Sunday, December 30, 2012

Looking Back, Looking Forward

One year down, and since the end of the Mayan calendar didn't provide an end to the world, we better start planning 2013!

Here's our starter plan, subject to change at a moment's notice.

We start at "A" (which is also "X") in the Rio Grand Valley. We leave there mid-March, then we head through San Antonio for a week, and up to Texoma (B) to play for their Easter weekend. After that we'll drop the bus off with friends (C), and drive the van to Colorado for about 2 weeks in April. (Not on the map.)

 We'll then return to Texas, where we'd like to stay through much of May, depending on playing opportunities, before heading through Arkansas for a bit, and up to Branson for our annual trip to Silver Dollar City on Memorial Day Weekend (D).

Off to visit friends near Holton, KS (E), before we head over to the mid-west, by the second week of June (F-H). We'll bounce around there for June and early July, then head to Pennsylvania by the 18th of July (I), and head up to New York (J-K) the last week of July, and up to Montreal through the month of August. By the last week of August we head over to (L) and head towards (N). We don't have any connections or anything on the schedule for that area, it just seems like a nice route, so we're going to start looking to see what we can find.

During the month of September we'll either skip into Pennsylvania again, or we'll travel our preferred route of O-R, depending on what gets onto the schedule. By October we will want to make a loop from S-U, possibly stopping for a time to see if we can get a CD recorded. By November we'll just find ourselves a nice place to hide in either South Carolina, or Georgia. Not sure about the route yet, but we will need to work up our Christmas shows and some new songs for our winter shows.

December through the 2nd weekend of January will be, Lord willing, Florida shows! (W)We'll head from Jacksonville, through to Tampa, and play RV parks, before heading back to Texas.

Some of this will probably work out, other parts will likely not, but you have to start the plans somewhere, right?

That's a look forward. Before we hit the road on our second year, I wanted to look back at our amazing first year! We passed our first year anniversary on Dec. 29th. It's been an fantastic trip, and we're so very thankful, full of hope for the year to come.

Happy New Year!

Monday, December 24, 2012

Monday Musings - Christmas Eve

It's Christmas Eve, the stockings are hung, the little tree shining pretty at the front of the bus, kids watching "Year Without a Santa Claus", gluten free cookies are finished baking, and we have... the air conditioner on. Such an interesting mix! It's really a lovely evening, but muggy in here from the baking, so it's only on for a moment. The kids are finding a warm Christmas to be a little disconcerting here in South Texas, but otherwise, they are having just as wonderful of a Christmas as ever.

Over the last few years I've felt a need to reduce Christmas expectations, partially for financial reasons, but partially because the materialistic frenzy didn't seem necessary to me, and seems to cause more stress during the season. Now presents include one main "Santa" gift, (not that they don't know the truth about Santa, but I get a plate of cookies and milk if I play the game), and if that one isn't too indulgent, one lesser present, plus a chocolate or small stocking token or two. That's really about it. Grandparents are on tight budgets as well, so materialistic expectations are kept minimal. We also do not provide them with money to buy gifts for one another, and have never really expected gifts from siblings. That is one thing that would probably be a nice lesson, as they would have to thoughtfully pick out something for a sibling, but in the past they rarely had income, and I couldn't spare money to just give them. This year they blew it all at Disney World, and prefer that to getting a gift from a sibling at Christmas. The twins manage money a bit more now as young adults, and they have purchased some small gifts, but one additional reduction of holiday pressure is to not bother having the younger kids exchange gifts until they are old enough to manage their money by themselves, pick out gifts themselves, and if possible, have their own license to go get it themselves.  Keep it simple.

As for decorations, they have gone from a big tree and lots of decorations, to simply stockings and a little 3' tree. I don't know why I initially felt some guilt for not going all out for Christmas gluttony, but I shouldn't have. They were all so giddy to get the little 3' tree and attacked it with as much enthusiasm as a 7' tree.

Kids adapt the the culture they are presented. When it comes to this fact, I admit we are at an advantage. Our kids do not have heavy pressures of an exterior culture dividing them from their family culture. This isn't to suggest they are sheltered. Honestly, anyone who thinks my kids are sheltered has not read this blog. The difference is in where their identity lies. They identify with their life in a family where they can relax contently. From the outside, it may seem in many ways to be one upheaval after the next, with pressures of performing whether you feel like it or not, and very little privacy. However, here in our little, very modest bus, they have unconditional love and are part in the shaping of our own family culture, instead of trying to adapt to the mold of another that has been placed upon them, having to fit into it for their sense of self-worth. There is where the pressure really lies, not in having to sing through a cough or without enough sleep. Audiences are actually quite forgiving, especially of kids. Peers and the media, on the other hand, are often not. I thank God more than ever for this around the holidays. No one is trying to keep up with the Jones, or the coolest girl in the class. No one has any need of expensive athletic shoes, or designer jeans. They are able to take joy in the small things.

