Monday, December 23, 2013

Wishing You A Cajun Christmas and a Hootin'-Hollerin' New Year

Because our long-term memory is a little rusty, we thought it would be fun to take an updated family photo this fall.

For every perfect shot like the one above, we take about fifty like this one:

(See below)

All in all, as with most things in life, we do the best we can with what we've got.
And we have quite the cast of characters around here!

Merry Christmas from the Simpson Six to your family.
Here's hoping that our home will roll somewhere near yours in the coming year!

Monday, October 14, 2013

Lincoln Children's Museum

While our time in Nebraska continues into the harvest season, we've been seeking out new places to discover out here on the prairie.
A week or so ago we decided to check out the Lincoln Children's Museum. It is part of our ACM membership, so we received a 50% discount on the cost of admission. For under $25 all six of us enjoyed a fun afternoon of play and exploration. Let's look at some of the highlights of this museum, shall we?

We've jokingly observed that we're on a tour of 'Water Tables Across America', because our children inevitably find water tables to play in just about everywhere that we go. The Lincoln Children's Museum was no exception.

This particular water table is both huge and incredibly detailed. One half of it highlights the water cycle including clouds, rainfall, runoff and rivers. The other half teaches about beaver lodges and how their dams impact how water flows from rivers and streams.

You can't really visit Lincoln, NE without expecting to see a structure made of Lincoln Logs, can you? This 1.5 story skyscraper model is created entirely out of the wooden toys named for our 16th president.

Eliza and Stephanie went of a jungle safari in the animal exploration room. Looks like they picked up a little friend on the hood of their Jeep!

Caroline and Ian are piloting a simulated airplane on the flight level of the museum.

Meanwhile, Eliza was driving the baggage truck around the simulated airport.

When in Rome...
Eliza pretends to drive a harvester through the cornfields in this simulation while Ian looks on.

Again, when in Rome...
The only thing bigger than corn in Nebraska is University of Nebraska Cornhusker football. Of course, Ian got to practice his spiral throws, catches and punting on the field inside the museum!

One of our favorite stops in any children's museum is the restaurant or kitchen area. The Lincoln Children's Museum has a small pizza parlor inside where you can see Caroline is assembling the pizzas to the exact specifics that her customers have ordered.

Ian loved the auto body and maintenance shop. Here you can see him designing how he wanted to re-paint the truck via a CAD program. Obviously, he chose brown, just like our trusty truck.

Eliza can sniff out baby dolls anywhere! Here, she and the rest of the girls are taking the baby dolls through the hospital level of the museum. The girls are playing the roles of doctor, nurse and mother to the baby who is needing care.

We had a great visit to the museum and love that with our membership we can explore museums like this one across the country for a nominal fee. While each is unique and highlights the local culture and values, the consistency of similar exhibits at museums across the country is nice to reinforce concepts that our kids are learning as we travel.

Tuesday, September 24, 2013

Roadschool 2013-2014 with the Simpson Six

One of the first questions that we're usually asked when we meet new folks on the road is if we homeschool our children. To me, that seems like a no-brainer, since enrolling them in a dozen different schools and preschools over the course of the school year seems rather ridiculous. But perhaps that method works for some families who travel fulltime?!

We have enthusiastically embraced keeping life simple, and for us, homeschooling is the simple solution to educating our family while we travel. While there are many avenues that one can follow in order to homeschool, we've spent much of the past year working through what works best for our kids--and what doesn't work--and fine-tuning the details of how we homeschool on the road.

If you'd like to read about how we started with homeschooling last summer, you can read about that here. While the basic tenets of what we're teaching remains the same, we've refined our methods a bit and have made a few changes as our children develop.

So, for the 2013-2014 school year, the following resources are helping us provide the backbone of our homeschool program for our kids:

A sample of some of the books and resources that we are using as we homeschool this year.

Core Curriculum
We enjoyed working through Sonlight's Core A program last year, and this year we are continuing with their Core B+C, Intro to World History. This is a one year condensed study of world history from Creation through present day which incorporates our History, Geography/Cultures and Literature. We opted for the condensed curriculum so that we can pace ourselves through world history at a rate that works best for us, and also so that we might move on to the next level (American History) a little faster than if we stretched world history over two years. Since we cover a lot of US History and geography as we travel, we'd like to get to that as a curriculum focus sooner than later, but we need to cover world history first, in order to help our kids see the bigger picture of history and geography.
Our Sonlight Core also includes a Bible curriculum, but I've chosen to compile our own which is more appropriate for where our children are at in their spiritual development. Therefore, we're using the Bible resources that came from Sonlight as supplemental this year.
We really like that Sonlight presents material through lots of great literature and history books from a Biblical perspective. We use the curriculum loosely and I create a lot of extension projects and activities, depending upon what connects with our kids.

