Saturday, July 31, 2010

Getting in the Groove

Jill's Journal: Something clicked this week. The short honeymoon phase is over. The more difficult early times are behind us. We have settled into an easy comfort with being on the road. We are feeling very much at ease with living in the fifth wheel and with staying in campgrounds.

I think we’re officially adjusted. We’re home. It feels good. (And our backyard, which changes every week, is simply magnificent).

Lighthouses, Little Red Cars, and Crabbing

Jill's Journal: Yesterday was our last full day in Chincoteague and we made the most of it. We took the bridge over to Assateague Island and took the short hike to the beautiful 1867 brick lighthouse before climbing all 175 steps to the top. Even little Victoria was game and took every step herself. We were rewarded with spectacular, sweeping views of both Assateague and Chincoteague. Those with better eyes than I could even see our fifth wheel across the channel.

Upon our return to Chincoteague, Rob decided to make three little girls’ dream come true. No, he didn’t buy a pony. But he did rent one of the little scooter/car combinations we’ve seen buzzing around the island all week. From the moment we pulled into Chincoteague last Saturday, the girls have been coveting one of these puppies. Their excitement at seeing “those cute little cars” has not waned even after a whole week.

So, Rob rented one for an hour. Each girl got 20 minutes to whiz around the island with her Daddy. The smiles were definitely contagious and as big as the island itself.

And finally, the girls got their first fishing experience. They went “crabbing” off the dock and loved it. No crabs were caught, but it didn’t matter. They were hooked on the experience (and since raw chicken necks are the bait of choice around here, they sure got a good scrubbing before bedtime!).

It was an idyllic end to our lovely time on this island. Today we head to Delaware.

Friday, July 30, 2010

Small-town Appeal

Jill's Journal: Every day in Chincoteague has been filled with magic. Seriously, we have loved absolutely everything about it. The realists in us know every place can’t be like this, but the optimists in us hope they’re all so perfect.

Erika still wants to live on Assateague with the wild ponies as neighbors, but Madelyn votes for Chincoteague. She has told us time and time again this week that she wants to keep traveling because she likes it, but when we’re all done and ready to settle down, this is where she wants to stop.

I’ve had the same thought – I love it here. It has so many of the things we’re looking for in a future home, particularly small-town charm and warm people who take fierce pride in their town. I’ve told Rob about five times this week that if Chincoteague was on the West Coast my search might be over! But, alas, as much as I love the East, I feel a greater pull these days to be closer to the west side of the country and family.

We would be content to visit here over and over again. Chincoteague seems to have that pull. Every single non-local person we’ve met here is a regular, both the people here for the pony swim and those who have arrived since then. Each one has asked, “Is this your first time?” Then they give a knowing smile and tell us it won’t be our last.

Last Pony Swim Notes

Jill's Journal: All day, we spotted small trailer after small trailer traveling between the firemen’s carnival grounds and Assateague. And at 5pm, over a dozen mares with their foals were still at the carnival grounds presumably waiting for their ride. A local confirmed the firemen do indeed transport the mares with foals back individually, which I found so interesting and refreshing. That swim and stress of the week has got to be tough on the little babies.

One other note: we’re used to one of the country’s biggest events, the Kentucky Derby, right in our backyard. With over 150,000 people at Churchill Downs in one afternoon and security up to ying-yang, a person can only go to the areas where their ticket allows access. It is a BIG event and it is intense. I’m so used to this that I expect every big event to be like this.

But the pony swim is nothing of the sort. A person can go anywhere they please and do just about anything they want as long as they’re not bothering anyone or endangering anyone. It’s casual and it’s sweet, to the point that people are willing to give up their space to accommodate perfect strangers. When we watched the pony swim from the dock near our trailer, we had person after person offer us their location so the kids could see better. You’d never find that at a big corporate event!

Return Pony Swim

Jill's Journal: What swims across the channel must swim back! Early this morning to much less ceremony, the adult ponies made the return swim across the channel. The saltwater cowboys left them at the Assateague shore. The ponies hesitated, seemingly questioning, “What are we supposed to do now?”

And then they realized…they were free once again! The ponies leaped in and out of the ocean spray, cantering through the marsh, and gathered in a large meadow just off the beach. I can still see them across the channel right now, grazing and gradually splitting into their own herds as the stallions gather their families.

