloth woven bracelets,

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and Eva- a thread woven coaster on a hand machine loom.

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Not only did we have a blast at the EXPO but we were especially impressed with what the Heritage Homestead had to offer.  We discovered that they had a Homesteading craft village and cafe that we could visit about an hour north of Belton.  Because of how much we enjoyed our time with them, and we decided that we would visit them after the EXPO was over.

A Tribute to Fluffy- Our Guinea Pig

Our first week in Texas has been unbelievably amazing and we impatiently long to tell everyone about it.  But we find that life has a way of stopping us sometimes so that we can pause and reflect on what life is really all about.  We received word from my mom that our almost 6 year old guinea pig, whom my mother so graciously agreed to care for while we were on this trip, passed away yesterday.  For a guinea pig, he was old and, leaving on this trip, we knew the reality upon coming back, he might be gone.  Though we hoped he would out live the length of our adventure, sadly he did not.  I have never seen my children so cut to the heart in sorrow as I did last night when we told them this regretful news.  Fluffy will be deeply missed and is loved by us all.

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Taken July 27th 2019- The last time we saw Fluffy

Today we pause to reflect and pay tribute to our now late family member.  Fluffy: April 2013 – February 24th, 2019.  Here are words from each one of us:

Caleb (12):  Fluffy is family to us. We all loved him very much. When we first got him I got scared at night because when he drank from his water bottle it made a clicking sound but then I got use to it. Here are a few things I really liked about Fluffy.  Fluffy’s favorite food was strawberry stems.  Whenever we opened the fridge and he heard plastic bags moving around, he would start running around his cage and squeak.  Fluffy also had a little spot on his nose that made him unique from any other guinea pig.  Once we bought a ball for him.  When we put him in there he would just sit there and do nothing.  The funnest part was when we put him on the floor and he would run under something and it would take us a while to get him out.  Also, another fun thing was making his cage look nice after we cleaned it and when we put Fluffy in it he flipped over his house. Lydia and I would tell Fluffy not to do it but it was no use.  I also tried teaching him tricks.  He was never interested.  He was a very relaxed guinea pig and had a very relaxing life.  We all miss him very much.  But we all know he is happy with God.

Lydia (10): Our family is not the same without Fluffy.  He was an important part of our lives!  When we got him I was four and it was two-ish weeks before my fifth birthday.  I loved how it was like my birthday present.  I had always wanted some type of pet besides a fish.  We had four fish in a row and I wanted something more active and some animal I could hold.  Since I was the kid in the family that was more of an animal person his cage was always in the room I slept in.  Fluffy was a great and smart guinea pig.  Once he got used to the routine of how we fed him, he was squeaking every time he heard a plastic bag because the lettuce was held in one.  He could be distinguished from any other guinea pig because he had a little spot on his nose that made him so cute.  When Caleb and I cleaned Fluffy’s cage we would make it look so nice.  But once we put Fluffy in his cage he would mess it up and Caleb and I would laugh and say, “noooo.”  It was funny! My favorite part about Fluffy is everything; funny, cute and smart, he was the best.  I’m going to miss him so much! But we all know he is happy up in heaven with God.

Asher (8): When I was two years old, we first got Fluffy.  I called him “Fwuffy” because I was really little.  I liked Fluffy because of his squeak, his fluffy fur, and when we let him out of his cage he ran around and hid.  I liked to feed him his dinner of lettuce, cucumber, and carrot ends.  It was funny when I opened the fridge and he did his little squeak.  The thing I will miss most about Fluffy is his little squeak.

Eva (6):  What I liked about Fluffy was everything.  When we opened the refrigerator he squeaked.  I liked to feed him his food.  I liked taking him out of his cage and putting him on my lap.  I liked to eat Fluffy’s cucumber and tomato stems.  I liked that Grammy tried to bring Fluffy on the plane to us when we were in Florida (but the airlines would not allow a rodent for check in or carry on).  It’s so weird that they only let birds and dogs and cats on the plane. But birds are crazier than guinea pigs, so why don’t they let guinea pigs on the plane?  The End.

Daddy: One of my favorite times at home is when Mel and the kids are gone and I have the house all to myself.  Such times are relaxing, reflective and recharging.  Though all my human family is absent during these times, I have always had the quiet presence of my furriest family member and I had never felt alone.  This, I reflect with sadness, will be greatly missed.

Mommy: When we brought Fluffy home, I was very reluctant to have a rodent in the house but the kids really wanted a pet and a guinea pig seemed like a good option.  I never planned on doing much with the little thing but I soon took to him.  His cute squeaks and mild manor won me over.  He was even cuddly and soft.  I can honestly say I loved Fluffy.  He was a very good addition to our family.  I will truly miss his presence in our home.

So today has been a day of remembrance for the “Fluffy-est” member of our family.  Fluffy, we love you and you are missed.