Sean has asked me in the past if we're poor. I have to ask him by what standard is he measuring? Poor compared to many impoverished countries in the world? Goodness no! Poor compared to your average middle class American? Maybe we do tip in that direction at times, though the Lord has always provided. However, I have a feeling one of the best gifts God will have ever given us will be this time of sacrifice.

Friday, December 21, 2012

Frivolous Friday - Christmas Edition

It's a crazy life, but its our crazy life and we love it. Someday, I'd love to formally write about it and that will best be accomplished through a combination of record keeping and a development of a personal style of writing. In an effort to do both, I've added Tuesday Treasures to fight my tendency to simply write the shallow daily activities. I have a few other themes, but there needs to be a place for the frivolous. It would seem Friday is the perfect day for such things. After all, it's pizza and dessert night, and the start of the weekend.

Since it's also the Friday before Christmas, I thought a good start would be with our annual Christmas letter, since it's generally anything but serious. So, I unwrap for you, our 2012 wrap-up!

Merry Christmas!

Last year’s letter found us frantically planning our great escape to a land unknown. This year’s letter comes from Texas, nearly 14,000 miles later!

To put everyone’s minds at ease, we survived, we are not living in a cardboard box, the kids still eat, and the bus still moves! How do you put 14,000 miles into a Christmas letter? One month at a time.

January – (Back up 3 days to Dec. 29th) We left Colorado and at our first stop in Dumas, TX, we got stuck in the mud in the middle of the night in the cold, and it took 3 hours for a tow truck to pull the bus out. Two days later we found our car dolly’s wheel was bent beyond repair. To wrap up our first week, our van’s transmission went out half-way from San Antonio to Mission, TX and the repair would be more than the van is worth to fix. All in the first week! You would think some of this would have deterred us, but it didn’t. We took it in stride (ok, mostly). Dolly sold, van sold, just us and the bus for the next 6 months.
Other than that we had a couple of great showcases in the Rio Grande Valley for 2013 bookings, and then kept busy with little shows at RV parks where we stopped. Highlight was boondocking on the beach overnight when a very thick fog came up.

February – After a gospel show in Whitsett, TX, we took a long drive for 2 weeks in Arizona for a gospel festival and several RV parks - a real highlight of the year! The RV Parks in Arizona spoiled us rotten and we were sad to have to leave so soon, but we were contracted to play for the Mid-Winter Bluegrass Festival in Denver, so off we went. After a week in the snowy cold of Colorado, we drove back to Texas and sat in North Texas for 2 weeks to catch our breath. With that much driving we put Benny the Bus to the test and he passed with flying colors!

March – Drove briefly back to the Rio Grande Valley for a show, and over to Rockport where we played for our favorite South Texas church, and enjoyed a tour of the USS Lexington.

April – Hung out in North Texas again, playing for RV Parks, then headed into Arkansas! We dug for diamonds, unsuccessfully, and had some fun in Mountain View, AR at Mellon’s Country Store and music at the square.

May - Bounced between the boarder of Missouri and Arkansas. The names of the places we passed through in Arkansas were the best we’ve yet to encounter, including Yellville, Toad Suck, and Flippin, Arkansas.

June – After our 2nd annual trip to Silver Dollar City, we started the month at the property of good friends, ripping out the floor of the bus, which was molded underneath the vinyl flooring. It was a lot of work, but the prize was not poisoning our children’s lungs. Note to bus converters – do your floor properly and save the next owner some headaches, please. When the dirty job was complete, we had to say goodbye to our dear friends who put up with us and the mess, and headed to Denver.

July – After completing our last season playing for Fort Collin’s Streetmosphere, we booted, er, graduated the twins with a family picnic in Brighton, then pointed the bus north, and headed up to Minnesota for a “LauraPalooza” weekend for Laura Ingalls Wilder enthusiasts. Who would have thought a bunch of Little House groupies would be so much fun? We stayed in Minnesota for a couple of weeks, heading up north, back south, and visited the Mall of America.

