Sunday, April 29, 2012

I Wanna be a Hillbilly

So, if we were to buy some property out here in the Ozarks, stop trying to do all of this "see the USA" family band stuff, and instead settle down to make barrels and play bluegrass music a few times a week here in the mountains of Arkansas, would you think less of us?

Ok, mosquitoes and humidity aside, this place is amazing! I cannot get over how beautiful these hills are, how thick the foliage, and how friendly the people are everywhere we go. The land is so inexpensive, too. Honestly, why is it so inexpensive? It's absolutely lovely. I am (sort of) joking about dropping everything to sit here and make barrels, but I have told Michael that when we do finally decide to settle back down, I want a little cabin with a great big front porch in the Ozarks, with a little creek running through my back yard. We'll have chickens and I'll grow me some lettuce. I think it may actually be wet enough here that I may keep some alive.

After the Crater of Diamonds we headed up through Little Rock where we picked up a new mixer and aimed the bus towards Conway, AR, to meet a couple of "virtual friends" I knew only from online communications, Regina and Jackie. Regina had arranged for us to busk at a little local park with restaurants on Thursday, and even invited us to park the bus in front of her home that night, so we took her up on both. If anyone else is a virtual friend of Regina, let me just say that she really is that cool. This is no "online only" kind of coolness. We had a blast. She drove me all around Conway, we found a music shop that had the banjo picks we badly needed, and told me a lot of interesting things about Arkansas people.

Oh, and this is the most amazing part of the trip! The twins were pestering to see the Hunger Games, so we found a theater in Conway that was right by a Cracker Barrel, so we parked at the Cracker Barrel, sent the twins to the movie, and I met up with Regina for dinner and coffee in the restaurant. While I was there, Michael stayed with the younger two at the bus watching movies. A couple people came by the bus, admiring it, and Michael ended up chatting with them. They lead music for a mission church in the area and have a couple old school buses just like Benny. After some discussion, they invited us to come play for their church service the following evening, and Michael agreed. Wonderful people, and they have simply awesome taste in buses. Benny had a chance to mingle with a few other former school buses while we played a gospel set.

We then pointed the bus towards Mountain View, AR! We kept hearing so much about it, and we knew we had to go see it for ourselves. They really do have music on every corner in the evenings! Everyone plays something around here. It's truly unique, and far more friendly than this Colorado front range gal is used to. (No offense, Colorado. I love ya, but it is different here.)

We have been the guests of "Pappy" Mellon and Mellon's Country Store this week, where we played yesterday.

Pappy gave Mary a set of spoons and a train whistle. She played her new spoons for "Turkey in the Straw", and blew her train whistle right before Sean played "Orange Blossom Special".

Sean was given the "first string instrument", a mouth bow, where you place the end of the bow on your cheek, up by your jaw bone, strum the string, and change notes by the shape of your mouth. He insisted on playing it during "Turkey in the Straw" as well, and didn't seem interested in using the fiddle, though I admit, as cute as it is, he plays the fiddle better!

I have to stay out of the store or I'll buy stuff. He has everything. I want a gourd banjo and I don't even play banjo. The gourd fiddle was great, too. There there was this looooong barrel shotgun... (It wasn't made from a gourd.)
Here we all are with Pappy.
This is the "chick magnet". Sean took a ride in it. There are 2 horns and a whistle. The whistle, when you pull the string, does make a whistle like you're whistling at a lady!

Cute, huh?

We hate to leave, but next week we are up in Mansfield, MO. No doubt I'll fall in love with that, too. This is becoming a habit, but so far the Ozarks with the pretty contest.

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

No Diamonds in the Rough

We had a wonderful, though exhausting day today at the Crater of Diamonds State Park in Arkansas. Part of me wishes we could spend another day here, since the forest is so beautiful, but in truth, one day of diamond hunting with those-of-low-attention-spans is about all any of us can manage.
It looks like something out of a story book, doesn't it?

Benny looks perfectly at home, with trees more than high enough to provide needed shade from the sun.

Yes, they did sing, "Hi-ho, hi-ho, it's off to work I go," as they walked down the path to the diamond crater.

Diamonds or bust!
Notice how the pick ax is resting behind his ear. I wonder if that is what happened to Dopey's ears? Too much time trying to carry the pick with the ears.

This gal tried to start whining within about 20 minutes about how she was tired and bored, so some creativity was demanded. This place was full of interesting rocks and I convinced her that the wooded areas are may be a nice place to build a fairy house with beautiful stone furniture. I didn't hear another whine until sometime in the afternoon, but now I do have to find a place for all those pretty rocks.