I counted each one as they cantered down the Assateague beach and there were only about 40 head of robust adult horses (and no babies). I don’t know this for sure, but I suspect the remaining foals with their mamas and some of the more senior members that may have a harder time on the swim get a ride back across the bridge in a trailer. :)

By the way, these photos, while not great quality, were literally snapped out our front door. We are that close! Seriously, sometimes I feel like the luckiest person in the world!

Thursday, July 29, 2010

They Got to Ride a Real Chincoteague Pony!

Jill's Journal: Pony rides are always special. Pony rides on a Chincoteague pony while on Chincoteague Island are just a little bit more special.

These little girls got what might have been the highlight of their week: after perusing a pony store that had everything and anything pony-related that any little girl could imagine, they got to ride a real, live Chincoteague pony. Named Sammy, this particular pony mare was once one of the foals who made the swim across the channel. And the girls loved her.

In the midst of all the pony overload (not that that’s really possible), Erika said, “It’s like a dream, Mommy, a real dream come true!”

Madelyn quickly added, “A really big dream!”

Victoria, never one to be left out, exclaimed, “Yeah, a really, really big dream!”

I do believe they like it here.

Chincoteague Pony Auction

Jill's Journal: How I love a good horse auction. I’ve probably been to more than my share in life and I still never get tired of them. In Kentucky, you can set your calendar by the auction schedule. They’re a place to see and be seen, a social event where billions of dollars have changed hands. They’re also a place where horsemen’s entire futures are determined at the fall of the gavel – a place that ruthlessly makes or breaks careers and livelihoods.

On the high end, I’ve witnessed the world’s most expensive broodmare sell (for $14 million) and seen future Kentucky Derby winners sold as yearlings. On the low end, I’ve also seen the sad scene at the stockyards where horses are sold for meat. And I’ve seen a few thousand horses --not just Thoroughbreds-- sell for somewhere in between those two extremes, including at a number of auctions where Rob and I have both bought and sold horses ourselves. Heck, I’ve even worked the sales, showing horses to prospective buyers. Yes, I absolutely love horse auctions.

But there’s absolutely nothing like the Chincoteague pony auction!

I was so looking forward to seeing this, but apparently so was just about everyone else in Chincoteague! Although we could hear everything, we didn’t see nearly as much as we would have liked – there were an awful lot of people packed into a small space. And we’re not very maneuverable with three little kids. But what we did see was still so much fun.

Young foals were half walked and half carried into the auction ring. We saw two to five young men for each foal, depending on the feistiness of each colt or filly. Each time a foal tried to make a leap for freedom (although never escaping the men’s strong grip), the audience gasped and ooohed and aaahed appreciatively.

Although the sales average was about $1,300, we saw one baby sell for as little at $375 and one sell for as high at $8,100. The down-home auctioneer was hilarious. When bidding stalled on the $375 baby, he implored, “Folks, this one’s got two ears, four legs, a tail, and everything else in between that a horse needs. C’mon now.”

It was certainly an exercise in self-control to keep my hands in my pockets and refrain from placing a bid!

In talking to some of the kind folks working the auction, I got several questions answered. We noticed every foal went through the ring, even the very youngest. It turns out all the foals are sold now, but the ones too young to leave their mamas wait until the October round-up to get weaned and picked up by their new owners.

And more importantly, we learned what a “buyback” is in Chincoteague terms (very different in the Thoroughbred world!). Here, the saltwater cowboys go through their herd and select the foals they feel most compliment the breed, the ones with the most desirable conformational traits, best colors, etc. These are selected to remain with the herd always and replenish the stock. But those babies go through the ring anyway, labeled as a buyback. Anyone can bid on them with the knowledge that the money is a donation to the volunteer fire department and the pony they “bought” is only theirs symbolically.

Our little girls sure want one of these ponies for themselves and they want one something fierce. Madelyn implored me, to the laughter of all around us, “Mommy, can’t we buy just one? It’ll be easy. We could just build a fence!”

All the adults in hearing distance chimed in with gigantic smiles, “Yes, Mommy. It’s as easy as that. Just build a fence. What’s one little pony?”

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Pony Swim!!! Truly a Sight to Behold

Jill's Journal: Oh, what a day! The wild ponies are herded around daybreak down a long beach on Assateague, literally across the channel from our campsite. How we got such an amazing spot, I’ll never know, but I couldn’t be more grateful.

The saltwater cowboys keep their herd intact for a few hours, watching the tide and waiting for the conditions to be just right before plunging the ponies into the ocean (technically the bay). The public, many of whom have staked their spot well before sunrise, is told the ponies will make their swim anywhere from approximately 6am to 1pm. Anticipation builds and builds as the crowds restlessly watch the ponies through binoculars from boats, docks, and the Chincoteague shoreline.

