Thursday, January 30, 2014

Fisheating Creek, Florida

Last year at this time, I never would have dreamed we'd be living in a fifth wheel right now.  This is strange because I've always liked to have a plan for my life, knowing exactly what's coming next.  Then October came, and we had a pretty good idea that we'd be taking this nationwide trip.   I began looking for campgrounds, trying to plan where we'd be when.  However, God has had other plans, and so far in our trip, the most I've successfully planned is two weeks out.  Right now, I have no idea where we'll be in two weeks.  I'm learning to trust God differently than ever before.  So, since October, I'd been looking into Florida campgrounds and it seemed every campground in southern Florida was pretty much booked for January through March - prime snowbird months.  I searched the internet for a long time, and two weeks ago, I finally found this:

I was a little bit concerned about our stay here.  As I'd written earlier, we'd stayed in places with alligators before, but this place is overflowing with them!  Also, this campground is definitely the most remote location we've been in so far.  I normally get some feeling of security, knowing my diabetic son is close to a hospital, and also close to grocery stores with his necessary carbohydrates.  Neither are true of this place.  Yet, when we drove into the campground, it became my favorite place we've stayed thus far.  Look at this "creek," and know that my camera and ability as a photographer just don't do it justice.  It's so beautiful!

This campground is full of cypress trees, and the roots grow up out of the ground so the tree can "breathe" more easily in swampy areas.  It looks really neat to see these cypress "knees!"

In this picture, you can see that my parents were visiting us earlier this week.  Hope you're warm enough now in Ohio, Mom and Dad!  Char had to work, but the kids and I had a great time with my parents, visiting Myakka State Park and scootering some of the trail that surrounds Lake Okeechobee.  

This week, we're not going as many different places as we did in St. Augustine, but we're generally enjoying 5th wheel life.  The weather here is fantastic for January.  We're sleeping with the windows open and playing with water balloons, since it was 84 degrees.  I thought about not typing that, given the weather that I know has been hitting the rest of the country, so if this weather sentence makes you jealous, then come visit us!!  :)

I'm settling into homeschooling all four kids a little more than when we'd been in the Dominican Republic, and defining more of what I believe and want to accomplish with homeschooling, which has been nice.  Also in settling into this routine, I feel like God's teaching me more about the individuality of each of my kids, particularly my oldest, who had been in public school for a few years.  It's an interesting perk of homeschooling that I hadn't expected.  If anyone ever thought about homeschooling, but wasn't sure about it, I'd love to chat with you!

As the week continues, the workers in the campground office have reassured me that it's perfectly safe to take our inflatable canoe out in the alligator waters of Fisheating Creek.  They also told me that there's a nice spring-fed lake in the campground that's great for swimming.  The only alligators there are baby alligators, and the kind lady told me that swimming with baby alligators is always considered safe.  So, if this is the last blog you read from our family, you'll have an idea what happened in the rest of this week, but hopefully I'll instead be sharing pictures of some of these adventures soon!

Hope you all have a good rest of your week and that your snow melts!

Friday, January 24, 2014

Special things are everywhere

We've been on the road for four weeks now, and we're already talking about which place we stopped was our favorite.  I liked my husband's answer best, that each place was very different, and there was something special about each of them.  This is something I want to remember, even when the trip is over.  There's something special everywhere, and we just need to find what it is, do it, and appreciate it.  This includes home in Ohio.  When our kids have said they're bored, or there's nothing to do (which doesn't happen often, because then they get to do chores), there's really always something to do.  Find what's special about the place and do it!  So, in case you were wondering, here's what's special about where we've been lately.

Our last campground, Manatee Hammock, had a large, open green space, surrounded by palm trees, that looked out over the Indian River.  It was beautiful, and ended up being a terrific place to play a family game of soccer.  This might not be something special for every family, but for our family, it was pretty great!

