September 30, 2016

Our Learning Curve

Wow. So much has happened it's pretty unreal. We've had to learn the hard way.

My Top 6 (because I couldn't narrow it to 5) Lessons on Starting an RV Adventure:

1. Be sure to tie down everything when you drive off. Exhibit A: Be sure the fridge is closed and tied shut because grapes and milk flying everywhere around the RV is no bueno. You've got one kid screaming, one kid laughing and then there was me who leaped out of my seat and tried to catch everything. Yikes.

This goes hand in hand with making sure everything is in it's proper position. When showing friends how the slides go out apparently someone put the drivers seat all the way back (we won't name any names). Welllllll the slide then ended up seriously scratching the back of the seat and breaking a piece of wood in the RV in half. As in it made no sound of distress until POP it snapped in half. That was a fun conversation with E. Note to self: make a checklist of everything we need to do before putting slides out and everything we need to do before driving.

2. Run your generator before you leave the dealership for at least 30-45 minutes when you are not connected to any power. Our generator stopped working in 90 degree weather on our way to Indiana. We then spent the next days struggling to find a dealership in TN that would help us. They don't particularly care to help you with any sense of urgency unless you purchased from them. Luckily, E was able to drop us off at my Dad's when he dealt with the dealers in Knoxville. It also meant we missed out on a goat farm this time around with Harvest Hosts but that's ok. We needed a/c.

3. Don't park under trees or up against a fence in a wooded area. We parked our RV at a friends house and then ended up with a few new friends in the Big B. As in, a ton of huge black ants. It could be worse, I guess. They could be red ants. Either way, we  had to delay putting stuff in the RV and set up traps in hopes they all die in the next couple days so we can fill 'er up.Update: they didn't die. We ended up having to bomb the RV. As in, taking out everything we'd packed already and starting fresh.

Yes, that's right people get out the BUG BOMBS!
4. When purchasing a ton of stuff to fill your RV make sure you keep an eye on every single receipt. Someone used my card and bought a $300 watch from TJ Maxx. I've shopped at TJ Maxx, Ross and Marshalls a lot to get little bits and bobs. It wasn't until I saw a $314 line item on my Visa that I was like ughhhh I think I would've remembered that big of a charge. Cue the fraud department at Visa and the police knocking at my mom's door so I can file a report.

5. Be flexible. This is the hardest for me. I'm a planner. It's what I do. At one point we were two days away from leaving and weren't sure where we'd be due to weather issues messing with Plan A. Not knowing where our family will be 'living' is a tough-y. We will figure it out I'm sure, but it's a nail biter for me. As of right now we have reservations until October 16th. This route is a constant work in progress. This is what route planning looks like:

Cayenne just woke up from nap (the only time to plan a route) and assumed the thumb-sucking position on my lap. :) 
Cayenne's milk cup, my wine glass and a beer. All three requirements when route planning.
6. Last, but certainly not least: OVERESTIMATE the TIME and MONEY it takes to do make this happen. Between prepping our car, selling cars, getting sheets, towels, pillows, organizational stuff, kitchen utensils, plates, groceries, homeschool materials, planning a route, etc. we are spent. This is definitely not a cheap or easy option. We are two weeks in and it still seems like more and more comes up that we need. The good news is that we ARE planning on slowing down soon. This travelling every week or couple of weeks is emptying our pockets faster than I can tell you.

These lesssons haven't been easy ones to learn. With any big change there is a learning curve and this is a huge life change for us. There are new things around every corner.. There will inevitably be a Part Deux to this post. One can only assume.

Note: Be sure to check out my post on homeschooling in the next few days. That's has been one of the biggest changes and lessons in our learning curve. It deserves it's own post because it's been a doozy.

September 27, 2016

Week 2: Gulf Shores, Alabama

Ok, I can admit it. I am a snooty booty  (a snob for those of you looking for the definition now ;) when it comes to the beach. I can't help it. I grew up on the beaches of South Florida, namely Jupiter beaches. We are talking sunny skies, clean boardwalks, lush green mangroves lining the beach and clear blue waters. I mean, it's kind of AH-Mazing! Most other beaches seem a bit dull in comparison. I am also willing to admit that I could be wrong. It's been known to happen once or twice. Who knows? Maybe we'll find a new amazing beach that will put Jupiter beaches to shame.

All that being said, Gulf Shores was a nice time. I can definitely see why Texans or Northern Alabaman's (is that a word?) visit here for long weekends. I can especially see why they'd want to stay at Gulf State Park which is where we called home for the week. It is a very well run, clean park. There is a huge pool that looks like it's brand new, with a splash pad, Lake access, bike rentals, a nature center, kayaking rentals and even ziplining. You get free access to the pier and parking at the beaches when you stay at the State Park.

