Wednesday, October 31, 2018

VA: Yorktown

Next stop: Jamestown. Yes, we deviated from the chronological order a bit, but for good reason, which I will explain in my post about Colonial Williamsburg.

 Trying out firing a flintlock!  

 Wow, those things are heavy! Very hard to hold it level while you fire. I was impressed with the apparent strength of the woman demonstrating--she made it look so easy. 

 This time we had a cousin along for the field trip!

 Lots of demonstrations going on--here is the communal kitchen for the militia at camp. 

 Happy (kid closest) being Molly Pitcher in the cannon demonstration. 

 Demonstration of using tools to find and remove musket balls from flesh and bone. 

As with the other "living history" sites we saw in the area, Yorktown had a really good museum.  I thought the film that explained the significance of the battle was very well done, and I found this display series on the wall fascinating: 

 I hope you can see the images and read the text if you embiggen. 

VA: Jamestown

After Florida we only had about a week at home base in AL--just enough time to rest a bit, do laundry, clean and restock the trailer, and get a little formal schooling done. But then we were off on one leg of our road trip that I had most anticipated--Washington D.C.!  I had been there with my parents and sisters when I was in middle school, but I didn't remember much. I could not wait to explore it with my kids!  It would have been even more fun with Mr. Incredible along, but he was working at home, so my parents went with us. 

We started the trip to Virginia by visiting my little sister and her family, who happen to live in homeschool history heaven--right near Jamestown, Yorktown, and Colonial Williamsburg.  How perfect to officially start our Big American History Field Trip at the beginning--Jamestown settlement!

So, just to let you know, I have FAR too many photos I could share. But even so I can't possibly show you an accurate representation of the breadth and gist of any of these places, so I'm not going to try. I don't want the responsibility of trying to do them justice, or needing to give you some new history insight. These are not going to be those helpful homeschool posts. 

Instead, I'm just going to share whatever photos I feel like. Whatever caught my interest. Whatever the kids and I particularly enjoyed. So feel free to skim if you aren't excited by the same things I am!

So, first at Jamestown--the ships:

There is something about this interior that inspires me for a home--maybe because it is all dark, old wood and cozy spaces and indirect lighting, like our current little cabin? 

Definitely getting inspiration for creative bunks.

And digging the natural lighting.

Love hands-on learning--Smiley learning how to steer the ship. 

Happy and Smiley helping trim the sails. 

This photo was from the main building--I just love intersections of history. 

The settlement: 

I did take some photos of the Governor's House, the stockade walls, the cannon, the buildings, all the things you should try to record--but the photos are quite underwhelming. So I'm only sharing the ones that evoke the best feel of the place. 

The Indian village:

Making a dugout canoe. 

This particular structure really hit me for one thing--how it was made to invite you into the history. You could sit and imagine in this space.

And you could touch!  On the road trip out we had been to several museums that discussed the fur trade, American Indian life, etc. so we had already seen several displays of fur. But NEVER one that actually let us interact with it--the furs were always behind glass or out of reach or had big signs that said Do Not Touch. Here I was sitting on a bed of skins!  I was walking around touching everything!  This one little thing, that made the experience of the people visiting more precious than the items themselves, as if they trusted us with the history, made a big impression on me.

The museum: 

Look at the way they divided the building into one big timeline! Too much to take in!

One last thought: 

--I highly recommend the books Sarah Morton's Day, Samuel Eaton's Day and Tapenum's Day. These books came to mind while we were at Jamestown; while they are set at Plymouth Plantation, it must be a recreation very much like Jamestown, because the whole day I felt like we were walking around inside those books. Those books, and On the Mayflower, are really great for early America homeschool learning--the photos and descriptions really draw the reader into life for early settlers.

Tuesday, October 30, 2018

Finishing Florida & Looking Ahead--the Untold Tales of God's Goodness

Hello!  We have been traveling again, this leg around the northeastern US, and we intentionally left the laptops at home base in AL--so, no blogging. Turns out we had unreliable and insufficient wifi the whole trip, so attempting to blog would have been an exercise in frustration anyway. Not that I have time for anything other than driving, family fun, eating, and sleeping when we are on the road! (Yes, in that order ; ) 

As you can guess, I'm very much behind on posting stories--the Florida tales happened in August and here it is October, three legs of our long road trip later! And now its time to start the final leg of the road trip, heading back to CA! The whole trip has been amazing, but has gone very quickly.  I'm going to do my best to post what I can from the past 2 months in the time I have here--wish I could be sharing the stories in real time, but given that I'm always on a borrowed laptop when the owner isn't using it, and that we don't often have electricity and wifi and free time when we are on the road, I'll be content with playing catch-up.