The area this campground was in is called the "space coast," and we had meant to visit the Kennedy Space Center while we were there.  Then, I discovered it would be about $320 for our family to visit the Space Center for a day.  Guessing that our little two would get bored pretty quickly, and our older two express some interest in space, but not $320 interest in space, we decided to skip this stop.  We ended up finding this instead:

It doesn't look like much from the outside.  I wonder how often we miss special things because they don't look very nice on the outside?  The inside is great!  First, it was free.  Second, it's staffed by ex-astronauts and others whose passion is space.  One man took just our family around the museum, told us all about everything, and the kids got to play with the enormous consoles used to operate and launch rockets from NASA.  (NASA had been throwing them away, and this museum "rescued" them.)  Plus, the astronaut suits and other equipment were cool for the kids to see up close.  I'd say this place was special, and we'd recommend it to other families.

Since then, we've moved on to St. Augustine, where we're camping in Char's mom's yard.  Of course, one of the special things here is spending time with Char's mom.

St. Augustine Beach is definitely special, too.  This beach looked rather orange, with bits of orange shells all over.  The best part, though, were the sand cliffs, that were as tall as our children, going down to the ocean.  They were fantastic for climbing, building, and jumping:

One day, our lunchtime sight-seeing plans were changed from climbing a lighthouse to going on a tour of a chocolate factory.  We have climbed lighthouses before, and so our family was quite happy with this choice.  There were lots of samples included in this tour, and it was also a great science lesson.  Science of chocolate is the best science possible.  Chocolate will always be special - everywhere.

Something else interesting I've noticed - history is different in different parts of the country.  In Ohio, we have Hale Farm, and I always figured that was the normal old-fashioned village.  We went to Ponce de Leon's Fountain of Youth Archeological Center in St. Augustine, and its old-fashioned village was nothing like Hale Farm.  We saw people dressed up as Native Americans and saw them use the weapons they used to fight the Spanish, and we saw a show in the planetarium of how Ponce de Leon used the stars to navigate to Florida.  It was all very different from the way we'd learned history in Ohio, and very interesting.  Who knew?  I wouldn't have counted Hale Farm the most special thing about northern Ohio, but history is told differently everywhere, it seems, and it's special to hear stories told in different places.

Then, there's Christmas lights.  I always love Christmas lights, but it St. Augustine, they're extra special.  St. Augustine is, of course, the oldest city in the U.S.  There are many impressive buildings with all the old architecture, and all the buildings in the historic area are covered in white lights for the months of December and January.  Seeing this was a great date with my husband!

Well, that's what we've been doing lately - finding special things wherever we are, and doing them.  Isn't it wonderful the variety and beauty God's put throughout the world?  I want to always be grateful for the special things around me.  I wish you the chance to do special things wherever you are today, too!  Sled riding?  Much love to all of you reading this, from the Utter family!

Saturday, January 18, 2014

Scary alligator stories

When we first told our kids we were going to be taking this trip, they were very excited.  After awhile, though, they began asking questions like, "Will we be camping where there are bears?  What about alligators?  Or poisonous snakes?"  I told them that yes, we probably would be camping with some of these creatures around, and they promptly told me that they were going to skip those campgrounds.

This week is the first week of our trip where we are camping in an area known for the presence of alligators.  Everyone needs to read a few good scary alligator stories, right?  Here you go.

Scary Alligator Story #1
Look at this picture.  Isn't it beautiful?

We were on our way to Canaveral National Seashore, and we passed a dirt road (maybe more of a dirt path), that went out into the water.  My husband has new-truck-with-four-wheel-drive syndrome and really wanted to do some off-roading.  As we turned onto this path, I was really wishing he would have chosen somewhere to do his off-roading that was not named alligator alley, with only one narrow lane, and a drop-off into the water on either side.  However, isn't it beautiful?  This is not something you'd ever see on a normal Florida road, and we would never have seen it if we hadn't had done this drive.

Scary Alligator Story #2
You know what the best time of the day is?  Early morning.  When there's just a little bit of light, and a crispness in the air.  (If you thought any other time of the day was best, you're wrong.)  :)  It's the best time to go out for a walk for exercise and solitude, in with God's beauty.  See this?