The saltwater cowboys are waiting for something called slack tide. It’s neither high tide nor low tide, but a short window where there is no current.

When the saltwater cowboys’ trained eyes spot slack tide, a half dozen saltwater cowboys break ranks and do a test run. They walk through the long marsh of the beach and gingerly step into the ocean to make the swim across the channel, ensuring it’s safe for the pony herd and all those babies. From the beach spot on Assateague where the herd is gathered to the spot at Chincoteague where they come ashore has got to be a half to three-quarters of a mile. Although the ponies are immersed in water for at least half of it, there’s probably only a furlong (an eighth of a mile) where the ponies are literally swimming with just their little heads above water.

When the saltwater cowboys testing conditions step ashore on the Chincoteague beach and are pleased, they raise a smoke signal. This spurs the rest of their ranks and the herd of wild ponies into action.

It’s a sight to behold. Whooping and hollering, the saltwater cowboys drive the beautiful spotted ponies forward. They leap in and out of the deep marsh, stallions trying to keep their harems of mares and babies away from rival stallions. Before long, they reach the shallow bay and trot through the froth on an immense sandbar. A brief respite of solid land awaits and the ponies hesitate for just a moment before leaping into the water. They swim strongly toward land, nostrils flaring, people cheering.

The first colt or filly to reach Chincoteague is crowned King or Queen Neptune and is raffled off to much excitement. The ponies are rested for about an hour on the beach before being paraded, still half-wet, through the narrow streets of town on their way to the carnival grounds.

The day is, indeed, a sight to behold. And we saw the whole thing! We were lucky enough to find a fantastic spot on a dock just down from our campsite and got a truly amazing view. And after the swim, we hightailed it to one of the street corners that we knew the ponies would walk past. We literally had a front-row seat. The ponies were so close we could have patted dozens as they walked by. It made me a little nervous to have our little kids right there, as one false move by any of the 40,000 people around us could have caused a stampede and we were SO close. But after several years with Thoroughbreds, mere ponies tired by a swim, wild or not, don’t cause us too much worry. :)

It was a wonderful, wonderful experience and something I’ve dreamed of seeing for 30 years. And there’s more! Tomorrow is the auction and the next day, the herd is swam back to Assateague. I’m enjoying this place so much. Even Rob is already making plans for the next time we return…

Why Do the Ponies Swim?

Jill's Journal: Friends and family, I’ve had a few people ask me why in the world wild ponies take a little dip in the ocean the last Wednesday of every July. I’m no expert, but I’ll do my best.

First, a little background: these ponies are very similar to Maryland’s Assateague ponies we shared campground space with last week. In fact, the Chincoteague ponies also live on Assateague, but on the Virginia side. Many years ago, a fence was built down the state line of the 37-mile long Assateague that ensures each pony keeps to his or her respective state.

A narrow bay separates this side of Assateague Island from Chincoteague Island, which is just off the mainland of the Eastern Shore of Virginia. In the 1600s, when the white men came, both were already named (and ruled) by the Indians. The local Native American history sites a Spanish shipwreck on September 5, 1750 – the bones of the ship are supposedly still able to be seen at certain shifts of the sand – in which a cargo of Spanish horses was spilled into the sea and survived on Assateague. By 1821, there were 36 families living on Chincoteague. To celebrate harvesting season – crabs, clams, oysters, etc. – the locals began rounding up the ponies for sport once a year right around that time.

Fast forward to 1920, when half of Chincoteague burned down. A causeway separates Chincoteague from the mainland and while there is a bridge now, there was no easy or quick way then for firefighters to get to the island. Four years later, most of the other half of Chincoteague burned down. It was then that the locals formed a volunteer fire department on the island. Someone got the idea of rounding up the Assateague pony population, swimming them across the channel to Chincoteague, and selling off the babies to raise money to pay for firefighting equipment. (They also built a beautiful firehouse (shown in the photo), which they had completely paid off from pony proceeds in the first few years). Add in some legal mumbo-jumbo and the ponies are now officially owned by the fire department instead of the state or individuals. The firefighters and other invited horsemen who participate in pony penning are known as “Saltwater Cowboys.”

In 1925, the saltwater cowboys swam the ponies across the channel for the first time, paraded them through town on the way to the carnival grounds, and culled the herd, auctioning off the babies the next day. An astounding 15,000 people came to that first event and it’s just grown and grown every year, helped in no small part by Marguerite Henry’s Misty of Chincoteague, published in 1947.