 August and September – We slowed down a bit simply drove around the Mid-West, playing at RV Parks. In mid-September we stopped in Madison, WI and busked for Disney World tickets at the very large Farmer’s Market in downtown Madison. Tickets for the Magic Kingdom are a little much for a dinky family band, so the kids were asked to earn the money themselves on the side, and Farmer’s Markets are a great place to play with an open case. After a few minutes we were kicked off the state property by a police officer and walked just a few yards to a sidewalk across the street where we found you are allowed to be. Our first time being booted out for playing music!

October – We landed in the Lancaster, PA area for a time, visited Independence Hall, and then headed to see some old friends in northern Virginia where we were treated to some wonderful hospitality and a tour of the National Mall in Washington, D.C. It was over too soon and we moved on to the Winston-Salem area of North Carolina, playing at the Carolina Balloonfest, busking two farmer’s markets for more Disney funds, and treated to some of the most fantastic North Carolina hospitality. It turns out livermush is pretty good. Who knew?

November – FLORIDA!!! We stopped off at Brunswick, GA for some final ticket money busking at their First Friday, stayed at a park owned by Australians, then headed to Orlando and the big year-end prize – Disney World! The kids played outside in the heat, often the cold, tired fingers, tired voices, with a reward of 4 days in the parks, and it was worth every moment.

That brings us back to December, and we’re snug, safe, and warm here in Rockport, TX where we’ll stay until January, when we head to Harlingen, TX to start the fun all over again. This year will bring memories to last a lifetime, and should the Lord will it, we will have more adventures to come. Regardless where we go from here, we are so very thankful for His provision through a rocky and uncertain first year, knowing we can expect no less from the year to come.

There you have it, 14,000 miles.

Where will we write from next year? We’re hopeful and praying it’ll be from the bus, not a cardboard box, but if God decides we need a box for a time, I don’t doubt it will be just the right box for us. Until then, we pray for a blessed year for all our friends and family.

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Wordless Wednesday

Tuesday Treasures

Luke 2:19
"But Mary treasured up all these things, pondering them in her heart."

Have you ever looked around at how wonderful things are, then found your brain retreating from the moment, almost afraid to go there with some strange feeling that if you enjoy it too much, the other shoe will drop and you'll lose it all? I don't know where that reaction comes from but it is a cycle I found myself in years ago. My mind would find something to be anxious about and move there almost against my will. Sometimes it was a real concern, like financial troubles due to unemployment that most certainly could force a loss of our home if things didn't change. Other times it was over nonsense, such as a fear that my perfectly healthy child could develop some terrible disease and die, because I heard on the news about some theoretical deadly flu or a type of cancer I didn't know existed until yesterday.

Seeing the verse above, and knowing from history that Christ came as a child to one day suffer and die, I wonder if Mary knew back then that that day would come? The prophesies foretold these things, so she may have, but so many, including His disciples, were in shock over the crucifixion. The scripture doesn't directly tell us whether she knew or not, and I don't think the verse above provides the answer. She may have known, yet was still able to treasure the moment. There is a reason this beautiful woman was chosen to have such an honor. Mary had tremendous faith in God, which was why she could walk the path He chose for her with such joy.

With this in mind, I am starting a new theme goal for posting on Tuesdays. Tuesday Treasures are my moment to remember to treasure up all these things and ponder them in my heart. A few years ago I realized that my hesitance to fully treasure the moment for fear of an unknown future, not only robbed me of that treasure, but it did nothing to prepare me for some unknown tragedy. Since then I have often had to remind myself to rejoice in life's treasures and firmly slam the door on any thought that would rob me of a joyful moment. Now and then life's fears still win out for a moment, but rarely for long before I am reminded to look at how very many things I have to treasure up and ponder in my own heart. 

Back when I realized I had a problem allowing myself to rejoice in the moment, I had a nice suburban home and a husband with a decent job with benefits, a garden area, local stores with organic options, a wheat grinder, and a basement with bulk food storage. Today I live in a 20 year old converted school bus. We do not have another home and we cannot afford to replace the bus if it falls apart. At the moment we are without health insurance and dental insurance, despite having a daughter with past dental problems and the occasional health need, unable to afford all the perfectly pure foods that promise to keep you healthy and strong, which leaves some risk to our long-term health. Additionally, our very livelyhood depends on every member of the family being healthy. We must maintain strong voices, reflexes, and we cannot afford even temporary injuries. Our instruments must also stay in decent condition, without the benefit of quality maintenance from the best lutheries. Add one final worry no one wants: Our income depends directly on people "liking" us. Essentially, we are highly vulnerable and our whole world could go spinning out of control. 

