Celebrating Manning’s 14th birthday – Dallas, Texas…

Manning and Liberty have birthdays five days apart in March. Since we were still hanging out in Texas for the winter, they requested we visit Jellystone Park near Dallas for their birthday week. So, that is what we are doing.

On March 18th, Manning turned 14 years old! It is hard to believe I have a child that old.

As usual, Manning went with his daddy to pick up donuts for his birthday breakfast. We made Manning a donut stack topped with candles and sang his favorite birthday song.

Then, Manning opened gifts and read what each of us wrote him in his journal. I was pretty excited about seeing his reaction to the main gift we got him – a kindle paperwhite. And the reaction from my book-loving boy did not disappoint. He was very surprised and excited. He reads tons and tons of books. The kindle provides very RV friendly book storage for him.

The only gift Manning requested was the card game Dutch Blitz. We got that for him, and he enjoyed playing it throughout the day with siblings.

Manning made exciting plans for the afternoon of his birthday. He, Rhythm and Daddy played paintball together at Jellystone. Manning, Rhythm, Tapestry, Cherish and Liberty played archery tag as well.

That evening we went to one of Manning’s favorite restaurants, Cracker Barrel.

Last year we ate at Cracker Barrel on his birthday, also. He ordered Granny’s Sampler then. This year he decided to share that same meal with Cherish, as he felt sick after eating it solo last year.

We ended the day telling Manning things we like about him. And we watched the movie of his choice, Pilgrim’s Progress.

We really wanted to take Manning to Medieval Times, a dinner show, for his birthday. They were booked because of spring break, but we were able to get reservations for a few days after Manning’s birthday. We all had a blast, and Manning loved every second of the sword fighting.

Manning had a great birthday, and we loved celebrating our boy!

Little Manning

Happy 14th birthday, Manning Isaac! How’s my baby boy 14 already?! 😭 Manning, you are an amazing son and kid! (I’m not ready to say young man quite yet. 😁) I love your funny, witty jokes and sayings. I love that you love having conversations with kids and adults alike – and even with your good ‘ole momma. I enjoy playing games with you, going on walks with you and conversing with you. I love watching you with your little siblings. You care for and entertain each of them on their own levels. You are quick to jump in and play a game or create a game for them. You even spoil your little sisters with gum, candy and prizes. You are definitely the fun big brother! I love that you jump at the chance to try most any activity. You give a heavy talk about what you are good at in a joking way, and you are quick to say what you aren’t good at or isn’t quite your thing. You almost always have something witty or entertaining to say. You voice your opinions clearly and you want what you want, but you respect your dad and me. You listen to our reasoning and seek to understand and care. Also, you reason well and are a good persuader and negotiator. You’ve won me over many of times. You are a bit of a brainiac, and we all rely on your brain power to some degree. You definitely make homeschooling easier. Thank you for always stepping in to help or explain something to a younger sibling without me even asking! One of my favorite things is watching and listening to you sing. You melt my heart with your lyrics and voice, especially when you wander off in worship. I am very proud (in a non-prideful way 😂🤣😘) of who you are, Manning! I love you so very much, and I am so happy to have the privilege of being your mom! ♥️

The Texas Freeze…

We were near our hometown of Brenham, Texas when we heard that a freeze was coming.

We have below freezing temperatures in Texas about one day a year, if that, typically. So, we didn’t think much of the coming freeze. Being married to a plumber, we knew to drip our water faucets. “It’d be over in a day and that would be that,” we thought.

A few days prior to the freeze, we looked at our weather apps and saw a forecast quite unusual for Texas. It was supposed to be below freezing for multiple days.

Below freezing in Texas usually means a temperature of 31 degrees, at lowest 28 degrees. The forecast showed a 6 degree prediction.

At that point, we realized our RV pipes might not survive the freeze unless we completely drained them down. So, we made the decision to drain our RV tanks and pipes and make the three hour drive to Lolli and Pop’s.

We were a bit late leaving. We would have left the day before if we didn’t have a family wedding to attend. Ryan had to scrape ice off of our RV slides with a pocket knife just so we could get them to retract. The roads were already icy, and Brenham looked like a ghost town as we drove through it. We drove 40 mph max the first hour of the trip. After that, we hit a little bit warmer temps and the roads weren’t bad.

We had called around looking for propane so we could fill up our RV tanks before we left. There was no propane to be found anywhere within that three hour range. Fortunately, our brother-in-law let us use his extra propane tanks. We were hoping not to have to empty the RV of all fluids – soaps, lotions, laundry detergent, drinks and all the things we may not find or remember.

We arrived safely at my parents’ house and plugged our RV in so that we could run our electric fireplace along with our gas heater. We bombarded my parents’ house with our bodies and many of our things.

We went to sleep in a warm house, and we woke up to the most snow we’ve ever seen in Texas! It was exciting!

We walked around outside, took lots of pictures and played. It was so much colder than we’d ever experienced in Texas, though! It was hard to stay outside for very long. Texans aren’t very prepared when it comes to winter or snow clothes. A simple hoodie or cardigan usually suffices for a Texas winter.

We enjoyed the day looking at and playing in the snow!

But then, we started hearing and seeing that this freeze was getting bad for people all around us. People were losing power. Their houses were freezing. Many of their water pipes were freezing and busting because dripping water when you have no heat inside your house doesn’t work well. I started getting a slew of messages with plumbing questions for Ryan. He did his best to help people know what to do from afar. The roads were bad for driving. We definitely weren’t prepared for this type of freeze in Texas! No one would have known or felt a need to be prepared. It was just something we’d never experienced!

Thankfully, we were close to the Louisiana border. We briefly lost power once. My parents have a generator because they’ve lived through hurricanes and lost power for two weeks before. But we sure felt bad for our friends, family and all those without power and/or water!

Ryan spent the next two weeks back in our hometown repairing busted pipes. The calls for repairs needed were endless.

I am so thankful we decided to go to my parents’ house to ride out the Texas freeze!

Our RV even survived with no broken or busted pipes. And the propane barely lasted until we were able to get propane again. Maybe we’ll be a little more prepared should we ever live through a Texas freeze again!

All dressed up – Tomball, Texas…

Last weekend we got all dressed up for the first time in a long time!

Over the past year we have mainly done church with our family at our RV or with others at RV parks. And we have explored outdoors so much more than indoors during Covid. We’ve had no need for dressy clothes!

After an Amazon order of button down shirts for the boys and a quick trip to buy a dress for me, we got all dressed up for the wedding of Ryan’s cousin.

It felt a bit surreal, almost like pre-Covid normal. We are cautious and careful regarding Covid, especially when it comes to possibly exposing others. Also, we think relationships are important and, at times, we choose to venture out of high caution. This was one of those times, and we had such a great time!

Our kids had so much fun with their cousins, and they especially enjoyed dancing!

Something funny: Rhythm pointed to a sign at the reception and asked, “Mommy, what are B-U-T-T sketches!” I giggled and responded, “No clue!” Turns out, there was an amazing artist sketching people from behind. Ryan and I jumped in line, and we love how our “butt sketch” turned out! Ha!

It was an overall great evening of celebrating Zach and Caitlin, who happen to share our same last name!

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!