I walked down to the water and out onto the fishing pier.  I walked most mornings home in Doylestown, but it took me more time to work up the courage here, because of not knowing the location of the dark paths, and not knowing what other people and animals were out.  However, I stood on the fishing pier, and it was so peaceful and beautiful.  I saw a line in the water, and I stared at it, trying to figure out what it was.  Eventually, an enormous nose popped out of the water, said, "PFFFFF," and went back underwater.  It was a huge nose, and it crossed my mind to run off the pier because an alligator was for sure out there, planning to eat me up!  However, another thought quickly followed, that alligators don't generally hang out completely submerged in water, so I stayed on the dock.  It was still darkish, but I realized the creature was a manatee.  Huge and beautiful, in a manatee kind of way.  It was incredible watching him, and I was so happy to have been out, hanging out with a manatee, in the early hours of the morning.  Amazing!

(That manatee did not show up in a photo, since it was too dark.  Here, you can sort of see the manatee our whole family saw at Canaveral National Seashore.)

Scary Alligator Story #3
The S.S. Utter sails again, this time in Florida!  This was so fun, and this time I wasn't scared, but the kids were.  Our family seems to have an alligator paranoia, but now we've sailed in the Indian River in Florida, regardless of the presence of alligators.  Again, it ended up being so fun, and was a highlight of our time here.

Weren't those great scary alligator stories?  Only thing was, WE NEVER SAW A SCARY ALLIGATOR in any of them!  Our kids and I worried over nothing.  (Char wasn't scared for an instant.)  Isn't that crazy?  Worrying over things that never happen?  And isn't it wonderful the great things we got to see even in situations that were scary to us?  It always seems, in my life, that when I do things I find to be scary, they're the best experiences.  These are some great memories from this week!

I've been reading Psalm 91 a lot lately.

Whoever dwells in the shelter of the Most High
    will rest in the shadow of the Almighty.
I will say of the Lord, “He is my refuge and my fortress,
    my God, in whom I trust.”

Isn't that great?  Trust in God cancels out fear, and things don't need to be scary.  Especially not scary alligator stories that never include an alligator.  I'm going to keep reading Psalm 91.  Maybe you'd like it, too?

In any case, we hope you have a wonderful week, and are nowhere near any scary alligators!

Tuesday, January 14, 2014

Not perfect.

Yesterday was an interesting day.  Everyone in the family was grumpy.  Normally, that would not be a good blog, but since some people told me it sounded like everything about this trip is perfect, I decided to clear up that delusion by posting Bennett's writing assignment for today.  Ha!


"There is a cute little squirrel," yelled Elliott excitedly.
"This place is a mess!" grumbled Dad loudly.
"Stop whining!" screamed Mom frustratedly.
"I am hungry," complained Bennett annoyingly.
"Waaaaaaaaaa!" cried Wyatt and Iyla sadly.
"Let's go scooter," said Elliott pleadingly.
"Here's your breakfast," mumbled Mom tiredly.
"This is a F," uttered Iyla incorrectly. (really being a T)
"I love this camper!" shouted Elliott lovingly.
"Can I do another poem like this tomorrow?" asked Bennett pleadingly.

Sunday, January 12, 2014

Here's how we roll

This has been a good week for how we roll, as a family.  Our family has been exploring wherever we go by scooter - the bikes didn't fit in the camper as well as the scooters.  This worked out great for everyone but the littlest Utter, who couldn't keep up.  This week, however, we discovered a solution!  She gets to ride on her dad's foot!

And now, other ways we roll as a family.  I suppose this is the case with every family with young kids, but our kids collect treasures everywhere they go.  They're also disappointed if they don't all find the same treasure.  Last week Thursday was a good day, because they all found sand dollar treasures on the beach at Jekyll Island.

Part of how we roll is that our mornings are spent accomplishing the basics of math and language arts for homeschool.  At lunch, we go for an adventure, and we spend some of the afternoon researching that adventure more and writing about it.  That's how we do science and social studies.  So, last week we studies sand dollars.  They're really interesting!  Did you know they like to burrow and they like to live in groups with other sand dollars?  