I count all of this as joy. Never before have I had the privilege of seeing God's providential care so up close in my life. This doesn't mean something won't go out of control. Our first week on the road we had major upsets that could have left me crumpled in a ball, yet here we are, 14,000 miles later, with so very many treasures to ponder in my heart. I do lose to the occasional anxiety attack or moment of fear, but I'm learning. It's a battle worth fighting.

Monday, November 19, 2012

Aaaaand... that's a wrap!

Yes, I know it's not been a full first year yet. That won't happen for another 5-6 weeks, but we had our last big hurrah early!

A few years ago, before talk of full timing with the band had even begun, Michael dreamed of us going on a vacation to Disney World with the kids and playing our way there. At the time I suppose we didn't consider taking the really LOOOONG way there, but we did get there!

View 2012 Family Travels in a larger map
It. Was. Awesome! So awesome it ruined me on fun for a time. In an effort to take in as much as possible with all the things one can see in every area we have traveled since hitting Pennsylvania, we pretty much wore ourselves out. The grown-up "ourselves", that is. I'm sure the younger two would keep going indefinitely.

However, if you're going to wear out your capacity for fun, Disney is the place to do it. I am in awe over their whole business model. Everything in and around the area is designed to part you with your money, but unlike other places that attempt that feat, Disney makes you desperately excited to see it go at every turn, inspires you to look for more places to contribute to their part-you-with-your-money goal, and sends you merrily on your way, dreaming of the time you can come back someday to throw even more money at them. They are the masters, and we loved them for it, despite our usually insane frugal mentalities.

The kids busked and saved their earnings for months, sometimes playing with tired voices, fingers, hot, cold, and weary, but they succeeded and enjoyed every minute of the trip. Grandma Susan joined us and the twins stayed at her hotel room with park-hopper passes. They were park hopping fools, sometimes late into the night when the Magic Kingdom had extended hours. The younger two were just hyper from the lights, music, loud sounds, rides, and all sugared up all four days. The after-Disney hangover has begun and we're fighting off weariness and some minor illnesses, but I think everyone would agree it was worth it.

Here is where I end this post and simply let the pictures speak for themselves. Thank you, Lord, we did it! He did it, really, finding us unexpected places to play and stretching the money we had to live off of for our first frightening and vulnerable year out on the road. I am very grateful for every moment, most especially learning to trust in the every day grace we needed to keep going.

Next stop: Texas and, Lord willing, a slower period of time over the winter. Should God's providence allow, we'll loop the eastern part of the country and find ourselves in Florida again next year.

Sunday, November 4, 2012

O Blogging, Where Art Thou?

When I started this blog, one of the biggest reasons was to document our journey, not only from a standpoint of "we went here, then here", but some of the thoughts along the journey and internal aspects you don't always see in a simple picture travel blog. (Snore.) Somewhere along the line I lost my interest, and I can't pinpoint where that happened. I has become a bit too simplistic to the point where I'm not sure I'd have much interest in reading it myself. I am not sure how to recover the original intent, but when the writing bug strikes, I suppose I should grab it, without worry over length.

We've passed 10 months on the road. The sacrifices financially and materially have shown themselves to be anything but sacrifices. Some people say they dream of doing what we have done, and others cannot imagine how we tolerate it all. First, there are 6 of us in under 300 square feet, not to mention the grumpy cat. Even so, laughter far outweighs conflict. Yes, even when children are children and hit new stages, like the ability to argue with a post until the post turns purple and falls over (not mentioning names), or when tired and hungry raises the pitch of a little voice several octaves. That would occur in a house, bus, or igloo. Seven-year-olds will still get whiny when tired, and twelve-year-old boys will still prove every psychologist who ever studied developmental psychology to be nothing but quacks when they suggest refusing to give in or providing consequences for arguing will stop the behavior in all children. This will be true whether in a bus, out on the prairie, or living in a cave. Eh-hem. 'Nuff said. LOL!

What we do have to live with includes things rather easy to survive without, though people don't realize it in today's modern world. No eating out, pretty much ever because not in the budget, nor is a purified diet of organically grown, hand mixed, Asian dumplings with sauce made from a raw young coconut. Dumpy cheap phone service, so no touch screen, Angry Birds, or 4G network. Thrift shop clothing and hand-me-downs. No cable TV (yay!), few DVDs (redbox works), and no bookshelves. Ok, that one would be beyond what many can handle, but books aren't in the budget anyway, so e-readers can provide some public domain classics, and we sometimes read and return books in the exchange libraries found at many RV parks. Honestly, what on that list, besides the Asian dumplings, is necessary?