We enjoyed the pool and splash pad multiple times, the beach a few times at sunset and the nature center. Niko held a snake and Cayenne had some one on one time with a turtle. Everything else was a bit pricey (as in $75 pp for ziplining). We are ballin' on a budget so we can't do it all. That's the hardest part for me. I want to squeeze every single ounce out of each place we go to and this was the first place I felt like we couldn't do it all. Granted it's only our 2nd real spot on our adventure so I'm sure I'll experience this many more times. We also spent a lot of time this week cleaning, getting into a routine with homeschool, taking our dog Cola to the vet and really just figuring it all out. STILL.

This is Reno's face when he finds out we aren't going to the pool after the beach. HA!

That face! She is hilarious. 
Guide to Gulf Shores, Alabama - sunsets!

It was a busy week but overall we did see/do a lot. Here's the Cortes Guide to Gulf Shores!

1. Gulf Shores/Orange Beach Visitor Center- It's a really modern new building with the nicest 2 ladies ever to guide you in the direction you want to go. They gave us coupons (and this mama isn't ashamed to use those bad boys!) and advice on when to do what.

2. Fort Gaines- We took the Mobile Bay Ferry and the kids loved it! We took it over to Dauphin Island where we were able to go to Dauphin Island Sea Lab & Estuarium. I'd never even heard of an estuarium so it was definitely interesting. There were seahorses, a sting ray touch tank and just a lot to learn. Right next door was Fort Gaines. The kids got to hear cannons being set off as they celebrated their first annual Massacre Island's Pirate Siege. They had a pirate band and pirates (as in pretty sure these people really thought they were pirates) everywhere. It was a long and expensive day but it was a nice way for all of us (Edson included) to get to hang out and explore a new place.

3. Foley Railroad Museum- After the money pit of a day that was our family Sunday I opted for taking the kids to as many free things we could find. Que the Foley Railroad Museum. It was great! There is a large train the kids can explore outside but the huge model train display inside is where all the excitement happened. There are a bunch of old guys running this place that LOVE trains and could tell us a story about every building, train and detail. They let the kids honk the horns, drive the trains and one of them turned the lights off so we could see the display all lit up.  I was lucky enough to get some insider knowledge about the hotel on the display. The guy told me that there was a prostitute standing outside of the hotel. He said 'they rent rooms by the hour.' I couldn't help but laugh my uncomfortable laugh and then brush Reno off when he asked, "What'd he say?" "Nothing, buddy, nothing at all."

4. The Wharf at Orange Beach- This is a huge shopping area with restaurants, a ferris wheel and a Spectra Light Show. We came here around 7 or so and not many stores were open but we walked, went on the ferris wheel. and waited for the light show to begin at 8:30. There was the cutest coffee/ice cream shop called the Southern Grind there, too. That's a must visit for next time. We saw it as they were shutting down but it was all southern, all the way and I loved the decor and feel of the place. The light show was cool, too. It was a bunch of palm trees light up from top to bottom and the lights were set to music. Our kids were tired and thirsty by this time from all the walking so it was a bit anti-climactic. Note to self: Next time plan to have snacks or get ice cream for them to sit there and watch it happily. It doesn't help that its been in the mid-90s every day we were in Alabama.

Cayenne was so genuinely excited to be on a huge ferris wheel!

5. Farmer's and Fishermen's Market- The kids and I came to this market after reading online somewhere that it was a great place for local stuff. I was so glad we went. It was a bit off the beaten path but the cutest little set of indoor/outdoor shops ever. As in no a/c anywhere. Holy moly it was 98 that day. I felt awful for the people working there. At least we had a reprieve from the sun in the form of a/c in our car. It helped we bought ice cream.

Anywho- there is a large open air market where local vendors set up tables and sell their goods. There was a butcher, a baker and candlestick maker. Ok, not really but you get the idea: a little bit of everything. We ended up getting a White Pumpkin and Lilac candle and have been burning it every day since. So there you have it, we contributed to the local economy by spending $12 on a candle. ;) They also had a market with fresh tomatoes, fruits and veggies from local farms, the Alabama Straw Co. and a couple other store fronts,

So that was Gulf Shores. If I could do it again I'd probably leave out a couple things. For example: The Gulf Shores Museum. It was one of our free stops that I didn't even mention above. The lady working the place wasn't pleasant and we ended up leaving. It was not kid-friendly at all. There are a few things I'd suggest for people to do should they ever visit: Alligator Alley and the National Museuem of Naval Aviation. I read about those two places and heard people talking about Alligator Alley. Neither of them are right in Gulf Shores but it sounds like they are worth the drive.

