Home for the holidays – Texas…

After Mississippi and Louisiana, we headed home to Texas for the holidays.

We enjoyed lots of time with family.

First, we had Christmas with Ryan’s family.

Our kids were so happy to get time with their cousins. There was great food, gifts, games, a hayride and so much fun!

Gigi and Pops gave each family a unicycle. The older kids spent a lot of time trying, falling and trying again.

Then, we spent a few days celebrating Christmas at our RV. Our kids were surprised and excited about their gifts.

We gave our four oldest kids electric scooters and hover boards. Our middle three got MP3 players. And our youngest three got cute lap desks. They spent the next few days enjoying these and other gifts.

We made a birthday cake for Jesus. We ate it and went wild with silly string celebrating on Christmas Day.

We were parked at one of our favorite spots on the lake, and it was the perfect place to spend Christmas!

We were planning to leave the day after Christmas to head to my parents house. Both of my parents got Covid, though. So, we hung around our spot on the lake and watched Christmas movies most everyday. Our kids had not seen many Christmas movies, so they really enjoyed this. We love the 2018 Grinch movie, and our favorite was The Star.

Finally, we went to have Christmas with my family once my parents’ quarantine ended.

Once again, our kids were so excited to get time with cousins!

We enjoyed several days together – gift opening, eating yummy food, lots of giggles and playing.

All in all, we had a wonderful Christmas! It was great to be home for the holidays!

A Walk Along the Mississippi River – Natchez, Mississippi….

After Thanksgiving, we made our way down to Tupelo, Mississippi. We didn’t do much there, but we did go check out Elvis Presley’s childhood home. The inside of the museum was closed, but we enjoyed walking the grounds.

I love that our 13-year-old boys got to stand by this statue of Elvis at 13. So fun! And it proves that Manning takes after his momma on height. 😁

After a few days in Tupelo, we headed to River View RV Park in Vidalia, Louisiana.

We absolutely loved this RV park. It is right on the Mississippi River. There is a great walking trail along the river that we enjoyed walking each day we were there. Also, we enjoyed a drive through of Christmas lights very close to our RV park.

Just across the bridge is Natchez, Mississippi. Natchez is a cute little town. We drove to the downtown area there, and we enjoyed walking along that side of the Mississippi River.

There were pretty Christmas decorations, and the whole area is just charming.

I really wasn’t expecting to love our stay in Louisiana so much, but the beautiful river views and walking along side it won me over! We all enjoyed our time there!

Thanksgiving in Tennessee…

After our time in Pigeon Forge, we moved on to Antioch, Tennessee. Antioch is near Nashville. There we stayed at a nice, peaceful RV park called Four Corners RV Resort. It was the perfect place for our family RV Thanksgiving!

We loved what we did for Thanksgiving last year, so we continued with our miniature theme this year. All the food was miniature in size, representing our time in our miniature home. We made mini quiches, wings, pizza bites, brussel sprouts, cheese sticks, mini tacos and more. For dessert we had cream puffs, cheese cake bites and cannoli.

We all really enjoyed the fun theme and fun food!

We put craft paper covering our tables and wrote what we are thankful for.

We went for a walk around the lake after lunch, and we soaked in the nice weather and beautiful views.

We spent the rest of the day playing games, and we ended the day talking about the many things we are grateful for.

The next day, we went over to Mel and Debbie’s (our good friends) house to celebrate Thanksgiving with them as well.

We had such a good day there!

We had hamburgers for lunch.

Then, we let our four oldest kids try something they’d never done…shooting guns. Mel taught them some gun safety and they, along with Ryan and I, shot at targets. I was glad they got to learn a little about guns and do some shooting in a safe environment. I don’t take my kids being around guns lightly!

We spent the night over at Mel and Debbie’s, and we were very thankful for our time with them!

Every year that passes, every moment I get to spend with our ten kids, the more I realize that these are very precious days. Days I am so very thankful for!

Dollywood – Pigeon Forge, Tennessee…

After our time in Kentucky, we headed back to one of our favorite places in the United States…Pigeon Forge, Tennessee.

This was our second time to visit during our season of living and traveling in an RV. There is so much to see and do in the area. We just love it!

Last time we were in Pigeon Forge, Dollywood was closed for winter. Though Dollywood is a bit pricey for us, we knew we wanted to splurge on it this time.

Dollywood is a family friendly theme park. There are rides and fun things to do for all ages. There are even traditional crafts like glass blowing, metal working and candle dipping.