Reading and Language Arts
We have found the Sonlight readers to be a great asset to our girls' reading and comprehension development, so we are continuing with those this year. Lydia is working through their Grade 3 Readers and Language Arts while Caroline is doing the Grade 4-5 Reading and Language Arts program. The reading books are spot on with our girls' reading levels, are of excellent literary quality, and are highly interesting to the girls. The Language Arts program that corresponds with the readers is on the challenging side for the girls, so we spend about 15 minutes twice/week, on average, working through new language rules and concepts one-on-one. The Sonlight Language Arts program also includes Spelling at this level, so we are utilizing this as our resource for teaching Spelling this year as well.
Ian has also started working on pre-reading skills this year, so we are using the BOB Books readers together to practice letter recognition, letter sounds and pre-reading together. He's also working through the Victory Drill Pre-Drill book to emphasize letter sounds and practice writing his letters. Later this year he will begin with Victory Drill Book as he begins to learn phonics and moves closer to beginning to learn to read.
In addition to the Sonlight Language Arts and Victory Drill book, we're also using Queen Homeschool's Language Lessons with all three kids. Caroline is working through Language Lessons for the Very Young Book 1, Lydia is using Language Lessons for Little Ones Book 3, and Ian is starting Language Lessons for Little Ones Book 1. These short daily lessons include picture studies, narrations, poetry appreciation, copy work, phonics, and creative writing.

We have seen significant progress in the girls' handwriting skills as we worked through A Reason For Handwriting over the past year. This year they have moved onto the Transition level. While we are still working on printing, this worktext also includes cursive. Caroline will likely begin learning cursive writing later this year. Lydia will likely require a few months of additional printing practice before beginning cursive writing, in which case I am considering Queen Homeschool's Printing With Pictures to help bridge the gap for her until she is ready to begin learning cursive.
Ian has been working on writing letters with the Victory Drill Pre-Drill book, and later this year he will begin with Handwriting Without Tears Pre-K level.

Math was our greatest challenge over the past year. While we started out using Saxon, we quickly discovered that it was not a good fit for our kids. I loved teaching Saxon when I taught 2nd grade in the classroom, but for our two girls it was not a great fit. So, we abandoned that mid-year last year and I created our own math lessons to help the girls solidify their basic math skills.
This fall, they are beginning to use Teaching Textbooks Math 3. This is a computer-based program for their math lessons along with workbooks which have the lessons and practice work printed for them to use as well. The girls are enjoying it so much that I'm having to remind them that we are only doing one lesson each day. I'd say that's a good problem to have!
Ian is using our math manipulatives most days to practice his numbers, ordering, simple addition and subtraction and sorting. He has also begun using Queen Homeschool's Picture My Numbers! to help solidify his number recognition and to work on writing his numbers. It also includes picture studies that we do together to help reinforce number recognition. When he completes this, he will move on to beginning the Math Lessons for a Living Education: Book 1. This is a 5-book series of 180 daily math lessons per book and uses a story format to teach math concepts. For Ian's learning style, this seems to be the best beginning math program that I've found for him.
We are also supplementing with the MathTacular DVD series to help demonstrate some of the math concepts that we are learning in real-life situations.

We have added Sonlight's Science A program to our studies this year. It is a comprehensive Biology, Botany and Physics program geared for children age 5-7. It also includes a DVD to watch almost 100 different science experiments that correspond with our lessons, as well as 2-5 different experiments that we can do together each week.
We also are incorporating a nature study at least once/week where we are exploring the environment where we are, researching either the plants, animals or other things that we discover in the environment, and we are creating art based upon what we discover in our nature study.

While we started with using the Bible curriculum that came with our Sonlight core curriculum, I quickly assessed that it was not on par with our children's needs. So, I have created our own 30-week Bible curriculum that is based on lessons from the book Leading Little Ones to God by Marian M. Schoolland as the cornerstone for our Bible study this year. Along with the lessons in this book, we are learning memory verses every 1-2 weeks which tie into our readings and are using the Sing the Word: A New Commandment CD to help us with memorization. Our main goal for Bible this year is to answer the big questions about who God is and our relationship with God. We're working to make sense of the Bible stories that we read beyond their historical context and connecting them with the bigger picture of God's character, His works in the world throughout history, and God's relationship with his creation.