We have been spoiled by South Florida beaches and the abundance of things to see/do in the Northern VA and DC Area. A lot of the things in Gulf Shores kinda feel (to me anyway) like a been there done that frame of mind. NoVA is home to tons of nature centers and really good ones with great programs. Florida is well... Florida and full of beaches, pools, splashpads and everything water related.

We are moving on to our next spot and looking forward to some cooler weather. Stick a fork in us because we are over the heat and humidity.

Hope you are keeping up with us! Please comment below as I love to read what you think, suggestions on what you'd like me to write about or whatever! Follow me on instagram to see fun photos real time at paigeec. Hope to hear from you soon!

September 20, 2016

Week 1: Tallahassee, FL

We left. We packed this Big B up and headed out of town.

Our first stop: Tallahassee, Florida. It's been fun. I decided that each time we visit a new spot I will research the best things to do so it's ready to go when we are ready to make it happen. It also helps that we have a couple connections in the area that hooked us up with some insider knowledge (Thanks, Mike!).

Below are some must see Tallahassee attractions. Side note: It helps if you have a Noles fan in the house or in your moving house (in our case).

1. Lofty Pursuits: With this crowd of die hard ice cream lovers it was no surprise this quirky little shop was on the top of the must do list. It looks like a whole lotta nothing from the outside and even walking up to the front door. However, inside there are quite a bit of little treasures to unravel. Old soda pop machines, homemade old-fashioned candy samples, a sit down little scoot scoot and delicious ice cream. Definitely check it out!

2. Cascades Park: We pretty much stumbled upon this one and so glad we did. After the drive the kids were in desperate need of some action. They ran up and down and all around at this park. Cayenne may or may not have walked out diaperless due to some unexpected action in the fountains. I wasn't prepared with swimsuits in the car this go round. People of all ages were walking, jogging, playing, reading, biking. A great place in the middle of Tallahassee to just get outside.

3. FSU: The stadium and the gift shop, of course. We even got to hang out on the field. The boys loved it! They again, ran all over the place. They immediately reverted back to tackle football days, without pads and started going at it. I was pretty sure someone was going to break a bone. Then Cayenne got involved, they calmed down and all started chasing each other. We went into the trophy hall, saw a few sparkly (not a word the boys would've used) National Championship trophies. The boys got to see Dalvin Cook passing by or wheeling by I should say. It's pretty cool to see people you see playing football on TV in real human form.

4. Tom Brown Park: This is a huge recreation area that has a great playground, a BMX course, bike paths, racquetball and tennis courts, disc golf and baseball fields. Unfortunately, the BMX course was closed but the playground was a big hit. We'd definitely come back here as it was really close to our campground.

5. The Capitol Building Observation Deck and Museum: Edson got to come with us to this one. We went up to the 22nd floor and literally saw a clear view of  ALL of Tallahassee. We then went to the historical part of the capitol and the kids got some history lessons in the form of a couple scavenger hunts.

Reno in session! Order in the court!

6. Mission San Luis: A really cool old mission smack dab in the middle of a busy area of Tallahassee. This was really unexpectedly cool in my opinion. I went into it thinking it would be another history type lesson and left being impressed with what the state has done with it. It is a Mission that the Spanish and Apalachee shared in the late 1600s. Archaeologists have re-created the mission based on everything they found doing massive digs in the late 80s. They even have employees: friars, blacksmiths, etc. that play the part while you are visiting. They are dressed to the nines in period gear and act as though they are still in that time. The kids got into it, too. They also had a scavenger hunt (with a prize at the end) and the actors made them not even realize that they walked quite a bit. One added bonus: the 'church' on the property is home to a gazillion bats. It smelled awful. Watching Reno squirm and forcing him to come in with us was enjoyable.

What loofahs are made of - I had no idea!
The Ball Game that Apalachees used to play
7. Proof Brewery: We stopped by this place around happy hour on a Friday evening. When we found a parking spot we noticed that they were checking ids and that about 10 young college guys were headed inside. Hmmm...Well, this mama of 3 isn't about heading into youngin' territory with 3 hungry kids. I called and they said they were family friendly and they don't have a menu. That being said, we'll catch you on the flip side Proof. I definitely think it's worth coming back tp but on a different day. I read that the outside patio is a great chill spot for adults and kids alike. I want to come back sans kids and check out all the stores/coffee shops and more in the neighborhood. It's a up and coming little hood called Railroad Square Art Park.  It just has a laid back funky vibe that I loved seeing.

I'll be honest this week was really hard. Transitioning to being in such a small space and HOMESCHOOLING in this space is like WHOAAAAAAAAAA! We are hopeful that this is just an adjustment phase for all of us. It's difficult to get the kids to focus and stay on track. Keep in mind we have a 2 year old running around this Big B along side E who is working nonstop. It's all about figuring out how to make it work.