Papa tried so hard to get Grandma a diamond, but they eluded him.

That afternoon we tried wet sifting. They rent screens for both wet and dry, along with rentals of shovels and other tools. Wet sifting is supposed to be the quickest and most reliable way to find a diamond. Not that it helped us, of course. We walked away without a single diamond of any size. We're in good company though. The average per day is about two at the crater. We at least saw many in the visitor's center, so we knew what to look for, and learned a lot about the characteristics of diamonds. It was very educational!

The visitor's center was very wise to pack marshmallows. We don't carry marshmallow forks, so we did it the old fashioned way, with sticks.

Finally, we ended the day with some bluegrass pickin' and sawin' around what was left of they dying fire. When it got too dark, Katie tried to stand by the light to see her fingers while she played, and was attacked by a june bug. I think it's a sign of a fine banjo player when you can scramble from a big flying bug, while not missing a note.

Tomorrow, Little Rock! Hey, at least we'll see some type of rock in this state, huh?

Sunday, April 22, 2012

A Little Cat Fun

Perhaps we have too much time on our hands, but yesterday Alex noticed something. A couple of her friends have a pug, and their pug has far more "likes" on facebook than our band. We realized we lack in the cute and furry aspect that attracts so many fans. Unfortunately, the only cute and furry we have in our bus is a rather snarly tortoiseshell colored cat with a serious attitude. It's not fair, really. She's very soft and you very much desire to hold and cuddle with her, but she has a personality more prickly than your average porcupine. She can be very sweet when she's hungry, very tired, or lonely from being left alone for some time. However, the other hours of her day consist of giving cross looks, strutting by you as though you exist to simply get out of her way to prove her awesomeness over you, and sleeping on your comfortable blankets.

It's cruel to be cute, soft, cuddly, and off limits due to an overgrown cattitude. 

We had only one choice for fleeting facebook fame in the cute and cuddly area, and that was to create a page that suited her personality, one of a determination towards world domination, so we have.

If you feel so inclined, please indulge us and "Like" Thibodaux the Cat" on Facebook.  Currently, her fiendish little feline mind has finally set the wheels in motion towards conquering the great State of Texas, and tomorrow she will set her sights on Arkansas.

Hey, we have to have some entertainment around here. It would help if we found a reason to keep the cantankerous feline around, too.

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Soaring Like the Eagle

There are times in a Christian's life when you may find yourself dragging through the dust of the valley. Times you cannot even move forward and must be carried, wounded. There are times of walking, though tentatively and cautiously, and then those times when we sour high on eagle's wings. I decided some time ago that when I reach those moments in my life when I manage to soar, however briefly, to make sure I really soar. No looking in fear for the next crash. Years ago I used to ruin a good soar with worry. Things would be good, but I'd spend all my energy worrying about the next "what if". Worrying did not prepare me for the valleys, it only made them deeper, as I never gained a habit of hope for times I will again soar, I only confirmed there are valleys. That may be why the Bible clearly tells us not to worry about tomorrow. How do you give thanks for today if your mind is on worry or fear that may never manifest?

After a rather long valley last year, we are stretching our wings. I'm going to praise God for every moment of it. Someday we will go through another valley, either briefly, or perhaps have to walk for a long time, but I won't trade a moment of this time to worry about that, as it would be highly ungrateful to the One who is providing these wings for our joy. If the final destination of a Christian is meant for the joy of soaring for eternity, I am going to get in some practice and not fear the valleys, which only serve to make these moments all the more precious.

So, here are some pictures of that good flight we're on.

From the window of the bus this morning I spotted four swings in motion, and a lot of joyful noises. I grabbed my camera and snapped a few pictures of all the kids besting one another on how high they could swing, including Mary, with the help of her dad.

Candy Bar Bingo provided some fun distraction on the weekend, and a bit of free junk food to get them all wound up for the concert we provided for the park Saturday.

We have many great times on stage without a way of taking any pictures, so I was very excited when someone from the audience asked me if I would like her to snap a few photos. She caught some great pictures, and really great expressions! I love the snapshots probably more than the videos. Some of them are quite funny.

I have to wonder what Alex is thinking:
Then there is our one-eyed banjo player:

Any time there is a good shot of me, I am pretty happy, since I am picky about pictures, and initially never felt pictures of me with my mandolin were fully authentic. It's hard to explain why, but after playing mandolin for almost 4 years, I finally feel like I'm turning a corner and it has grown comfortable in my hands. I simply did not have the time or the young reflexes of the children, so they constantly out-played me, and I feared my amateur skills would shine through, but I am so glad I persevered now. It takes longer sometimes for an adult with high demands to make progress on an instrument, but it is so very worth it. I now can honestly say, I love playing the mandolin. It's not a chore, it's a joy, even if the kids will always out-play me.