The Chincoteague ponies aren’t quite as wild as the ones on the Maryland side. The saltwater cowboys also round up their herd in the spring and fall (but do not swim them across the channel at those times). Each pony is then given a thorough veterinary inspection, hoof trim, vaccinations, dewormer, etc. Federal grazing rights allow the saltwater cowboys about 150 adults on Assateague. The babies are generally weaned during the Pony Penning Days at the carnival grounds. A few are of course too young to be weaned yet and are left with the herd for a few more months.

There’s some things in life that are a “must do.” For every child who ever swelled with excitement at Misty of Chincoteague, for every equine enthusiast (young and old, any breed and any discipline), and simply for every person looking for a slice of Americana, the Chincoteague Pony Swim is one of them.

nggh.. Shay 'ello ... to my liddle fren'...

Meet ol' Blue. We've become quite the friends this week. Forced to buy him for the lack of hookups, and Jill's fondness for Laundry and showering the girls, he and I have spent some quality time together this week and I just thought you should all meet my newest (and possibly most single-purposefully-minded) friend.

It's a subject we haven't broached at all because I think most people are afraid to talk about it - unless they are camper/rv'ers (and then they don't need to talk about it). So, just know these facts... we have a freshwater tank, and two tanks for waste both fore and aft. One holds black water and the other gray. Ol' blue here is for only the gray water, which is just pretty much dirty laundry water, hence not too toxic. Not that we couldn't put black water in a little guy like this if necessary, let's just say I'll go a long way not to have to put black water in a little guy like this, and leave it at that. :) The systems are pretty much self-contained and I only need to hook up some hoses and touch some external valves and move stuff around, then wash it down (wearing Nitrile gloves the entire time of course), so it's all in all a pretty clean existance. They make lots of little gizmos and gadgets to make it even easier and better, and I've bought a few - plan on buying a couple of others, but for the most part - it's a pretty simple and easy process. If you have any questions, feel free to ask because I have no shyness about any of this kind of stuff any more. :) Enjoy your indoor plumbing all. :)

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

On Island Time

Jill's Journal: Our days exploring Chincoteague Island have been filled with wonder and delight. Our little pony-loving girls think it’s pretty close to heaven. I do too. This place is a charming, sweet treat. A kitschy treasure. A vibrant sea community that dates back almost 400 years. And I’m in love with it. Without the ponies, it would be just a quant fishing village forgotten by time. But the ponies bring charm and beauty and history and lots and lots of tourism.

Here’s some of what we’ve enjoyed the past few days, not even counting a darling little museum that the girls loved and a tour of the Coast Guard facilities:

Beautiful lighthouse views.

Seaside dining.

"Rock beds" made of oyster shells.

Misty memorabilia at every turn.

Misty's hoofprints in front of the movie theatre (she attended the premiere of her very own movie!).

A visit to the Island Creamery, where the local ice cream got the girls’ stamp of approval.

Tour of Bebee Ranch, home of Misty. This was the world’s most famous pony’s actual stall.

And the disconcerting image of Misty herself, stuffed. In the same room is the stuffed remains of her most popular daughter, Stormy (who was featured in the Misty sequel, Stormy, Misty’s Foal).

Miss Molly’s Inn, a picture-perfect Bed & Breakfast, where Marguerite Henry was staying when she met Misty and actually contrived the idea for her book during the 1946 pony swim.

The delightful young author Jessie-Ann Friend, a California native who was mentored by Marguerite Henry herself and whose latest pony book Erika is currently enjoying.

And finally, Angel, a fifth-generation descendant of Misty. The girls sure would have liked to take her home!

Reality Bites

Jill's Journal: I haven’t written in a bit because reality has hit me hard the last few days: traveling with littles is a challenge. A big challenge. The 6-year-old is enjoying every minute and it’s such a joy to see her worldviews expanding and stretching. She soaks up every bit of knowledge and new experience like a hungry sponge. She is the perfect age for this adventure.

The 4-year-old mostly enjoys it and has certainly never met a stranger, but she is a bigger homebody than her older sister and some days wants a little more familiarity. She misses some of her favorite people and places more than the others do. But, she is also an amazing trooper and between extra playtime and extra hugs, she not only hangs in there but thrives.