We took Manning, Tapestry, Cherish, Liberty and Jubilee to Dollywood when they were young. They dipped candles back then, so we decided to carry on the tradition and do it again. Each kid chose things like hearts, music notes, owls and cactuses. (I just learned from Google that both cacti and cactuses are acceptable plural forms of the word cactus. Now you know if you didn’t already. Ha. 😉) Then, our kids dipped their candle bases into colored wax and ended with some beautiful creations.

Our older kids were great sports riding all the kiddie rides with our younger kids. Bravely had the time of her life riding all those little rides!

Our older kids got their turns, too, though! They, along with Ryan and I, really enjoyed the roller coasters!

The lines were very short. It was cold, but not too cold. It was a perfect day for hopping on and off lots of rides!

Dollywood was beautifully decorated for Christmas. There were lights, Christmas trees and even a place where fake snow fell. Treasure quickly discovered that the snow was actually soap bubbles. She felt it was a great time to clean her dirty yellow tennis shoes. She walked around collecting as many bubbles as possible on her shoes.

I will say, finding food wasn’t the easiest for our family size. We weren’t allowed to bring food into the park, which would have been our preference. All the restaurants were too full to seat our family, so we really had to take more time than we wanted hunting for food. Finally, we settled on popcorn. We paid almost $100 for 11 buckets of popcorn. There was no line, we were hungry, and at that point we just didn’t care. It was some good popcorn! Haha.

All in all, it was a great day! Every single one of us had a blast! Dollywood is one of my favorite theme parks, probably my top favorite.

Mammoth Cave and the National Corvette Museum – Kentucky…

We spent several extra days in Indiana while doing some renovations on our new RV. The day before leaving Indiana, we drove about 40 minutes to the Creation Museum in Cincinnati, Ohio. Like the Ark, kids ages 10 and under get in free for all of 2020. The Creation Museum is really neat, and we all enjoyed walking through it.

The next day, we left Florence, Indiana and headed to Park City, Kentucky. We stayed just two nights at our first Thousand Trails RV park. We bought a Thousand Trails pass a few months ago. We’ve heard all things good and bad. Our first experience was a plus – nice spot at an overall nice park. There was nothing fancy, but it met all that we wanted and needed.

It was just a 10-minute drive from our RV park to the Mammoth Cave National Park visitor’s center. In advance, we booked the self-guided extended historic tour. I noticed that there are many, many tours, but that there are very few open because of Covid. We were happy just to get to go!

Mammoth Cave is the world’s longest known cave system. We explored just a small fraction of it.

This is the first cave we’ve walked through that we saw no stalagmites or stalactites. A ranger told us that the part of the cave we were in basically had a really good roof with no leaks. No dripping water means those don’t form.

We spent a little over an hour exploring all that we could, and we even saw a sleeping bat at the end!

We finished our cave tour earlier than expected, so we decided to drive over to the National Corvette Museum in Bowling Green, KY.

We all enjoyed it a lot more than I thought we would. Seeing the different cars was neat, but we were all most fascinated by the sinkhole that happened at the museum in 2014. Eight cars fell into the 40-foot wide and 30-foot deep sinkhole. Those cars were retrieved and are displayed broken and dirty in the museum today.

Having such a short stay in Kentucky, we were happy with how we used our time. I recommend visiting both Mammoth Cave and the National Corvette Museum!

We bought a new RV – Cedar Falls, Iowa…

A few months ago, we decided we may be ready for a new RV. We were like that when we lived in houses, too. We’d buy one, fix it up, enjoy it for awhile…then we were ready to sell and go through that process again.

We set out looking at 5th wheel toy haulers with two bathrooms. We went to several dealerships and searched the internet for photos, videos, floor plans and information on every make and model we could find. After about a month of searching, we became fixated on the 2020 Keystone Fuzion 430. But we had not seen it in person, and it was hard to find as dealerships are now stocking 2021 models. We specifically liked the interior of the 2020, though, not the 2021.

You know we love renovating, but we felt we hit the jackpot finding an RV with woodwork a color we like and one without carpet.

When we got to Iowa, we saw there was a 2020 Keystone Fuzion 430 two hours from where we were. We drove over on Ryan’s birthday, and we found that it was all we hoped it’d be. We put a deposit on it and started actively trying to sell our RV. Eventually, after we’d moved on through Illinois and into Indiana, we reached a deal on buying and selling. We drove 8 1/2 hours back to Iowa, bought our new RV and moved in right there in the parking lot. It was pretty wild!

Saying goodbye to our first RV was a little hard and sad – bittersweet. It was a great home for the past year! It went with us through mountains, valleys, sunshine and snow in 28 different states! We loved our time in our first tiny home on wheels!