We also went to the sea turtle hospital on the island and studied sea turtles.  It's interesting to see them with weights on their shells, or with their shells clamped together with metal, so that they can heal and be released again into the wild.

We don't always roll.  We are a family that loves the water, so if it is at all possible to swim, even if it's much too cold, we still do it!

I don't know who the parents are of these kids - who lets their kids swim in the ocean when it's in the 60s out?  Wait, those are our kids.  Well, it's part of how we roll!

Seeing this picture reminds me to tell you that we've moved south again.  We're at Manatee Hammock campground in Titusville, Florida.  We came here mainly to take the kids to the Kennedy Space Center, and also to visit the Canaveral National Seashore.  (That's the picture above.)  It's beautiful!  I think this will be a week that I'd recommend to other people, and we're looking forward to visiting the Space Center later.  However, the highlights for our kids may be a squirrel and a lizard.  The squirrel is quite acquainted with campers and will eat out of our hands.  The lizard, well, I don't know why our boys want to touch a lizard, but you guessed it, that's just how they roll.

I guess that's all for now!  Thanks so much to those of you who've written to us, as I love to hear what's going on with you!  I hope you all had a great weekend!  With love from the Utter family!!!

Thursday, January 9, 2014

It's interesting

Some people have said they like to be able to picture us where we're living, so it's time to post some photos of our new "house."  Ever wonder what it would be like to live, as a family of 6, in 400 square feet?  Here's some pictures.

This is our bedroom, which includes Char's office in the corner, and a bathroom, which can be separated by a curtain.

This is our kids' bedroom, which doubles as a homeschool room.  There's another half bathroom off of this.

Here's our kitchen, dining room and family room:

That's it!  I didn't take a picture, but we do have some storage under the camper.  We call this our "basement," and it's where we keep scooters, propane, etc.

This all fits into what's been on my mind lately.  Want to read about some contrasts?  Our current 400 square feet is quite different from the house we just sold, which was about 2300 square feet.  Coincidentally, according to the U.S. census, 2300 square feet was the average size of a home in the U.S. in 2012.  According to wikipedia, the average house size worldwide is 700 square feet.  Interesting, huh?  Not that there's anything wrong with lots of square footage, but still, it's interesting.

Before we moved into 400 square feet, I was a little concerned about how that would work, with a family of 6.  However, we had a good test of the situation a few days ago, when the temperature was in the 20s for 48 hours, and our family was in our 400 square feet together for two days.  It worked just fine.  For me, I think it works better than having a big house.  I'm not a great housekeeper, and I would stress about the house not being clean enough.  But really, do I want the result of my life to be that I had a really big, really clean house?  Do I want my home to own me?  I know I want to be owned by God, loving Him and loving other people.

Honestly, this blog probably doesn't apply to most people reading it, so I'm not really sure why I'm writing it.  I guess it's what's on my mind a lot.  I think most people can handle a lot of square footage and "stuff" better than I can, and I don't think most people need to sell their houses and do smaller, like we're doing now.  On the other hand, we in the U.S. have a lot of excess, and we spend a lot of time maintaining all that extra "stuff."  So, today you're reading what I've been thinking about:


contrasts worldwide,

what we spend our time doing.

It's interesting.

(In case this was not interesting to you, stay tuned for updates on sea turtles, sand dollars, and the space coast.)

Tuesday, January 7, 2014

Crossing the Moon River and moving on to Jekyll Island

Hello, all you freezing people up north!  Char and I looked at your weather forecast last night and laughed, because it doesn't seem like -11 should be a temperature.  Maybe it should be an answer to an elementary kid's math problem, but not a temperature.  Yikes!  It's a balmy 22 degrees here in Georgia, which is much better, but still pretty cold, and the water froze in the hose connecting the camper to the spicket.  It's still nice to feel snug and cozy, and is memorable, camping in the cold with no water!