It’s the 2-year-old who might do us in. She is the life of the party when she’s happy and determined to make us all miserable when she’s not. There’s not a more affectionate, charming angel out there…nor a more rotten, volatile little bugger. And you never know what you’re going to get, nor for how long. She’s made us question the sanity of taking this RV trip more than once over the last 10 days. In fact, I’m starting to think there’s a reason people wait to travel until their children are grown…

But in spite of questioning ourselves (and finding ourselves in a little bit of a funk over the last few days about how hard it is to travel with kids), we’re determined to keep pushing on and get through this learning curve. We may be worn out by the end of each day, much more so than we were at home, but we’re going to be richer as a family for it. These experiences are going to help shape these little girls and enhance their lives (and ours). I keep thinking of the education they’re getting – without even having started homeschooling yet – and I know it’s worth it, without a doubt (I think even in spite of the gray hair they’re giving us).

And the 2-year-old? She just spontaneously wrapped her arms around my neck and shouted, “Mommy, I love you! You’re the beautifulest and the best.” It’s those kind of absolutely delicious moments that help make up for the others…

Sunday, July 25, 2010

Our Chincoteague View

Jill's Journal: Showers. Air conditioning. Clean sheets. Clean floors. A re-stocked refrigerator. We are back to feeling human again. Ahhhh…sometimes the simplest things in life, the ones we most easily take for granted, are The Best.

But sometimes it gets even better. Look at our view! That’s the rear-end of our trailer on the right. We’re practically hanging over the channel, the very one that the world-famous Chincoteague ponies will swim across in a few days. I’ve dreamed of coming here to Chincoteague, Virginia, for the annual pony swim ever since I was a little girl and checked Misty of Chincoteague out of the library for the first of about two dozen reads.

Our girls are going to love it, but to be perfectly honest, that’s just a side benefit (albeit a major one). This stop is for me! When Rob and I first started dreaming about taking this RV adventure about 20 months ago, the possibility of coming to Chincoteague’s Pony Penning Days was pretty much the first thing I thought of…sometimes little girls and their dreams never grow up.

Selling Seashells by the Seashore

Jill's Journal: Ponies and ocean aside, Erika had an especially wonderful time on Assateague Island. Learning how to carve a duck out of soap from a sweet older man was one of the major highlights for her. She has talked about it incessantly ever since. She now has plans to teach the whole family how to carve soap. Good, clean fun! :)

And she remains determined to move to Assateague and make her living selling seashells. Apparently this is the first step in her master plan…

Saturday, July 24, 2010

Hello, Civilization!

Jill's Journal: This morning we woke up to a band of nine ponies inches out our front door. It was perfect, because today we leave Assateague State Park. It’s definitely bittersweet to bid this exquisite place goodbye. We’ll treasure our experiences here always. I’m not sure we’ll ever find a place to top it, especially for this pony-loving little family.

We’ve also learned a lot this week. Not that I had any question before, but I know now without a shadow of a doubt that I am not a “primitive” camper. And I have no desire to become one! I love nature and I love getting dirty and I don’t mind sweating during the daytime. But when it comes time to go bed, I need to be clean! And preferably cool.

And so…I’m so excited to be rejoining civilization! It’s hard to determine which I’m looking forward to more…is it non-rationed water, with its divine, cleansing regular showers? Cleanliness is next to Godliness, after all!! Or maybe it is air conditioning, glorious air conditioning? It might be electricity and all the benefits of regular power, like clean laundry, healthy meals, and a vacuum (I’ve never been so excited to vacuum!). Whatever it is, I’m so stinkin’ looking forward to it!

Civilization, here we come!

Historic Berlin

Jill's Journal: Our battery issues cost us all the perishables in our refrigerator, so we didn’t quite dare grill the chicken we’d planned for dinner last night. We packed up our sand-covered children and headed to charming nearby Berlin (apparently pronounced BURL-inn) in search of a meal. The historic district in this quaint old inland town is as lovely as they come and we quickly spotted an old-time soda fountain.

The restaurant was founded in 1901 and it was as fun of a meal as we’ve had. The town is so cute it’s been used in a few movies, most notably “Runaway Bride” several years back. The girls don’t care about that, but they sure loved the quaint charm including the dog tied up outside and the swivel seats at the counter!

Friday, July 23, 2010

“I’m Going to Live Here”

Jill's Journal: Just overheard as Erika was daydreaming…while burying her bare feet in the sand…while eating a Popsicle…and watching ponies graze:

“When I grow up, I’m going to have a tent on Assateague with my kids. And then I’m going to find seashells and sell them for money. I’m going live here.”