Speech Therapy
While Ian's speech and articulation have improved significantly over the past year, he is still working to close the gap between where his speech abilities are and what is age appropriate. He continues to use the Articulation Station app to help with challenging sounds. As he works more and more on his pre-reading skills, we are transitioning away from the app more and more, but he does still practice his speech using this program a couple of times each week.

While our methods of roadschooling continue to evolve, we're enjoying the journey and are thoroughly enjoying living and learning together each day. Overcoming the steep learning curve of deschooling and discovering how we each learn naturally was a big part of our first six months on the road. Fifteen months after launching, we are now much more comfortable in our rhythm of homeschooling and are looking forward to where this next year will take us as we continue learning together.

Sunday, September 8, 2013

Fun in Nebraska

While some may feel that the state of Nebraska is merely a place to grow corn and a state to just buzz on through (or fly over), we have found that it has some hidden treasures among its small town comfort. On our way into the state, we spent a few days in Omaha to relax and have fun, and then moved on through Lincoln and out to the middle of the corn fields for Jason's next job. We are staying about an hour west of Lincoln, and have traveled back a few times to do some shopping and exploring.

One of the treasures that we have found is the Lincoln Children's Zoo. Thanks to our AZA membership, we were able to visit for no additional cost. Nestled in the middle of Lincoln, it is a great place to spend an afternoon learning about and interacting with our animal friends.
The kids 'rode' a turtle statue inside the reptile house.
Ian and Eliza watching the naked mole rats scurry through their tunnels.

The penguins had just finished eating and were ready to play.
This spider web was one of the play areas for the kids to get out their wiggles.

Who is cuter, the meerkat or Eliza? Instant friends.
In addition to the animal exhibits, the zoo offers pony rides, several meeting/party rooms, and the opportunity to feed local dairy cows and some camels. Surrounding the zoo is a flower garden, an indoor playground, and a sculpture park. It was definitely a great place to spend a nice summer day.

Closer to where we are staying right now, in the town of Aurora, is the Edgerton Explorit Center, which we enjoyed complimentary admission through the reciprocity program with our ASTC membership. It is named for 'Doc' Edgerton, a native to Aurora that pioneered stroboscopic photography and has been honored by National Geographic. I did not know about this before going, and as a photographer was very much interested in the displays about his work, as well as the hands on demonstrations of the techniques that he pioneered.

The center also has a large hands on activity area for kids to explore. We enjoyed a quiet Sunday afternoon with light attendance, which allowed the kids to wander from one activity to another as they pleased.
Ian and Eliza learning about sizing chicken eggs.

Lydia attempts to make a large bubble.

A large scale operation game (notice the grill tongs!).

So many things to explore!
We are having fun exploring these hidden gems that Nebraska has to offer. We can't wait to find some more.

Wednesday, July 31, 2013

I can change a tire in less than 30 minutes

What prompts a title like this?

A little over a week ago, we left Alabama. We were heading to Ohio to spend a week with family and friends at Memorial Holiness Camp, a camp meeting that I (Jason) have grown up attending. As we were driving north to the outskirts of Birmingham, we heard that dreaded noise: POW! I immediately began to pull over while checking my mirror. I saw the fragments of what used to be my trailer tire finding a new home along the Alabama Interstate Highway. Thankfully, it was a merge from the left ramp that I was taking, and the faulty tire was on the drivers side, so I was able to work out of the way of traffic.

I quickly assessed the damage, saw that it was only cosmetic and could wait, and then began the process of changing the tire. I have learned a few lessons from a year ago (read that adventure here), and pulled out my tire changing kit.
It includes:
1-6 ton hydraulic bottle jack
1-12 ton hydraulic bottle jack
1-18 volt impact driver
1-Air compressor with hose and fittings
1-Set of deep well impact sockets
1-High visibility vest (not pictured)
1-18 volt high torque impact driver (added after this incident)

I quickly had the trailer off the ground and the tires swapped out. I don't have a photo of this exact tire, but catastrophic failure is an accurate description. We were soon on our way, chalking this mishap up to horrible Alabama roads and the unofficial state animal, the road gator.