I want to return to the Florida leg for one last post before I move on to relaying more recent adventures--because there were things happening that the photos don't show, and that I didn't mention, but which I want to share. I wanted those first posts to be a record of the family fun we had, the kids and I and my parents on our first trip together in the little trailer. But I knew all along that I would need to make a separate post for all the blessings and miracles. Yes, miracles. God had His hand on us and kept us safe, and blessed us abundantly--we didn't deserve the outpouring of Love He showed us, but we were aware of and extremely grateful for it.  And I want to record what I can before I forget--so many adventures are pushing those less tangible memories out of my mind, and I don't want to lose them. In many ways, they were the most important part of the whole Florida trip. But already, sitting down to record them, I can only remember a few. That's ok--because the main lesson learned was that His mercies are truly new every morning, and the little events themselves are not as important as the overall picture they showed us of God. So I'm going to try to relay what I remember now and hope I can convey to you what they meant to us.

--Before we go on any new adventures my Dad does the good dad thing and checks out the trailer for loose screws & things needing repair/shoring up. Our little trailer was not the best built (ah, the economy of the 80s) and it has been shaking and bumping all over the US--I think it can be pardoned for slowly falling apart as we go (Insert humorous single mom on a homeschool road trip analogy here). But there are some things that Dad can't anticipate. Good thing God always does. 

For example, while on the road we usually try to time bathroom stops for when we are already stopping for gas or food, and if we don't need either we will usually just pull into a rest area for the quickest stop. But on our very first day on the Florida trip, for our very first stop, it so happened that we needed bathrooms when we didn't need gas or food, and for some reason we saw a Lowe's and decided, on a whim, to stop there. After everyone used the facilities I quickly opened up the trailer to grab a snack in case anyone got hungry before the next stop--and saw the vent hood over the stove was hanging down, having come loose on one side. We didn't have the tools with us to fix it properly--but since we just "happened" to be already stopped at a home improvement store, Dad went inside and within minutes he had the hood held securely by bungees. And so already, on the first day of the trip, we felt God's love and merciful provision--that He had anticipated our need and brought us exactly where we needed to be to fix it.

So, I realize that non-Christians reading this will say, that's nothing but coincidence. All I can say to that is, once is coincidence. Twice is an incredible coincidence. Things like this happening on a daily basis for weeks? Impossible to be anything other than the loving hand of a Good Father, who knows our needs (often before we do) and who moves on our behalf. 

--Here we were driving down to Florida in the middle of August. Totally the wrong time of year, most people would say, because of the heat. But because we were trying to avoid hurricane season and to set ourselves up for the ideal time to visit Washington D.C. in September, we really had no choice. So, it was hot. Eh, I figured we would be hot anywhere in the South we went, so it might as well be Florida. And yes, it was hot--really hot--but we were fine. Until the very first night of camping, when the camper's air conditioner died on us in the middle of the night. Fortunately it helped us all fall asleep before it died during the coolest part of the night, so we got a decent night's sleep--but what were we going to do for the rest of the trip? The kids and I like the heat, so we probably would have had very hot but bearable nights--but my poor parents were not going to be able to sleep well without some relief. 

So we stopped at a Walmart the next day and while I shopped for groceries my parents went looking for small but strong electric fans. They wanted two--one for each end of the trailer--but they found only one on the shelf. (I had the same experience at Target before we left--back to college shopping had wiped out a lot of practical things, like fans.) But something made my dad look down at the back of the lowest shelf--and lo and behold there was one more fan stuck all the way at the back. So now at night my parents could sleep with one fan blowing on them, and there was another fan circulating the air for us girls on the bunks in the back. (Smiley has his own little clip-on battery-operated fan I had bought him before the trip for his new upper bunk, where there is only one little window and thus not as good air circulation.)

Those fans were such a blessing the entire trip--esp. once we got to where there were "no-see-ums" coming through the screens at night; the fan blowing directly on my parents kept the tiny biters away while they slept. I mentioned in an earlier post that my dad was having allergic reactions to the bugs, and had swollen red and terribly itchy welts all over his legs and arms--the fans allowed him in particular some relief and sleep.  The kids and I did not seem to be so beleaguered at night, but we still appreciated the fans for helping us sleep well. They even helped create white noise that I think helped us sleep better. So finding 2 fans that were perfect for the trailer was a huge blessing--and the timing of it, happening before we got down to the Everglades where there would not have been a quick and convenient solution, felt like Provision, and I'm giving God the credit. 