All that being said, Tallahassee was a good time. We got to meet up with some new (Mike) and old (Uncle Don) friends. It helps that Every. Single, Person we met was incredibly nice. Tallahassee has still been able to maintain the small town feel and we LOVE that.

Until next week!

September 7, 2016

RV Newbies

You will all be happy to know we survived! Edson drove a big arss RV from Michigan to Florida. It took us 8 days but we did it. The plane ride was Cayenne's first. She was hilarious. Spoke to strangers, took out every toy in her backpack and put it on her tray table and was such a big girl, She sat in her own seat with Daddy a majority of the time and only wanted mama near the end when she got tired. One of the funny moments: a lady had her dog on the plane that had fake pink fingernails. SHWAT? I snuck a pic (see below).

Look in the background. PINK FINGERNAILS

Our RV Newbie Route

Grand Rapids, MI: It was a bit po-dunk. It felt like we were in the middle of nowhere. Maybe we missed the "city" part but we were definitely off the beaten path. I saw a broken down semi trailer in a field that someone was using as a billboard. It read "Body Parts For Sale". NUFF SAID. I mean I know they meant Auto Body Parts but still. Disturbing. I wish I would've snapped a pic but holding onto my toddler in a taxi without a carseat took priority. All that being said, the RV park was very nice.

Martinsville, Indiana: Cedar Creek Winery & Brew Co. It was our first Harvest Host location. I LOVED this place. The host, Bryce was so nice and helpful. Our generator wasn't working so he offered us electricity and anything else. The land was beautiful, the wine was good and E said the beer was good, too. They are in the process of building a distillery so ideally we'd like to go back and bring some friends. Walking around being outside and spending time with each other affirmed why we are doing all this.

Townsend, Tennessee: We had planned on going to a goat farm in Tazewell, TN (another Harvest Host spot) and working on the farm for a couple days to save some money. That didn't work out seeing as though our brand new RV generator was NOT working. It was in the 80s and 90s and not having ac would not be kosher for this sweaty family of 5. We ended up going back to Townsend, TN and staying at a campground with full hook-up there. We spent a lot of time with Papaw and Granny especially while Edson had to work (and deal with the generator). Two times in one year was a new record!

When we pulled up in our spot at the campground we weren't impressed. Below is our view from the front window. I didn't think we'd have neighbors with a washer/dryer unit taken apart in the 'front yard,' Then we went to the river and that took all my redneck worries away.

The beautiful Little River- view never gets old
Cayenne filled her shoes with river rocks and then said "Look Mommy! My shoes ROCK!"

BB Gun Competition at Papaw and Granny's
Veggies picked fresh from Granny's Garden
The Smoky Mountains Overlook

Sparks, Georgia: We stayed at another Harvest Host spot: Horse Creek Winery. Our first Harvest Host experience was so incredible this one was kind of a let down. They had us park next to a dumpster behind the building where the employees smoke. We ate at the Bistro and they got our food all wrong and it wasn't good when we finally got it. We decided that we didn't even want to try the wine. We were super excited when we saw their website but not so excited once we got there. They have two locations so maybe the other location is better. Not so sure. It didn't help that it was right off I95 and being in the south meant gun-toting employees. That was a fun conversation at dinner with our boys as they were floored by the whole idea of someone openly carrying a gun in a restaurant.

Now we are back in Florida and I don't think we've sat down since we got back. It's been go-go-go. We have to get everything together for this RV so we can head out for the next year or more. It. Is. A LOT! Edson has all the technical stuff (i.e. wifi booster, getting the braking system and tow stuff set up on our Flex, finalizing details with selling his car, etc. etc.) and I have the task of making appointments, organizing and decorating. We are talking a lot of appointments: dentist, doctor, allergist, veterinarian, orthodontist and more. Did I say this is a lot? As for the organizing and decorating that's the fun part but I'm spiraling out of control. I tend to get carried away in trying to make everything perfect.

Deep breaths in and out. At this point we are a bit zombie-like and I'm ready to crash at the end of each day.  

We started homeschool yesterday. The website hasn't updated to the Day 2 assignments yet so I'm having to improvise today. We are leaving Saturday September 10th and we just found out the place we were supposed to stay in Tallahassee doesn't have power and that our New Orleans reservation has been cancelled due to flooding. Did someone say PLAN B?! We did have our first leg planned out but it's back to the drawing board. I'm definitely going to get a lesson in being more flexible on this adventure.

I'll be sharing much more very soon. Our learning curve, a trip to Tellico Plains, TN, the route and a few little things in between. These posts are bound to get smaller as I post more and that is definitely the plan. Stay with me!