I think that means this place has been an undeniable hit! Music to my ears. As Rob has said, we’ve had a rough couple of days…more frustratingly crazy RV problems, the unrelenting heat and humidity, lack of sleep due to the humidity and mosquitoes, etc. But those are grown-up problems and the kids are in heaven.

It’s all worth it!

Natural Pony Behavior and a Zoo

Jill's Journal: I was awakened this morning by Madelyn exclaiming, “Ponies! Look! Lots and lots of ponies!” We just don’t get sick of them. They’re constantly milling around and we are fascinated by their natural behavior.

We’ve seen two stallions clashing on more than one occasion, with one trying to steal what appears to be a 2-year-old filly from the other’s herd. We can now identify the lead mares. We’ve seen them all “chatting” around the figurative water cooler. And it’s so interesting how unaffected these wild horses are by people. They show humans complete indifference, just as a domesticated horse would ignore a bird or cat in his paddock. One night Rob and I were sitting outside enjoying a cool beverage after the girls were in bed. A herd came trotting through our campsite, one getting so close he brushed Rob. I’ve never seen a regular horse disrespect personal space like that -- these guys know they own the island! Fascinating stuff.

Yesterday while Rob dealt with some of the RV battery issues, I took the girls off the island to see some different animals at the Salisbury Zoo, about half an hour away. It was hot there too, but the car’s air conditioner on the way sure felt good! It was the perfect little zoo for my girls’ ages. Just 13 acres, with lots of interesting smaller animals (they especially adored the playful river otters and prairie dogs), and free! Can’t beat that.

Thursday, July 22, 2010

What a day - "Karma called, and they hate you..."

I don't really understand. Maybe I pillaged a village in a past life and its all catching up? Maybe, just maybe, what we are doing is so cool that Karma is trying to level the playing field just a bit...

I started off this post in a much, much worse mood. But those of you that are Facebook friends might have seen tonight's full melee of posts and comments, and its put me in such better spirits that I can't be upset. Good friends, good memories, maybe even, even after today, a good mood.

You see, last night I was in a good mood. I did a lot of work, was happy with where things are here, and this morning woke up with great anticipation of getting things done. New things, not fixing things - advance, advance - not C.M.A. Then, power, once again, reared its ugly head.

I've said for the last couple of days (to myself mostly, and slightly under my breath) that this stop would be the most important of the trip. We've been hot, sticky, sullen, unhappy, tempermentalists, forlorn, snippy, etc... (and I only got to Sunday morning in that list...) Bottom line is that none of us were meant for this July in this place, with no power, no AC, heat indexes of 105, tired, stressed, and everything else that goes with that this early into our trip. Jill and I have both come close to packing it in (and have stated such verbally) and the kids it seemed at times would almost rather that we did... BUT, slow down folks - the heat is doing a lot of talking here. Its really been miserable, and while I'm sure that many of you have suffered through more, with less, in less fanciful settings, please note that we have also gotten to the three-week-into-our-trip phase. First week - Honeymoon. Second week - Adjustments. Third week - REAL Adjustments, and this was not the place to be, with these conditions, when REAL ADJUSTMENT hit the girls... and us.

I think we'll reflect back on this and realize that this week defined a lot of stuff going forward. What we will, and won't do. What we will, and won't plan. And how POWER in summer is very, very important (water too). Don't get me wrong, I'm not saying this was a bad thing/place/experience for us. Very much the contrary in fact as we learned so much.

Unfortunately, just as Jill and I discussed this last night, and had come to grips with everything... BUMP. Something else went bump.

Personally, I'm pretty sure its why the two girls in the tent camp next to us moved camp after one night. I'm pretty sure its why I've been whacking my head into a steel pole all day. I'm pretty sure its going to make it that I'm replacing just about every system on this rig, each at its own time...

The bump was batteries. Seems like last night might have run them down further than I expected. Now, I've been monitoring them for the last several days. Paying attention to levels and running the generator to recharge them daily (as needed), but last night might (ok, WAS) too much to ask. And, unfortunatley, unlike any other inverter (takes Battery 12V and turns it into House 120V) I've ever had, this one just beeps when its mad. My others have all beeped, then refused to be taken advantage of and turned off. I found this out because the girls watched a movie yesterday, then I of course worked, and played on FB and watched a movie - with earphones in... The manufacturer of the RV did buy one that beeps, but not enough to be heard inside (its in an outside storage compartment), even without earphones - so when it got to a dangerous level, it annoyed our neighbors, but didn't tell me anything... and I went to bed.