--And speaking of bugs--I knew it was the "off season" down in Florida, but thought that was just because of the heat. Turns out it's also because of the bugs!  But here too God was ridiculously good to us. We arrived at our campground (at the southernmost point of the Everglades, surrounded by swamp) late at night, slept well (thanks to the fans) and the next morning it was hot but beautiful. I hailed a ranger driving through (since we were the only ones in the campground, I thought he was my best bet for some information before we started that day's exploration of the park) and we stood and talked in on the sunny campground road for a few minutes. And he told me that normally we would not be standing there having that conversation--even at 10 in the morning, in the sunshine, such a pause for casual open-air conversation would be impossible because of the intensity of the mosquitoes. But he said that this was an unusual year, and for some reason they had far fewer mosquitoes than usual. 

Now it would be ridiculous for me to say that God planned the entire breeding cycle of an insect population just to keep us from having an unexpectedly miserable experience in the Everglades--not because He couldn't, but why would he? We certainly don't warrant that action. So call this one a coincidence--but an amazing one, and a definite Blessing for sure, of which we were the grateful recipients. I don't care why there were so few mosquitoes, I'm just so thankful that there were, and once again have to praise God for His mercies.

--And then there was the moment when God, in His mercy, saved us from losing a car mirror. To enable the driver to see safely around the trailer while driving, Mr. Incredible bought extension mirrors that clamp onto our existing sideview mirrors. They worked fine on all our travels to that point, but I discovered early in the Florida trip that the extreme summer heat was causing the rubbery grip surface to soften and slip. So the entire drive down Florida I was paranoid one of the mirrors would lose grip and fall of and break, so I was checking and adjusting them almost every time we stopped, and trying to keep an eye on them while driving. It was harder to keep tabs on them when  Dad was driving and I was in the backseat, and I would forget to look, so I believe it really was a small miracle when we were driving down the long highway to Key West and I looked at the passenger side mirror just in time to see one of the two clamps come lose.  I told my mom to roll down the window and grab it--and right after she had a hand on it the second clamp was clearly giving way, so that Mom was supporting the long, awkward mirror by one arm out the window!  We laughed about it later, because she then calmly said, "Now what do I do?" The mirror was still attached enough that she could not just pull it inside, but she could not reach the remaining clamp to unscrew it with her other hand. 

Dad pulled over to the shoulder and I quickly got out to rescue mom and reattach the mirror. This was an example of such a small thing that really meant a great deal. First, we can't drive safely without those mirrors, because we can't see the cars coming up behind and around the trailer--if we lost one we would be driving blind on one side. Second, Mr. I had to order them online--they aren't something you can just pick up at your local store--so it hurts my head to even think of the logistics of trying to replace them quickly while on the road. Third, it was a miracle even where it happened; I wrote earlier about the drive down the Keys and how, on land, there is no shoulder to the highway and few places to pull off the road where there is room to maneuver a towed camper. Well, on the long stretches of bridge between keys there is a real shoulder, and right when the mirror fell we happened to be on a long bridge, in a place where it was physically possible to pull over and immediately solve the problem. 

So I'm still thanking and praising God for how He met that need even before we knew we had it. Over and over, He didn't have to be that loving, but He was. 

There were so many more such moments in the Florida trip--even if I'm forgetting them now. But I'm going take a moment to jump ahead to the next trip we did together with my parents, the Washington D.C. leg, to continue the record of blessings and miracles. I want you to see how these things just kept happening over and over, too much to be coincidence.

--The very first day of our trip to D.C., we were supposed to make a  little detour to Whitwell, TN, to visit the Holocaust railroad car memorial featured in the documentary Paper Clips. We had seen the documentary as a family, as part of our WWII studies, and I was really looking forward to seeing the memorial in person. The railcar that houses the memorial was actually used to transport people to Auschwitz. I thought this would be a really good bridge between our family studies and the visit we planned to make to the National Holocaust Museum in D.C. 

But suddenly, when we were only a couple of hours away from Whitwell, our car lost power. We were still driving, but it was having trouble pulling the camper, so we could only reach about 40 mph on the highway. Yikes!  I got off the highway and my dad looked under the hood to see if the problem was obvious, but it wasn't, so I looked up the nearest Mercedes dealership in hopes there would be a repair shop on site--and there was one only 30 minutes away, in the direction we were already headed. We got there slowly but safely, unhooked the car from the camper, and waited for them to diagnose the problem. The service department was busy, and by this time it was mid-afternoon--so I was praying they would be able to fit us in their repair queue by close of business. 