The day after moving into our new RV, we headed back to our spot in Indiana. We decided fixing up the garage would not be too hard to do while on the road, so we went ahead and did it.

We made the slanted portion of the garage floor flat, and we added peel and stick tile. We added storage furniture to hold all our kids clothes, and we added a sofa and storage for homeschool books, crafts, games and personal belongings. We love how it came together!

Two queen beds are raised to the ceiling during the day, giving us extra hang out space. And with the push of a button, we lower the beds at night. Right now, all of our girls except Bravely sleep here. Eventually, we’ll move Bravely in this room and have her and River sleep on the sofa. The girls are absolutely loving being together in their new room!

Manning is so excited to have his own little loft above the kitchen, and Rhythm is happy having the living room to himself.

We have a second bathroom with a sink and toilet, which has already been so nice to have!

We are settled in and all enjoying the space. It does feel quite a bit more spacious than our last RV, though we did really love our last RV.

The back deck is a great addition as well!

We are thankful for our new home on wheels, and we hope to have as many or more great memories in this one as we had in our last RV!

Ark Encounter – Williamstown, Kentucky…

We have been wanting to visit the Ark in Kentucky every since we first heard about it.

It was a great time for us to visit because kids ages 10 and under get in free during 2020. That was obviously a huge help for us as most of our kids got free tickets.

Driving up to the ark parking lot and then walking up to the ark was very cool. We were in awe of the magnitude of it.

The Ark Encounter features a full-size Noah’s Ark, built according to the dimensions given in the Bible.

We enjoyed walking around, seeing the way the ark was constructed and reading all about Noah’s ark.

We saw examples of where and how animals may have been kept on Noah’s ark. And we saw examples of possible food storage and even how waste may have been handled.

There was so much to see and read. We spent a good while walking through the ark.

After walking through the ark, we visited the gift shop. Many of our kids purchased gifts for a sibling whose name they drew for Christmas. We bought smoothies for the kids and coffee for us.

Jubilee had a strawberry smoothie. She immediately broke out in a rash. The rash persisted to get worse for the next two weeks. I messaged back and forth with our doctor. We are pretty sure that Jubilee is allergic to strawberries. She has had several unexplained rashes in the past, but never this bad. I don’t think she’s ever consumed as many strawberries in the past, though. We felt so bad for her that we let her pick five candies from the candy bucket to eat throughout the week.

After we left the gift shop, we got to do the coolest thing – see and pet kangaroos! We all absolutely loved this!

Then, our kids got to feed a camel!

Even River and Bravely fed the camel lettuce. So, so fun!

The kids petted goats, and we saw different animals as we walked around. We ended at a fun playground, where the kids ran around and played for awhile as the sun was setting.

We admired the bigness of the ark one last time before heading home. The Ark Encounter was a really neat experience, one I think we’ll all remember!

Celebrating Mercy’s 7th birthday – Pigeon Forge, Tennessee…

Today we celebrated Mercy’s 7th birthday!

Mercy started the morning playing a game with Jubilee and River.

Then, she rode with her daddy to choose some donuts for everyone for breakfast. She picked maple, chocolate with white cream filling, pink with sprinkles and a powdered donut with strawberry filling.

This is our first birthday to celebrate in the new RV (which I will post about soon).

Mercy asked for trick candles. I told her we didn’t have any. We were ALL surprised to find out that these were trick candles. She got her wish, and it was impossible to blow out these candles! Mercy had fun trying. Ha!

After breakfast, we read her what we’d written in her journal and she opened gifts. Her siblings gave her thoughtful souvenirs, which she absolutely loved. Her favorite gift was a fair trade rainbow sketchbook I picked up for her at the Creation Museum. Mercy has become quite the little artist, and she fills sketchbooks quickly with her drawings.

Mercy spent the morning playing with gifts and playing on the playground at our RV park. Then, she had the lunch she requested and so desperately wanted…Chicken & Stars soup. No joke! She loved every bite!

After lunch, we went swimming. It was 27 degrees here this morning, but it was sunny and in the 50’s by this afternoon. There is a heated pool and lazy river at our RV park. Mercy’s dream was to swim on her birthday, so she was one happy little chick!

This evening, we had pizza and told Mercy what each of us like about her. She came in our bed and watched Paw Patrol and Peppa Pig. We don’t watch much TV, so this was a special treat for her.

Mercy had a great, fun day, and we loved celebrating our girl!