So poof. Now we have no power - no fridge - no laptop - no lights - no nothing. Three great big piles of weight that won't respond to a charge. I have a generator, and I keep trying to push power into them, but sadly, as I learn later, they are too far gone. Dead after only three months of use, and now its just another set of stuff I'm going to have to replace. I'm hoping that I can work out some kind of warranty issue.

>>> Sometime Later...

I've gone to Walmart to pick up some kind of lifeline, we have 12V again - jury-rigged as it is. To top it off I've fixed Jill's lost laptop from this morning (should get me points) and the fridge is beginning to creep back into real temperatures. I know there's more research to be done to see if I can save anything battery, or if the solution I thought I'd come up with in theory (before we'd left) is the right one now. We'll see. Lots of tests tomorrow to make sure things are working as they should, then replacement of what needs to be replaced, moving of what needs to be moved - and hopefully, at some point - I'll finally get a bike ride. :) I'm quite tired of fixing things. I really want to enjoy all the spoils, but this is clearly trial-by-fire, as the trip has dictated all along. I hope someone finds a firehose soon. :)

<<< A little later... Fortunately, as I edit this I've stopped thinking that Karma is getting me back for things in my past. I now realize that what it's doing is getting even for how cool this trip is, how lucky we are to be taking it, and how cool its going to be for the rest of my kids lives (and ours). And honestly, I think I can pay it forward now, figuring that the upside is worth the payment.

Ye Scurvy Dogs

Jill's Journal: Yesterday we did something entirely different! The five of us headed into popular beach destination Ocean City, Maryland, which is just 10 minutes away, and went on a pirate adventure. The girls were quickly painted with pirate tattoos and christened with pirate monikers: Excellent Erika, Mermaid Madelyn, and Vicious Victoria. And then we headed out to sea (or at least the bay).

The girls (and 20 of their closest honorary pirate friends) got to battle and defeat the evil Pirate Pete on an opposing "ship" with water cannons. They found a message in a bottle. And finally, they followed a treasure map through the bay to find sunken pirate treasure. What a fun kid adventure for our little scallywags!

With the girls still exclaiming, "Aaarrgh!," we then headed over to Ocean City's boardwalk and spent a little time strolling, people-watching, and enjoying ice cream. A lovely afternoon.

And then it was back to the ponies...and the deer! This awesome picture is of Madelyn in her bunk, dozing off herself to the sight of two deer napping not far from her window. Wow.

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Unclutterering. (from an outside source).

Jill sent this to me with a subject of simply: 'Saw this and liked it...' And I thought, we should share this, because it may mean something to people who are following along. Then today, Jill got a note from someone I don't know (but I've heard about) saying they were uncluttering because our changes inspired them, so I knew I had to post it...


Choosing simple living

An unclutterer is someone who chooses to live without the distractions that get in the way of a remarkable life.

Contrary to what you might assume, the most important word in the definition of an unclutterer isn’t distractions (or what we also call clutter) or even the goal of a remarkable life. The pivotal word in the definition is chooses.

The pursuit of an uncluttered life begins with a choice — you choose to practice simple living. No one can force you to be an unclutterer, and you don’t stumble into a simple life by mistake. Even people who lose all of their possessions in a catastrophe are not unclutterers, as they might choose to fill up their homes and lives again when circumstances permit.

Choosing to live an uncluttered life starts with wanting to get rid of distractions. Once this desire is present, you begin to see your life from this new perspective. When your mindset has changed, your actions will follow. Getting rid of clutter is usually the first outward sign of your choice to be an unclutterer.

From these first steps, you continue to choose to live simply every moment you’re awake. There will come a time when you stop acknowledging this moment-to-moment choice, but you continue to make it (or not make it). Then, when you turn your focus to the things that matter most to you, your reward is the remarkable life you desire.

It all begins with a choice ...

We made a very big change to go from what we had (and nobody really was truly aware of HOW MUCH we really had), to where we are now. We now have a 10' x 10' storage unit, I'll say mostly full, not packed to the rafters by any means. It is really full of sentimental stuff that we should pass on and things that we know we'll want when (if?) we go back to a static, land-based, housing lifestyle. On top of that we have 6 boxes in the truck (all of which just needs to be 'handled'), and the stuff in the fifth-wheel, most of which we need (always just one more clean-out away from being perfect). :)

It'd be a big change for most, but if you knew me, and how much I've uncluttered, you'd be afraid actually. It was one of the biggest steps in the process I think. If anyone wants to know what it took for me to go from - hey, I might have a use for that at some point... to - That's so heavy, and bulky. If I ever need anything like that, I can just buy a new one (but I'll probably never need that.) - just ask me. Its a life-changing decision. :)


Jill's Journal: Look at this picture: six ponies interspersed through daily camp life (apologies to the random people also in the image). I mean, really, how cool is that? It’s like that every single day here. We even awaken in the middle of the night to whinnies and hoofbeats on the road.