Not only did they make the time to see our car and diagnose the problem, but they had the part they needed on site, and were able to fix our problem fairly inexpensively and quickly.  We were back on the road after just a few hours of trouble!

Then too was the miracle of logistics involving the camper on the dealership lot. Without explaining the whole scenario, let's just say there was a stucco overhang that we would have to pull the camper under to get out of the lot--the only other way out would involve having to back the camper trailer the way we came in, through winding rows of new Mercedes. (Oy vey!) The head mechanic knew the exact clearance height and didn't think we could make it. But, God. Because we did make it under the overhang, barely--leading the surprised head mechanic to remember that the dealership had just recently re-done the tiled floor under the overhang, by order of the regional office, just to update the dealership entrance. And apparently an unexpected result of the new flooring was that it was now just slightly lower--creating just that much greater clearance, which we really needed right then. 

Can you feel the love?

Losing those hours in the day necessitated us skipping the side trip to Whitwell, which was disappointing--but I was so aware of the much greater Blessing of a working car with overall very little cost or inconvenience, that I could still only be thankful of how that turned out. 

--That was how we started the D.C. trip. We finished that leg with a similar show of Providence, one that wrapped up my travels with my kids and parents with a big bow flourish of God's Goodness. 

On the way back home we came down through Kentucky, to stop at Mammoth Cave National Park. Most of the time on the trip Dad and I would navigate roads together, using a combination of road maps and phone apps. This time I was driving, and we were on small backroads, so Dad was following an app on his phone. We had a beautiful scenic drive through rural communities, and finally arrived around sundown at the campground--only to realize that Google maps had sent us to the wrong campground. We were not at the main park campground, but at the special reserve group campground. We also realized that the only way to get to the main body of the National Park from this point would be by driving across a river on a little one-car ferry. The camper trailer could not go on the ferry. The main campground was only minutes away, over the river--but we could not reach it. Instead, we would have to go back around the way we had come, over an hour's drive. How discouraging, right at that moment! 

So I called the park offices on my cell phone, to see if it would be ok for us to camp right where we were, to save us at least the long drive around that night. And in talking with the ranger, I learned something startling; we had intended to stay in the main National Park campground because we needed electrical hook-up for the breathing machine my mom uses at night. But there are no electrical hook-ups anywhere in the main campground!  It must be a very old, rustic campground that the park has never afforded to update.  The ranger said there were only two camping sites with electricity in the entire National Park--and they were right there at the special group campground!  I was standing talking with the ranger from right in front of them.  And since it was a Thursday and not yet the weekend, no one was using the sites--in fact, we had the whole campground to ourselves. 

So all this time we thought we had ended up in the wrong place--but we were, completely unbeknownst to us, in exactly the right place.  Google didn't lead us there--God did. 

--We got up the next morning and unattached the trailer so Dad could drive the kids and me on the ferry to the Park proper, so we could catch our tour of the caves. Then he drove back over the river route to our campsite, re-hooked the trailer, and then he and Mom drove the long way around to the main entrance of the National Park. Once there, having the camper in tow was not an issue, and he had no trouble finding a place to pull through and park while we all enjoyed the day there. 

It wasn't until we were back in Alabama that Sunny happened to go back to the Mammoth Cave National Park website during research, and saw a notice that the little river ferry, which we had depended upon to get us to our cave tours on time and save us the hour-long drive around, had been closed only days after we were there, due to low-running river. 

So once again, we had exactly the resource we needed, exactly when we needed it, and things might have gone very frustratingly differently, but they didn't. And so our D.C. trip was bookended by these very tangible and much appreciated displays of love from a merciful Father. 


This has been a long post, but I wanted to put these stories together, so you could see the pattern. Over and over, God showed His love through His provision and His perfect timing. I'm not trying to say that everything on our trips went our way, or that we expected it to, or that we think we deserve special treatment from God (ha!), or that we think God is like a magical genie who you pray to for getting wishes granted. That's what I most want to convey with these stories--that there is no reason for this outpouring of love from God, no reason why He should have showered us with such blessings. Even the weather was a blessing--hurricanes followed us,  hitting the places we had just been, while we had ridiculously fabulous weather 95% of our travels. The other 5% of bad weather even coordinated well with our travel plans, so that we were never in danger or miserable or even slowed down!