Having kept two tires from our first set that we changed out in St. Louis, we found the nearest Walmart to have one of them mounted to our rim. It may be hard to find a tire, but finding a place to mount a tire to a rim is easy and cheap. We were soon back on our way.

About 30 minutes later, we heard the same sound again. Sure enough, another tire has bit the dust (catastrophically), this one on the passenger side.

Not letting the situation get me down, I hopped out and speedily got this tire changed as well. I'm starting to think to myself, 'I am getting pretty quick with this tire changing business'. I wasn't done.

We once again found ourselves hunting for the closest Walmart to mount the second of our 'spare spares' to a rim. Those gentlemen had us in and out in no time. It was time to hit the road again, trying to figure out how far we may make it with the delays.

By now I am driving a little more cautiously. We make it across the state line into Tennessee, breathe a sigh of relief thinking that we are beyond the horrible Alabama roads and should have some smooth sailing through the Volunteer State. Wrong.

We use a tire pressure monitoring system (TPMS) on the trailer tires so that we are always up to speed with their pressure and temperature. The system will alert us when the tires are outside of a preset pressure range or exceeding a set temperature. In the case of a catastrophic failure where the tire comes apart in .0125323 seconds, it does not give much warning. With our third tire, it started beeping with a warning. I did not even give it a thought, I just started to decelerate and pull the trailer to the side of the road. I'm glad I did. In less than 15 seconds, the tire went from full and rolling to stopped and flat on the ground. A piece of steel belt had punctured the tire, causing a rapid air loss. Off went that tire and on went the last spare.

That meant it was time to find a place for the night, and hope that we could get there. We were able to make it 10 more minutes up the road to a campground about an hour south of Nashville. This was not even half way to where we had planned on getting for the day.

But we were safe and in one piece.

The next day we were able to find a place 30 minutes north of where we were camped that could get us a new set of tires, including a 'spare spare'. After some back and forth, we had a new set of tires and were on our way. Even with all of the delays and such, we still made it to our destination about 6 hours later than originally planned.

*     *     *     *     *

Overall damage was just cosmetic to the under skirting, which I was able to mostly bend back into place. Having one jack has been handy, but having two jacks seems to be invaluable. More info on the air compressor can be found here.
I used the impact driver with a socket adaptor and the impact sockets, but I would not recommend long term usage. It had enough torque for the lug nuts, but the adaptor was getting stuck inside the chuck with all of the hammering. We had already planned to get the high torque impact, this situation just upped our timeline.

Tuesday, July 16, 2013

Tannehill Ironworks Historical State Park

So, we've been in Alabama now for about six weeks. While Jason is working at an industrial facility nearby, we've settled into a wonderful state park to call "home" while we are in the area.

Tannehill Ironworks Historical State Park is the site of the original ironworks facilities and blast furnaces that supported the Confederate Army during the US Civil War. The original furnaces are still in place today, as well as a number of other historical landmarks and several other historical buildings that have been moved to the park for preservation and to open them up for the public.

We have loved this beautiful hidden gem, which is as charming as Central Alabama itself is. After looking at a few of our photographs of the park, I'm sure that you'll agree.

One of the original furnaces within the park.

Tannehill State Park sits within three counties. Jason found the marker while hiking one day.

Original slave cemetery tucked away in the woods.

A miniature train takes visitors from the campground area to the Pioneer Farm area.

The Country Store and campground offices, circa 1905.

Craft cabins are open on the weekends to watch local artisans create paintings, pottery, quilts, wood carving, musical instruments and more!

One of the many streams that flow through the park, including a crystal clear bubbling brook swimming hole!

Country church, circa 1905. Sunday services are still held here weekly.

Pre-Civil War era cemetery adjacent to the church. The cemetery has been restored, but the original grave markers are still where they lay.

Working grist mill that still grinds corn. You can bring your own to grind for $20/bushel, or purchase for $3/lb. in the Country Store.

Fancy meeting this guy on the hiking trail...
Yes. He is a rattler.