Here's our update.  We enjoyed our week at Skidaway Island State Park so much that we decided to spend another week in Georgia.  We moved south two hours to Jekyll Island Campground.  I had wondered, planning previous vacations, why we'd done beach vacations at most of the southeastern U.S. states, but never in Georgia, so I wanted to see a beach here.  I'd say it's nice, the atmosphere being more quaint than most beaches, and the sand not so white.  We got to explore yesterday during lunch break.  Char starts work early enough, and the kids and I take a nice homeschooling break in the middle of the day, so our general plan is to have 2 hours of daily exploring time at lunchtime while we're on this trip.  Here are some beach pictures:

There are also great scooter / bicycle / walking trails here!

It will be nice to explore here for the week, and see what else we see.

This morning, based on the song coming from Char's corner "office" in the camper, he was apparently being sentimental about our last campground.  Every time we drove onto Skidaway Island, we drove past a river, labeled with a green sign, "Moon River."  Of course, if you drive by such a sign, you immediately need to break into singing "Moon River," right?  Did anyone start singing the song because of reading this paragraph?  I'd thought it was a great name for a river, but it couldn't really be the river in the song.  However, this morning, Char researched the song, and that river is actually the namesake of the song.  How cool is that?  If I'd known, I would have photographed the sign and the river itself.  I did photograph a lot of water, so we'll just say that this picture is a picture of the Moon River.  I'm 99% sure it's not, but title-ing it Moon River will make me happy.  And we'll continue playing the song in our cozy camper with no water on this 22 degree day.  I wonder how many times I miss celebrating really cool things, like the Moon River, because I wasn't paying attention, or didn't believe what I was seeing?  I really want to pay attention!

Moon River

Now if you don't know the song "Moon River" and were completely bored by the last paragraph, maybe you'll be excited about shooting cannons.  My boys were.  On Saturday, we visited Fort Pulaski, and watched the cannon-firing demonstration.  I think I mentioned my boys' interest in big guns, but this was the highlight of the trip thus far for several of them.

Here ends a rather disjointed blog.  I hope you are warm and well!

Friday, January 3, 2014

The First Week

We've been on the road for almost a week now.  It's amazing how much life can change in a week!  I remember being so nervous about leaving one week ago.  I'm terrible at change.  Are you good with change?  I'm so much happier this week, now that we're settling into a routine and a new normal.  Sometimes, change just needs to happen.  Anticipating it is really hard!  But, this week has been a good adventure, and has been good settling into new routines!

Here are some highlights since my last blog.  We explored the city of Savannah on New Year's Day.  I tend to like parks and the beauty of nature a lot more than I like cities, but Savannah was really nice!  There's so much history to see, with statues, monuments, parks, the river walk, cobblestone streets, and lots of plaques to read all about everything.

Of course, with four boys in my family, for some reason they always get excited by big guns.  Weird.

It was pretty rainy on New Year's here, and in fact, it rained for 48 hours straight.  But, given that I'm writing mostly to people in Ohio, I'm not going to complain at all about the weather!  Brrr - stay warm!!  We needed to find indoor things to do this week, so we enjoyed petting an alligator!

The kids also liked the skeleton of the Skidaway sloth.  Because we Utters have crazy family traditions, whenever taking photos near a statue, it is absolutely necessary to pose the same way as the statue.  One of these days, the kids are going to become teenagers and probably hate me for this!

In the rain, our kids worked on the activities to become junior rangers in Georgia.  As homeschoolers, we call this "science class," and it's actually very educational.  Here are the boys showing off their newly earned badges:

This was a great week!  So much change, but I'm so glad we took the leap.  It reminds me of what my great friend, Kristy, wrote to me while I was busy fretting over the upcoming change before we left:
"Just remember, the first leap is the hardest...  it gets easier each time you jump."
Why was I so worried about doing something abnormal?  God created us all differently, so we probably shouldn't all be living life exactly the same way.  Why do I sometimes think I need to be like everyone else?  I suppose it's a good New Year's kind of thing to think about.  God made us all differently, and we shouldn't feel like we need to live exactly the same way everyone around us does.  Sometimes, He wants us to take a leap.  Does anyone else need a push to leap, the way I did?  Live the way God made you to live.  I loved this week.

Love to all and a blessed 2014 to you, from the Utter Family!