Some of the things we live without have even shown to be a blessing. We go without a regular paycheck. This means we put our money where our mouth is when it comes to learning to trust God for our future. We left behind our grain storage we had for economic hard times too, which turned out to be a foolish investment when Michael got metabolic syndrome and couldn't handle the carbs, then Mary was diagnosed gluten intolerant. It just goes to show you that sometimes, if you can't make the trust leap yourself, you get pushed! Health care is another one. We couldn't figure out how to pay the outrageous prices, but we are praying for provision to enroll in one of those Christian Health Shares very soon. In the end, we really only need a level of catastrophic coverage because we added up all we spent this year on medical care, including a trip to the emergency room with Mary, as well as Michael's blood-work and meds, and it was FAR less than we'd pay for full coverage on any insurance. So, that has been a life lesson learned.

Well, let's get on to the most obvious benefits, shall we? 

First is, of course, is all that gushy family unity stuff. I admit, touchy-feeling is something this family isn't particularly good at, and I can't bring myself to fully go there or my children will look at me like I sprouted 2 heads. We laugh a lot, talk a lot, play music together a lot, and when we get sick of socializing with other people, we go hang out in the bus with the people who are not "other people".  I think that covers a whole lot right there.

Friends. Now that's a big one! I've mentioned before the hospitality we've received in the first half of our journey. The second half was no different! We are honored to be welcomed into the home of so many during our travels, including parking the bus at the Farley's house for a whole week, where they gladly let us make our messes, showed us around D.C., and treated it all like we were family.

We left that area and headed to Virginia to meet the Hollmans who invited us to dinner, let me ship packages, and then stuffed my daughters with books to read. Last, but certainly not least, the Knotts family, with their fine North Carolina hospitality, an evening drive in Dolly the Bus, livermush, cheerwine, grits, and wonderful fellowship. Honestly, I don't know that I could have been so welcoming myself. I tended to stress over visitors, when it came to the state of the house, entertaining, or what to feed everyone, so I often avoided it. I'm in awe at the kindness we always receive so far beyond what we have provided. That's the way of things sometimes though, isn't it? We have a Savior who gave what we could never give, and then we are given friends who give us what we could not give ourselves. Fitting lesson there, and quite humbling.

The rest of the fun times are easy to imagine. Part of the beauty of playing in a band is the places you get to play. I think my kids have seen more bounce houses this year than most kids see in their life. Balloon festivals, harvest festivals, fairs, city events... you name it.

Personal responsibility is one of those unexpected perks. We have planned all year to end our first year with a few days at Disney World. The problem was, of course, that Disney World tickets are very expensive and we are not in a position to buy-now-pay-later on anything. So, we let the kids save with the smaller cuts they'd get from larger playing gigs, and we hunted down busking opportunities.
 Busking money is *all* kid money this year, and all of it in the last few months went towards Disney money. Some days it was cold, other days it was hot. Sometimes they were tired, fingers sore, voices weary, but they got in there and played, gathered a crowd, and earned that money! Tickets are now waiting for us in Orlando. We'll go get them on Thursday and Lord willing, meet the Mouse guy next Monday!
 RV Parks can be the best and worst in the travels. A bad RV park can ruin a week, but a good one provides so much fun, you start to worry that your children will be ruined from excessive expectations towards entertainment. They are also great places for holidays. Trick-or-treating, more bounce houses, bingo, crafts, and lots of other kids to run amok with.

 Batgirl and an Angry Bird pig had a great time!
 Sights to see! New places sometimes mean new and exciting man-made structures, but some of the most interesting things has been the subtle changes in the types of trees and the bird sounds. Such things are harder to describe, but add more to the richness of the experience than just the structures alone. Then there are other little things, like the smell and thickness of the air, the accents of the people around you, and even the names of the local grocery stores!

Variations in ocean waves were something I had forgotten about. The gulf coast off South and North Padre Islands are more calm and shallow than the area we were at the Atlantic, though only by degree. The sand was different, as were even many of the sea shells and how they congregated. I look forward to meeting more coastlines in the future.

 This week returned us to the land of palm trees, where we'll stay for the remainder of the winter months. Next week we head to the Orlando area, Disney World, then stick around to get in some heavy practicing Thanksgiving week to prepare our Christmas show. By the end of the month we'll make our journey to Texas, staying in Rockport for a month, then over to the McAllen/Mission area to play some music through March, when we build a new adventure for 2013.