Don't we look like we're having fun?

Don't we now look like we're watching aliens land?

What is that boy thinking? I don't think it's about the fiddle.

Finally, an "everybody" shot. It's hard to get those without someone's face covered by a microphone, but I am still glad to get them. Mary will be on stage more as she matures, but I like pictures of all of us together while she's little, too. She'll only be little once.
This is our last week in Texas, and I'm kind of sad. At the same time, I'm getting the travel itch again and it's time to go explore some other areas, like those amazing Ozarks of Arkansas and Missouri. We've been through them on very short trips to Branson, but never for long.

Our time in Texas has been amazing, from our early stay in January, to our return at the end of February. Highlights include boondocking on the beach in a fog, band practice outside with deer walking by the camp in hopes that we have some corn with our bluegrass, lovely little churches, the surprising kindness of strangers, night time jamming and telescope viewing with new friends, a tour of a air craft carrier museum, and more than I can write.

Can't wait to see what's next.

Friday, April 13, 2012

Me thinks an attitude adjustment is in order.

I've banished myself outside until I get an attitude adjustment. Ok, it's really because it's the only way I can get internet right now.

Most of the things I planned this week have kind of fallen through, and I found myself pouting. One of them being internet. When you take away a major addiction, or require me to get eaten by mosquitoes to feed my addiction, I will get snarly. Sorry. I'm emotionally weak when it comes to such thing as internet and coffee. Oh, and chocolate.

(See important update below)

Anyway, Michael finally ordered a very long-desired internet booster for the bus, so I could take the weak signals from the club house and boost them to get internet in the bus. Unfortunately, he forgot everything shipped here must be sent UPS or FedEx, and he sent it USPS Priority. By the time I noticed his mistake, it was already on its way, where it will be rejected by the park. Harrumph.

Update: We got the internet booster! Michael found that it was in route today and went up to the ranger station. The lady went and checked the mail and handed it to him. She said only can do that if the owner isn't there, because he sends things back immediately. So glad it came in on a Saturday and someone had pity on us! It works very well and I now have 4 bars in the bus!

That's whine #1, which means internet is far too important to me. But, but, but... it's for *business*. No, you may not search my history. I have no idea who is spending so much time on Facebook. It ain't me. I'm innocent. Except when I'm on Facebook for business, right? Yeah.

Whine #2 is that we badly need a new mixer for the sound system. It has a mean gremlin in it that ate the volume buttons so they don't get quieter. Good for outside and large halls, but horrid for smaller locations. We planned to get one in Fort Worth. I had the brilliant plan, (always most brilliant when it's my plan, after all), about getting one before heading to Texoma, renting a car, (which we planned to do every month or so anyway to catch up on things), staying at a park in Arlington for a couple days for shopping, getting a mixer, new mandolin picks, hair cuts, shoes, and using our gift card to Red Lobster.

Weee! Irresponsible shopping binge! Never mind the lack of funds in this month. I'm in charge of the books. A little tweak here, a little nudge there...

Well, turns out it cost more to get a rental on the weekdays and we would save more if we got it on the weekend. So, we headed to Texoma, with the idea that we will get a car that weekend, then drive back towards Fort Worth for the mixer, and hit the closer areas for all the shopping crazy fun. Then that turned into a reality that you get a maximum of 100 miles per day, and we would eat up our weekend of miles if we went all the way back for the mixer. No mixer trip, less need for the other stuff, like hair cuts, which I could get from any WalMart stop off. We dropped the plan for the rental and I'm feeling too much like our cat on a leash. I'm not really fond of that cat, so I don't like sympathizing with her. Would you hate me if I admitted to laughing at her dislike of that leash?

Michael said we can get a mixer in Little Rock, and hopefully we can control the volume by messing with the equalizer until then.

Bad news comes in three, they say, and so do whines, it would seem. Whine #3: Our plans to look for a tow car died this week too, when we finally realized we'd have to spend most of our emergency funds to get one under about 120 thousand miles, and we don't dare stuff emergency money into a car when we live a life fairly precarious as it is. There is faith that we will be cared for, but there is also using resources wisely.

So I banished myself to hang out with the loud frogs, the creepy insects, and evil mosquitoes, where I can get internet.

You know what? It's really lovely out here. The evening is so perfect. Practice tonight was awesome. We have been out on the road nearly 4 months, and we're not just surviving, we're thriving.

