Friday, December 25, 2009

Merry Christmas

From our house to yours. God's blessings this Christmas season and all through the new year!

If you click on the image, it will magically become big enough to read without a magnifying glass!

Friday, November 27, 2009

3,776 Acres

Three thousand seven hundred seventy-six acres all to ourselves.

Yes, that's why we love camping on off peak season~weekdays.

When we arrived on Sunday afternoon there were a handful of other campers, but come Monday morning, they were gone, leaving the entire state park to us...and the work crew resurfacing the parking lot by the boat landing...but by 4 pm even they had gone home.

Three thousand seven hundred seventy-six acres to be our goofy selves.

Three thousand seven hundred seventy-six acres to explore...

We hiked,

we climbed.

We collected as many rocks as our pockets would hold then made angels on the beach.

I think the critters were happy to see us there. They posed for Hailey's camera. Stray Doritos, oyster crackers or peanuts were the only payment they requested. We were happy to oblige.
They took their payment straight from our hands.

and stole our seats by the fire if we dared to leave them open.This little guy didn't have a chance once Isaac spotted him. He didn't get a treat. I don't even know exactly where his mouth would be anyway.

It didn't really dawn on me until we were locked in the bus to sleep on that perfectly clear full-mooned night only 2 days from Halloween...we were the only ones there...the only ones on three thousand seven hundred seventy-six acres...legally. I doubted that there were any fugitives, but while I was entertaining that thought I decided, that if ever found myself running' from the law, this is where I would come. I recollected where we had trekked earlier in the day and thought of countless possibilities for undetectable hide-aways. In the summer, you could easily blend in during the day and by night you could slip away into hiding. The off season might be a little more difficult...tracks in the snow, heat and lighting issues.

I guess I'd seriously have to consider the time of year before I committed some heinous crime.

Just when I had sufficiently worked myself into a self contained tizzy the wind pick up, the awning flapped, and the chairs around the fire pit were blown into a pile. I craned my neck to look out the window and I said "I see sky".

Hailey, whom I had assumed was already sleeping, exclaimed "You see a guy?!" and jumped from her bunk.

"No, " I said "I see SKY"

Relieved, Hailey relaxed. She must have had the same thoughts running through her head as I did.

The problem with seeing the sky was that the awning was up, the sky shouldn't have been visible. We debated for about 2 seconds whether or not we should go out and take it down. None of us wanted to listen to it all night.

The middle support is not held tight with pins like the side ones. It "floats" inside the 18" pipe that is permanently cemented to the rim.

Matt designed it to lift out in gusty conditions instead of holding fast and tearing. (remember, it's just a standard size ~ replaceable ~ tarp)

Well, it functioned exactly as planned and the whole awning had lifted on its frame like a sail and then settled back down as the wind subsided.

In a short time the awning was disassembled and we were back inside, snug and comfortable in the bus on three thousand seven hundred seventy-six acres. Alone.

I should not have been surprised at all when a memory of Hayden entered my mind as I drifted off to sleep.

Early in his life, he announced to me that he'd like to be a criminal mastermind, without the criminal part.

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

For The Love Of Camping

I grew up camping. Matt had never been on an overnight vacation until our honeymoon. Camping fit perfectly into our life. It was a cheap, comparatively speaking, and easy way to go places we could not afford to visit otherwise.

The first summer of our marriage we camped every weekend. All of our supplies could fit into the trunk of our two-door '89 Pontiac Sunbird. As we acquired more and more supplies the cooler eventually had to move up to the backseat. Matt built a trailer to haul our bikes and the jet ski we purchased.

The next summer, much of the same except we added a camping mattress that made it more comfortable for the newly pregnant me. That had to be rolled and tied onto the luggage rack.

After Hailey arrived on Valentine's Day 1992, we camped once. Memorial Day weekend. I think by then we owned a station wagon and it was packed FULL. We sold the jet ski and decided to pack it all away, it was much easier to stay home.

Fast forward 10 years and 3 more children.

Matt and I wanted to take a major family vacation, something we hadn't attempted since growing to a family of 6. We unearthed our ancient camping gear, bought a new tent, updated to air mattresses, requested time off and started making arrangements to visit the Redneck Riviera. (AKA Gulf Shores State Park, Gulf Shores, Alabama)

Somewhere between Christmas and our spring furlough we managed to conceive another love child...My energy was non-existent, my planning abilities unavailable and what little time I spent awake I was focusing on not throwing up (at least not until I made it to the bathroom). Not an ideal backdrop for organizing and spending 10 days Far, Far Away.