Monday, July 8, 2013

Air Compressor

I have been wanting to upgrade to an air compressor that is capable of easily airing up our tires as well as being portable. After doing some research, I found one that also runs off of 12 volts DC, so as long as I have a running vehicle, I have a working air compressor. I bought a Q Industries MV 50 compressor.
It is a popular compressor amongst four wheeling enthusiasts because of its capability to air up a tire in just a few minutes. The compressor is meant to be used directly next to the tire. Once you turn it on, it is pushing air at full boar with no relief unless you are connected to a tire. The little hose that came with it wasn't going to cut it for my needs, since I want to be able to reach any tire with out having to move the vehicle. So I put together a T with a quick connect to hook to the compressor, a pressure relief valve, and another quick connect for my hose. It works out perfectly setting the relief at 80 psi, since the most pressure that I will need is about 70 psi. It gives me a quick and convenient way to air up bike tires and toys as well.
I added a tire adaptor with pressure gauge to make things easy on that end, and also some blower nozzles for cleaning up. So far, it has proven to be a mighty little compressor in filling up tires. It comes with a storage bag, which holds everything perfectly.

Thursday, May 9, 2013

Sarasota Children's Garden

We recently took advantage of a local Living Social deal and visited the Sarasota Children's Gardens. It was one of those places that looked interesting, and for under $20 for our whole family to visit for the day (with our Living Social voucher), it was worth checking out.

And I'm so glad that we did! The gardens are full of magical lands that delighted our children's imaginations and made us adults act like kids again for the afternoon.

Follow the Yellow Brick Road...
Before entering the gardens, the kids had an opportunity to visit the costume room and choose costumes to wear during their visit. Ian chose a cowboy vest, while the girls chose a variety of ball gowns and princess dresses.

The entrance to the magical gardens.
Ian exploring the birdbath in the Fairy Garden area. The details in each section are amazing!
The little Simpsonites climbing Fruity Oops Mountain. You can see part of Snuffy in the foreground.
Snuffy is  a way-cool dragon!

Little pig, little pig, let me in...
Watering the flowers in the Butterfly Garden.
Eliza is taking her turn swinging from the rope and dropping into the hay bales in Hobbitville.

The sidewalk through The Land Of Od.
You can see the "castle" that Eliza claimed for her kingdom at the end of this road.
Just one of the fellas that we met in the Monster Garden
All told, we spent about 2-3 hours exploring the gardens, which was just about the right amount of time for our crew. If you visit Sarasota, this is definitely a hidden gem worth exploring. It's a beautiful, magical place where kids can freely explore and imaginations can run wild!

Friday, April 26, 2013

Standing on one leg

Over the past few months (6 or so), we have had some on again/off again issues with our front landing jacks. Some sticking, some not wanting to move, and most recently, total failure. Thankfully, not catastrophic, but that is mostly because the fifth wheel was still hooked up to the truck. With each incident, we have tried different remedies, trying to systematically work through the whole system to isolate the issue. There may have been several, but I am now confident that they will work normally from now on, since I have taken off and tested the motor, inspected and greased the reduction gear box, installed a new wireless controller and overloads, and now a brand new leg.

As I mentioned, the most recent failure was several threads inside the opposite door jack just shearing off, causing the leg to not support any weight. It happened when I was getting ready to unhook from the truck and had just started to take the weight off of the truck, so it just returned the load to the truck.

For anyone wondering what it takes to replace one of these legs, it is really, really easy. It took me 20 minutes to pull off the bum leg and about 45 to put the new one on, but I did take some extra time to clean some items up while I had the system disassembled and to document the process. The photos are of a Keystone Mountaineer 345DBQ, and the parts are from Lippert. Parts and shipping for the leg were about $320.
The old leg in back and new in the front. I had to take the foot and locking pin off of the old leg and put it on the new one. A little WD-40 to clean them up and they almost look new.

The two brackets that the leg mounts into.

The leg bolted into the brackets.

The bracket where it is welded to the frame. Take note of the protrusions on the leg and how they sit on the bracket. This is how the load is primarily transferred from the frame to the leg. The bolts are there to hold these in place. Be sure that both protrusions are properly seated before placing weight onto the leg.

The view looking up.

Inside the front compartment, this rod is how the motor attaches to the leg and actuates it. For our rig, one motor controls both legs.

Attach the motor. I left the other leg off of the motor and adjusted the new one to match the existing leg first...

...then I hooked up the tie rod so that they would operate in sync. I set the RV onto some temporary stands so that I could then let the legs take the weight.

And viola! We have a new leg installed. I marked the factory 'all the way in' point with a sharpie so that I knew how far I could run it in with out damage.

Because of the legs mounting to the outside of the frame, it was easy to slide it in and out, and I didn't have to worry about being over a pit to have to slide it straight down. I know that other rigs don't have this much access and clearance and may require extra steps/effort to accomplish this process. I hope that this is informative and a useful aide for anyone wanting to work on their legs.