This beautiful cardinal tried to join our band yesterday, looking for ways to get in the bus, but he sings too pretty, so I had to deny his request. I have heard more birds these last 4 months than I ever heard living in our suburb in Colorado.

We've seen far more stars. Wow! So many more stars! More scorpions, too, but let's not dwell on the icky bugs.

In other words, I have every reason to rejoice and mild inconveniences only to complain about.

I still want my facebook. You may now commence playing all of your teeny tiny violins to my sorrows.

Sunday, April 8, 2012

Faith and Since When Did Easter = Sugar?

You buy a bus, sell a house, leave a job that is killing you, and think you stepped out of society and on to some more authentic way of life, only to find you are just as sucked into the marketing monster as anyone else.

We just passed the morning of our first major holiday traveling full time, and it was a smashing success, if you are a young child trying to put yourself into a sugar-induced coma. I'll take some blame. I admit to growing ears and a fluffy tail last night and sticking some chocolate eggs into some cheap plastic colored egg shells, and throwing a small $1 chocolate bunny into a couple of baskets, but I am not guilty of the rest of the 10% of junk and snacks others have been thrown at them. (Hey, I have to deflect at least a little blame, right?)

This, of course, makes me have the obligatory guilt that is associated with stuffing bad things down my children that are marketed to me through strategic product placement at Wal-Mart, instead of really living a different life, one closer to my true values, and celebrating the Resurrection. I'll get to more of that later. But first, here are the mom and grandparent required pictures of all the Easter indulgence.

We may live in a little bus and have limited space, but we did manage to paint the eggs and throw some great bunny hiding into our celebration. We pulled out our nice propane light and hung it up under our new awning with the extra optional wind and sun walls. Best buy we've made so far, too. The new room is 10x10, and we can block the sun, or nearby neighbors from the next RV, to get a bit of privacy when we wish, or open the walls up and show off some bluegrass picking if we choose later.

Hey, at least the hard boiled eggs weren't sugar. Guilt free on that one. Ok, guilt free when it comes to nutrition at least.

Alex made good use of the "Texas Size Fly Swatter" someone gave Sean last night. Alex has a thing against some of the large, creepy flying things down here in Texas.

The dad bunny went out early and hid some of those eggs all around the camp site.

After that we got dolled up, strapped everything down, and drove Benny to the Country Church, the same one we attended in early March. We were supposed to be in Texoma, but when Grandma and Papa were delayed further on their plans to come and meet us, we decided to head to Bay Landing and the Country Church, so we would be somewhere familiar for the holiday. It was a good choice, because we were invited to play for the Easter dinner and S'Mores, here at the park last night. Unfortunately, I think the playing last night, the s'mores, and the late night egg dying coupled with early egg hunting, wore the kids out. The Country Church would have welcomed some of our music, as they are lacking in their former music worship leaders still, but Alex's voice was weary, Katie had a dry sore throat, and her hand hurt from catching the condenser microphone the wrong way last night when Mary accidentally almost kicked it off the stage. (Note to self: get extra condenser microphone.) So, we joyfully sung the best we could to their planned music, and then sat back to enjoy the sermon and praises on this day. You know... The day that is supposed to be a reminder of the resurrection of Christ, if you are not too tired and too full of sugar to concentrate?


So, all of this has me thinking. I am, as far as homeschoolers go, pretty laid back. I see nothing wrong with egg hunts and I generally find chocolate, when used wisely, to fall into the "health food" category. Sugar? Not so much, but it is often the means by which we get that fabulous chocolate down us. But when it gets in the way of what really matters, not just in the here and now, but eternally, that is when "laid back" starts to become neglectful in my mind.

Even our neglectfulness, thankfully, can be used to really get our attention on a few matters. I was convicted this morning, not just about Easter, but about how we've been doing things for the last month. The sermon this morning focused some on the faith of a mustard seed, and moving mountains. Have I shown that I have such faith? April is nearly bare from little or no playing opportunities, and the few we've had have not been very fruitful. March was the opposite. Lots of them just popped up out of nowhere. What was the difference?

Well, back in January and February we looked across at March and realized we had no idea where we were supposed to go after we left Denver and the Mid-Winter festival. There is a fact about my gig-booking abilities. I do not hold it up as a badge of honor or anything, but I am not kidding when I tell you that I *stink* at booking gigs. I am also the best at this craft in the family, so that shows you a thing or two of what we have to work with around here.