And I'm so aware too of all the miracles of what calamities didn't befall us--all the deer we saw by the road that didn't leap in front of us; all the accidents and near-misses that were averted; all the times I had that moment of panicky oh no, where's my phone because I had not minded what I did with it after a stop somewhere, only to find it safely in my possession, no thanks to my own thoughtfulness; the tires that didn't blow (like the truck in front of us in high winding mountain roads in Pennsylvania that blew a tire and almost went through the guardrail over the edge); the brakes that didn't fail pulling the trailer up and down steep grades through famous mountain ranges (but which once we found had just started smoking when we reached our stopping point!). 

Over and over, all throughout the South-Eastern US, God watched over and provided for me & the kids & my parents & our little car and camper. 

For no reason except because He is Good and He is always Good and His love endures Forever. 

Monday, October 1, 2018

FL: Crystal River

After our quiet Sunday finishing the Keys, we spent a long Monday driving back up Florida; we arrived at our campground late at night and weary.  

But the next morning we got up at the crack of dawn and donned our swimsuits. My parents and I had made special plans to surprise the kids with one last Florida adventure: 

swimming with manatees!!!!! 
(Kermit flail!)


There's a lot of significance to this event for me, but I'll save that for another post. But let's just say I kept this a secret partly because I just could not believe it was even going to happen.

Because manatees are endangered, it is illegal to intentionally get in the water with them and definitely to get near them. But there is one place in the entire US where it is legal to swim with manatees--one particular county that was grandfathered because so much of the local economy is based upon manatees. We knew it would be the wrong time of year to see them there, since it is famous as their wintering grounds but in the summer they move on to even warmer Gulf waters. Still, there are usually a few manatees that choose to stay year round, and we were hopeful we could see one.

We arrived at the tour spot, had the orientation (don't poke the manatees! don't try to ride the manatees!), donned our wetsuits (oh, that was hysterical!), and headed out on a boat to find some manatees.

Such a beautiful day, again. 

When one was spotted, sleeping down at the bottom of the river, our guide led us all out. My parents stayed on the boat and tried to get some pics of us. 

We have photos of the action under the water too!  Daughter Happy had brought along her camera, which is small and waterproof!  The tour guide also took photos and video of the underwater parts, which my parents gifted to us at the end. I'm thankful I have photos to share with you all because the underwater experience is so hard to describe!

Photo credit: Happy
Plant & tiny fish life on the bottom of the Crystal River.

There are actually two very different ecosystems here, and we snorkeled in both. First, the Crystal River itself, which was not very crystal because of algae growth. This larger river ecosystem is shared by the wildlife and lots of human boat activity, as the river connects to the Gulf of Mexico at its end. This is also why the manatees use it as their personal highway, moving from other places in the Gulf during the summer back here in the winter, always seeking the warmer waters, but also needing fresh water for drinking.
Photo credit: Happy
The plants that feed the "sea cows."

Photo credit: Happy

And our first sight of a manatee, sleeping on the bottom of the river!

Photo credit: Happy

Sunny face to face with our manatee.

Manatee. . . and we.

Sleeping manatees still have to come up to breathe every so often.

We also saw another manatee on the tour, this time one swimming. She swam right under our boat--and was much faster than I expected! Alas, while I watched the whole thing through my camera screen, somehow all I recorded was my hand. Ah well!

The second ecosystem our tour guide led us to was the Three Sisters Springs. This is where three fresh water springs come up under water in a creek, making a spot the manatees love to winter in. Being summer, it was manatee free. But it was still beautiful and was a favorite part of the experience for me. 

The water in this area was noticeably colder than in the river proper, because of the springs. But apparently it will be warmer than the surrounding waters in the winter, which is one reason the manatees seek it out. 

Photo credit: Happy

Lots of fish to watch here, both small and big!

Photo credit: Happy

Video taken by our guide that shows the truly crystal waters of the Three Sisters spring; the large depression you see on the creek floor is one of the springs.

After the water part was over the tour guides had hot cocoa or coffee (they mixed the two to make a "mocha" for me) to warm us up.  We had a nice boat ride back to the Plantation dock, complete with rainbow.

Back at the Plantation they had hot showers so we could get all clean and dry--so important since from here we started the long car drive back to my folks' house.  And when we started this road trip, we told the kids they could each pick out one souvenir from anywhere on the road; at the Plantation gift shop, Smiley saw his souvenir: 

Meet Louie, the plush manatee. (with bonus big sister photobomb.)

With a hoodie, because those Three Sisters waters are chilly.

We arrived back in Tuscaloosa after our roughly 2 weeks in Florida with so many memories. And almost as many bug bites.