We discovered a Coleman Outlet store in Alabama and visited it about as much as the beach! An ideal way for a frugal pregnant woman to be convinced that what she might have considered a luxury before was now a camping necessity. We really padded our outdoor paraphernalia! It was either that, or take me home. I was rather ornery.

I slept through much of that vacation and to be honest, I don't think I even took any pictures. If I did, I can't find them. And as long as I'm being honest, I'm pretty sure I slept through most of 2003 because there is a gap in photo albums from Christmas 2002 until Isaac's birth in November.

That vacation rekindled our love for camping and Gulf Shores (and 1 or 2 other camping excursions a year) became a reoccurring event. Why not? It was relatively inexpensive and we had all the camping gear we could possibly need.

As the years went by the only thing we lacked was enough space to get us there. Our full size hi-top conversion van was overflowing and had 2 car top carriers and a hitch hauler (purchased IN Gulf Shores to cart all our new stuff home) with 4 huge rubbermaid bins tethered on. Our clothes and blankets had to be packed into space saver bags. There was not much room for error or careless packing. Soon, a full day of our tightly packed schedule would be reserved for packing and unpacking.

It was again becoming easier to just stay home.

Instead of conceiving another love child, the idea of converting a school bus into an RV became the glimmer in Matt's eye.

Space for everything, minimal set up, and no possibility of collapse were intriguing. I would be remiss if I didn't mention the challenge and novelty of it all appealed to us as well.

And so, Errabundus Bus was born.

Monday, November 23, 2009

Classic Misunderstanding

Isaac: "Mom, can I have a cookie?"

Me: "No honey, we'll be eating supper in about 10 minutes."

Isaac: " Well, doesn't take me 10 minutes to eat a cookie"

Monday, November 16, 2009

Feeling Nostalgic

This weekend I finished retrieving the thumbnail photos stored on my iPod. 5 years of pictures that we thought we had lost when our computer crashed in March. Now begins the long task of re-dating them. The world will not be right until I do so. Thankfully, so far anyway, the date is still emblazoned on them. Sometimes though, because the pictures (thumbnails) are so small, it's hard to read it. I've been able to figure it out through context, a calendar and jogging the kids memories. I know at one point I removed that setting on my camera, that's when the fun will begin.

My feelings of nostalgia are evident and the snag in my stomach raw when I realize how blessed I am to have a family that's together, healthy and happy. AND still have some photographic representation. Regardless of how pixelated.

How privileged I am, and how often I forget to be thankful.

Here are the 5 star photos from 2004-2005. In order.

This is the first picture I ever took with a digital camera. November 19th, 2004.

Sam fell asleep waiting for Thanksgiving dinner 2004

Some general pictures of the kids


The whole gang Christmas tree hunting

Sam with one of his two expressions.

Griffin with his cookie dough relief map (this was also our first year of home schooling)


Sam slept on a mattress on our floor until, gosh, I don't know how long. Maybe I'll figure it out when I finish my organization operation. And as always, weapon at the ready.

Hayden and Isaac in June


Isaac sporting his first mohawk.

All of them after a butterfly class, July 2005

Sam and Isaac at a birthday party

Griffin, Sam and Isaac mesmerized by the computer. Except for their sizes, this could be any given day. This one happens to be July 18, 2005.

Some retouched photos from our annual summer vacation up north. The originals are lost, but that's okay, I think these are beautiful.

Sam with his other expression.


Isaac hanging out in the garage with Daddy.

Matt and Isaac on Halloween.

Sam, again

The great Christmas Tree Search of 2005

Isaac, like his older brother, will always be fully armed.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

The Coast, the Awning, and the Shelves

A few cold weekends ago we hauled ourselves out camping. We put our heaters to the test. We're still using the electric heaters (we still need shore power to run them) but Matt is in the process of devising a way to heat the bus with a boiler and hot water heat fueled by propane. That way, we don't have to "fight" for the only electric site left in the campground.

The sun was shining, but it was frigid. Away from the fire it was too cold (for me anyway) to wander far. I've since purchased long underwear and have been much more comfortable on subsequent outings.