This blog has a tag line above that says, "Proving daily that God's power is made perfect in weakness." That is taken from 2 Corinthians 12:9, and I really believe it to be the case where we are concerned. I do think we have some talent in this family, but all of the talent in the world does you no good if no one knows you exist. Talent alone won't get you where you need to be. You can either be a go-getter, who knows how to chase things down, or you have to know the right people. I don't have either quality here on earth, but I know Someone with both qualities. In our weakness, He is shown to be all the stronger. Without fail, when I throw up my hands and cannot figure out where to find gigs, who to speak too, and look at a very big country, realizing that we already missed booking times for most of the festivals out there, I could stop and panic. I almost did when I looked at an empty schedule in March, but instead we prayed as a family. God provided that great month full of wonderful playing opportunities.

In fact, we were having so much fun bouncing around Texas in March that we forgot to pray for April. The whole thing sort of fell to the side. Guess what? April is dry as a bone. Happens every time. The one thing that keeps us moving is prayer, 'cause I can't seem to wrap my brain around how to do that booking thing right, even if it's explained to me. I mentioned it to Michael and the kids, and we realized our mistake. Course correction - in progress.

Not sure what to do about Easter yet, but I have a year to think on that one, and plan ahead to somehow balance the important things in life with the fun.

So, Happy Resurrection Sunday! HE IS RISEN!

Thursday, April 5, 2012

Dear Diary

I have blogged on and off for years and the part I like the least is having to name any given post. Can I just do like I would as a kid years ago when I had a neglected diary and start it with "Dear Diary"?

Dear Diary,

We have had such fun over the last week. We left Medina Lake and went to the home of Kathy Jo, Ernie, and the boys, to stay the night. We enjoyed it so much that we ended up staying a week. The bus was kind enough to be in need of some unexpected and immediate repairs, things that we would have had a lot of trouble accomplishing without the aid of tools. First our toilet broke, then with the heat we realized we needed to paint the roof, but we did not have a ladder, and they did. Of course, we wanted the roof painted because it was very hot and we could not run the air conditioners on their property, but we also could have just packed up and headed towards the next RV park to plug the bus in and cool off. It was more fun to have an excuse to stick around, and they indulged our neediness with some fine hospitality.

The conversations over the last week were what I think I really needed. I have had nothing but surface conversations for so long, I had forgotten how to dive deeply into a subject. That's probably a negative side-effect of all of this travel. The first night we were there we stayed awake chatting until 4am.

Did you know Kathy Jo makes hot cocoa with eggs every morning for breakfast? Milk, cocoa powder, stevia, and eggs. Brilliant.

Daytime had children running everywhere at times and doing farm chores in between, from feeding Frank the pig, to raking mulch. Sean obsessed over the chickens, and Mary almost died of an acute attack of cute when they brought home baby chicks. The kids hit it off wonderfully.

Evenings held the promise of bluegrass jamming some nights, and looking through the telescope other evenings. We had a chance to see Saturn, Jupiter, Mars, and Venus.

The pictures of the evening fun speak for themselves.

Though we could have stayed longer, it was time to go remember what we're called to do right now, and at the moment it isn't hanging out on the farm, it's traveling. We can how travel in a bus with a white lid that screams "WHITE". Yes, we do notice a difference in the heat. At least 5 degrees, but probably more. The big test will be when it gets into the 90s, which it stopped doing the minute it was painted.

I don't like it. The bright white does not go well with the sand color of the rest of the bus. It needs something to break the colors apart. I'm thinking another of the dark red strips at the top to separate the colors. Perhaps when we hit Texoma I'll get to painting. Hopefully I will then be satisfied and quite messing up poor Benny for a bit.

Our current stop is a place outside of Weatherford, TX. We hoped it would be a good place to do some RV park buskin', but I'm fearing a bit of bluegrass pearls before Frank, er, swine. We pulled up and Michael went in to register, where a rather sour lady turned her nose up at our fabulous bus and inquired, "How long with that be here?" Additionally, it's right off an interstate and you cannot hear anything over the noise of the highway. We went outside this evening to "practice", (also known as a shameless attempt to get the park to notice us and perhaps score a playing opportunity), and not one person came to check out the music. This may just be our first official "dud" of an RV park.

Finally, the cat is on my list. She scratched Sean on the white of his eye tonight. Ok, so she was being ornery and he was the one who foolishly stuck his face down where her claws could get him, but I so very much want to blame the cat, so I will. She doesn't care anyway. She's a cat. It is far from the cornea, so we'll just keep an eye on it. We are less than a mile from a walk-in clinic if it shows any signs of infection.

That's all I have the energy for tonight. Sleep calls. Good night, Diary.