In spite of the miserable heat and humidity (and mosquitoes!), I think we’re going to try and stick it out here until the end of the week. And really, it’s for one important reason: this is a once-in-a-lifetime place. The girls are making some awesome memories here that will stay with them their whole lives. The immediate discomfort is only temporary, right?

I saw a quote on one of the Simple Mom-affiliated websites yesterday that spoke to me: "The thought of travelling with young children can be daunting. But it can also be a great adventure with your children helping to open your eyes to new experiences…Children are experts at being joyful and living in the moment, so follow their lead."

We’re trying to do just that.

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Hot, Hot, Hot

Jill's Journal: It’s a good thing this place is wonderful, because, my goodness, it is hot. And I don’t mind heat, so I guess I should correct myself and say the humidity is overwhelming. We’re hot and sticky 24 hours a day. I can’t express how miserable it is to be that sticky every minute. We’re all starting to get a little irritable, especially Victoria, who naturally runs hotter than any of us.

Rob made a comment the other day, something along the lines of, “Who would have thought paradise would make you sweat so much?”

I don’t know if we’re going to get used to it or if we’re going to throw in the towel and leave a little early.

This humidity has certainly helped with one thing…part of this RV adventure involves us looking for our next place to live, a place that will hopefully be a permanent home for us. Rob has been adamant in that he wanted someplace with little or no humidity. I didn’t think I minded humidity that much. But guess what? I do! Winters in Montana are looking really, really good!!

Monday, July 19, 2010

Assateague Island

Jill's Journal: Yesterday was our first full day on Assateague Island and three major things stand out to me as I look back.

1). The Atlantic Ocean! Three little girls could have chased waves all day long. The laughter, the happy squeals, the pure joy…as hard as it can be to travel with children (and trust me, it can be hard), that made it all worth it. They were in heaven. I thought we’d just dip our toes in (hence clothing instead of bathing suits), but the strong waves knocked all three over repeatedly (which they loved) and they were drenched from head to toe. And the sand…how does sand migrate to places on children “where the sun don’t shine”? Ugh.

One more note…how often does one get to play in the waves with ponies just 50 feet away, also cooling their toes?

2). Ospreys. We decided for the first time ever to make hot dogs. And s’mores. And do it over a campfire. Imagine our shock and surprise when a bold osprey (or sea-hawk) swooped down and stole three hot dogs off the plate! It all happened in the blink of an eye. Erika was a little traumatized, but I think the s’mores soon erased any worries. :)

3). Ponies, ponies, ponies everywhere, including a small herd that took a particular liking to our campsite. One stallion, four mares, one foal. We all watched in wonder for quite some time. The foal was incredibly playful…running, neighing, chewing on our car, and trying to steal the girls’ Cinderella scooter! They got a huge kick out of that.

We made the girls come inside and stand in the doorway of the fifth wheel…close enough that they could have touched the ponies if we’d let them, but safe enough that we could have whisked them out of harm’s way in an instant. Although we’ve seen many people do otherwise, ranger-enforceable law on this island is that these ponies are not to be touched. They are wild and do not share the same responses to people that domesticated horses do. When people touch them, they not only endanger themselves (we’ve heard many stories of people getting severely bitten), but they also remove any fear or respect these animals have for humans. And these ponies are scavengers – they go after people’s food and will attack, just like a bear or other wild animal.

These wild ponies are actually the descendants of horses and are technically small, pony-sized horses. It is believed about 300 years ago, a Spanish galleon with a load of horses shipwrecked just off the coast and the horses swam ashore. They mixed with local stock – nearby farmers on the mainland would “hide” their horses on the island to avoid taxation of livestock. They had to be hardy to survive here with the harsh summers and harsh winters and little food. Eventually over time, they began “shrinking” to make best use of the little food they did have and are now the size of large ponies.

The current horses here are left completely wild, with no veterinary care or other intervention, except a contraceptive dart to alternating mares. The state of Maryland tries to keep the numbers at around 150-175, since the island can’t fully support more than that. The ponies all have bloated bellies because they drink about twice the amount of water as normal horses due to their salty, marshy diet.

And they're just so darn cute!