We hiked on the sunny road rather than wander onto the paths and explored the beach with our eyes instead of setting foot on the sand or near the water. Definitely a place to visit next summer.
Interestingly, while we were freezing our tushies off, a tent camper in the site next to us...a camping person in a tent, I just thought I'd clarify...was camping in a tent. Jokingly I commented when we pulled in, seeing the window flaps of the tent open, if it was too warm in there for him.
We set up camp. The boys did the outside work (awning, shelves, firewood...) while Hailey and I started supper (white chili in the crockpot) and transformed the bus from travel mode to we're-probably-going-to-be-spending-a-lot-of-time-inside mode. Making beds, turning seats, making sure everything was stowed where it belonged so not too much would be in the way. Once we fit 7 people in, milling about, it seems a little claustrophobic. Traveling or in our beds it seems roomy, but when neither of those are happening, there's a lot of bumping into each other, climbing over shoes, wondering where to hang your jackets, hats and mittens kinda stuff going on.

After our hike we settled around the fire, still speculating the purpose of the site next door with a vehicle, and a seemingly personless, opened windowed tent.

As the darkness fell we were able to see a light shining on the other side of the tent and occasionally, the shadow of a person wandering around, ever so briefly, inside. Surely as the night wore on and the temperatures dropped the owner would zip up and hunker down for the night.

Not so.

On one trip to the bathroom (unheated. YIKES) we discovered the light was a heat lamp anchored to a tree limb just outside the tent. This person was watching birds. The occasional shadows we witnessed must have been to restock the feed under the lamp. Dedicated, I must say. I don't know how she (we later found out she was a she and not a he) stayed warm or what she was doing inside the tent alone and out of site of the windows (which was just a tiny space) the entire weekend but I'm in awe of her ability to remain quiet (never a peep) and warm.

In the morning it was 33 degrees outside. Inside the bus, with both heaters blasting it was 66. Very nice. Our neighbor's tent was still open and the birds were having a feast.

After breakfast Matt and I sat outside, very close to the fire, while we let the kids play on their electronic gadgets inside. The birds were fantastic to watch. Cardinals, blue jays, chick a dees, and squirrels aplenty. It never rose above 38 degrees while we were there. We left when our firewood ran out.

I had mentioned previously that Matt and I were in a disagreement concerning the awning. He wanted one, I did not. He graciously agreed to make a prototype as cheaply as possible and we'd test it out. If it was too fussy or stress inducing, we'd can it...but if it proved successful, we'd keep it and talk of sturdier materials.

A tarp, PVC pipe, cables, bolts and pins make up this awning. It works well and I'm sure, when the time comes for us to need shade it will serve it's purpose. The pipes are connected to the bus with removable bolts and the tarp attaches to the top with pins. The cables running from the bus to the outer pole keep it from sagging (like it did on Labor Day weekend). Much nicer this way, don't you agree? The support in the middle is weighted down by a cement filled rim. Although it's not beautiful, it's the perfect size and weight. I've been trying to think of a way to make it look less utilitarian...but I'm at a loss.

The side and middle support poles consist of two poles, one slightly smaller than the other so that the one slides inside the other for storage and extra rigidity while in use. The "seams" of the side poles are secured with a pin while the middle support pole can "float". I'll tell you why when I post about our last camping trip.
The point at which the tarp attaches to the bus deserves some attention. Matt bolted angle iron right above the windows, but sandwiched between that and the bus is a piece of plastic gutter installed to keep the rain from dripping through the gap. I tell ya, that husband of mine thinks of everything. Sometimes I'm glad he's the one that does the designing and not me. There are other things that he does though, that totally baffle me. We are like night and day with our ideas 75% of the time. But it works for us...what more can I say.

Please excuse the typo in this next photograph, I caught it too late and there is no way I can fix it. It should read "constructed"
It was too cold on this trip to use the outside shelves for their normal functions...doing dishes, preparing food, and as a storage place for silverware, plates, tequila and margarita mix. I thought it would be the perfect time to get some close ups of it.

The awning poles, for now, are stowed in the hallway leading through the bunk room and the shelf is stored on the lower bunk for traveling. Eventually, we will have more storage under the bus for them.

But like everything, it takes (extra) time and (extra) money, both of which are a rarity these days.