Happy 7th birthday, Mercy Rain! 🌈

You are such a cute and fun daughter! You giggle often. You find so many things funny, and you love saying and doing funny things. You are laid back and easy-going most of the time. You are well-behaved and almost never get a consequence. You do speak your mind. You say what probably everybody else is thinking. You aren’t afraid to call something what it is, good or bad. I love it when you do one of your cute, funny dances. You have recently emerged as this amazing little artist. The pictures you draw blow me away! You are a really good friend to each of your siblings. You rotate around playing with youngest to oldest, a friend to all. You love fashion – dressing up, wearing clip-on earrings and doing your hair. You are athletic, and you enjoy most any outdoor activity. You are easy to parent. You add so much cuteness, laughter and fun to our family. I am so happy I get to be your mommy, and I love you so very much! 💕

The Gateway Arch and City Museum – St. Louis, Missouri…

It was just an hour and a half drive from our RV park in Springfield, Illinois to St. Louis, Missouri. So, we drove over for the day!

First, we stopped by The Gateway Arch to see if we could get tickets to ride the tram later that afternoon. Did you know that there is a tram inside of the arch that you can ride up to the top? We had no clue until we were researching the St. Louis area. We were able to get tickets, and we were looking forward to it!

From there, we drove over to City Museum. Manning had read about City Museum, and he thought it looked and sounded really fun.

The tickets were what we consider pricey, $28 per person. We paid the group rate, which was $23 per person. We do substantially less indoor, and we spend a lot less of our entertainment budget each month ever since COVID started. Therefore, we can afford to splurge a little here and there. We all found this splurge very worth it!

ALL of our kids had a blast! They loved the fun slides, and they especially had a blast in the skatepark area.

Pinball Hall was a lot of fun. None of our kids had ever played pinball, but they all enjoyed trying and learning. It took Ryan back to his childhood. I had to remind him to give his kids a turn. Haha!

The rooftop of the museum was really cool! We enjoyed big slides and a Ferris wheel ride.

The St. Louis City Museum made it into our top 3 favorite museum list, alongside Meow Wolf in Santa Fe, NM and the Selfie Museum in Denver, CO. We had such a good time!

We left the museum in a rush, as we had tickets to ride The Gateway Arch tram at 4:30 PM.

We arrived right on time. We went through a security check similar to an airport. Then, we excitedly awaited entering our tram carts.

Each cart holds five people, but they allowed six in each for us since two of ours could sit on laps. It truly felt like entering a time warp capsule!

We rode 630 feet up to the top. When we arrived, we looked out the windows. On one side of the arch, we saw the city of St. Louis, Missouri.

On the other side of the arch, we saw Illinois.

After looking for a bit, we made our way back down the arch. It was a very unique, fun experience! We loved exploring and playing at the City Museum and we loved our time at The Gateway Arch. It was one of those days that was an all-around great one!

Ten Abraham Lincolns for Halloween – Springfield, Illinois…

We moved from Iowa to Springfield, Illinois. Because of the snow, we got a later start than normal plus crossed time zones making it an hour later in Illinois. We arrived at our RV park after dark. It felt remote and a bit creepy. We had no clue the beauty that surrounded us until we awoke the next morning.

We decided to drive around to check out Springfield. I was captured by the beautiful fall leaves on the trees aligning the road that lead to our RV park.

While we were out, we drove by the Lincoln Library and Abraham Lincoln’s home. A few days later, we set out to explore all things Lincoln.

We parked near the Lincoln Library, put on our masks and walked in…only to find out that we were at the wrong library! Ha! The Lincoln Library is a public library. We were looking for the Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library. It was just a few blocks away, so we walked over to it. It was closed, but the Abraham Lincoln Presidential Museum next door was open.

We decide to go, and we really enjoyed it! It was really neat to walk through what represented Lincoln’s boyhood home and ultimately walk through the White House representing his presidency.

Our kids learned a lot, and they were very saddened by the tragedy and loss Lincoln had to live through as well as the way his life ended. But they loved hearing, reading and learning about his life.

As we were leaving the museum, a man we had enjoyed talking with handed each of our kids a bag of candy for Halloween. And a woman gave them Lincoln hats, tattoos and stickers. Our kids were so excited! They enjoyed eating some candy as we walked from the museum to Lincoln’s home.

I don’t know if the home was closed because it was Saturday or because of COVID, but typically you can go inside. We got to walk the perimeter and see the exterior, though, which was really neat. This was the home where Lincoln, his wife and 9-month-old son lived prior to his presidency.

After visiting Abraham Lincoln’s home, we drove to the cemetery where he and his family are buried. We arrived too late to drive through the cemetery, but we could see the tall tower of a tomb sticking up in between the trees.

After experiencing all that rich history, we ended our Halloween evening with all ten of our kids dressed up as…guess who? Abraham Lincoln.