Saturday, June 30, 2012

Day Three: Jellystone Camp at Mammoth Cave

The photos are worth a thousand words if I can ever get them all uploaded.  (The WiFi here is a joke, at least at our site. But we’re camping and having family time, so technology is not a huge priority anyway.)
Let me just say a few things:
Water Warriors Weekend.  It’s amazing! People from Arkansas, Indiana, and other neighboring states were here this weekend especially for Water Warriors.  The parks is packed to full capacity.  Evidently it’s only done once per summer and it is FUN!  We were wet the entire day, which was perfect, considering it was 105 degrees.  Wet is the only way to survive outside.  Considering that this place is full and it’s stinkin’ hot out, we’ve had a great time!  We don’t feel cramped or run-over at all.  The park hosts and the campers are all friendly and fun.
Ken has stayed in 99% of the day.  He has a fever and headache, but says he thinks it is just the heat.  My goal today has been to let him rest inside.  I’m praying he’ll feel better tomorrow.
Swimming!  300-foot water slide Travis went down by himself!
The boys’ first time playing putt putt.  They loved it and played so unfairly, just as they should.
Super-cool jumping pillow.
The park had all-you-can-eat waffles for breakfast. I cooked Korean beef and rice for lunch, then threw together taco salad for dinner.
We are learning the quirks of the RV.  Like, since it’s 30 AMP, we have to shut off the AC if we want to use the microwave.  Also, I can’t plug my electric skillet into the RV if the AC is running.  I have to plug it in at the 110 city electricity.  We are feeling more comfy and are enjoying the RV very much.  It’s nice to be at a full hook-up site where we don’t have to worry about the grey or black tanks filling up or the fresh water running out.
I have barely seen TJ today.  The girls come back to the RV more often and have stayed with me for quite a bit of the time, but TJ made a friend the first 5 minutes we were out there and, other than forcing him to come eat lunch at 4:00, then him coming home to devour some taco salad at about 7:00, he’s been out jumping, water-warring, swimming, sliding, and having all kinds of fun.  His friend, Jeff, has 3 sisters and 2 brothers and is also homeschooled, which he didn’t realize until late tonight.  It ends up they are camped right across from us, too!
Tonight, we found a tiny bird under our outdoor kitchen table.  He was nestled in a towel and appears to be hurt.  About scared me to death!  I reached down to get something out of my small bin and noticed something furry.  My first thought was “mouse!”  He won’t move when we go near him, but will open his beak.  Sweet Kenzie is very concerned about him and, of course, wants to save him.  We’re hoping he’s still alive in the morning.
The older kids are still out (at 10:10pm) doing karaoke, cleverly called KaraYogi, in the main building.  I’m making them come in at 10:15 so I can force TJ into the shower and get them to bed.  We leave bright and early in the morning to head up to Louisville.  It’s been a FABulous day!  I highly recommend Jellystone Parks if they are all like this one!

Friday, June 29, 2012

Day Two: The Long Drive - Arkansas to Kentucky

We woke up early this morning, set the RV back for daytime use (a breeze), then started cooking breakfast: Zip-Lock Bag omelets with turkey sausage and green onions.  

I went down to the bath house with a couple of the kids.  I took a quick shower and felt like a new man!!
Once all packed up, we pulled out of the campsite.  Ken and I did our first “dump” together.  It was so romantic!  Actually, because of the way this RV is set up, it was very easy.  Easier than dumping the hybrid trailer we had borrowed.
Despite lots of hours on the road, including a good 30-minute stop on the interstate for road construction, the day was great!  I got some fun video of the older kids cracking up, playing with some of the boys’ matching cards.  They got along most of the day.  While we were stopped in traffic, we let the little boys out of their car seats to play.  (My next blog will link to photos.)
In the afternoon, I tried my hand at driving the RV.  I did very well, if I do say so myself, but Ken quickly realized that driving was much less stressful than trying to keep the 5 kids happy and alive, so he had me pull over after just 30 minutes behind the wheel.  It was a true blessing!  When we pulled over, we noticed a big, black train engine across the lot.  I walked over there with Travis (who was fussing like crazy) to see what was up.  Travis instantly perked up when he saw the train.  

(I'm having trouble posting photos.  I'll add them later.)

We had stumbled on a Casey Jones Village, including a train museum!  We asked what we could do and see without paying admission and they sent us to the gift shop.  It was amazing!  Electric trains, Thomas everywhere, movies playing, two train tables set up.  The boys were in heaven!
After a good half hour in the train gift shop, Kenzie, TJ and I headed across the lot to the Old Country Store.  Since we were already pulled over, we decided to grab dinner (Little Caesars) and fill up the gas tank so that we could drive on to Mammoth Cave.
We arrived at Jellystone Camp around 10:15, but could tell it’s very neat!! Can’t wait to see it tomorrow!  The kids went right to sleep tonight, which is good! The sun rises at 5:30!

Thursday, June 28, 2012

Day One: Travel from Dallas to Hot Springs

We started our day at about 6:15, finishing up the last of the laundry and packing essentials we still had in the house.  My goal HAD been to pack on Wednesday night, everything except our toiletries, but after the busy day we had, we were completely spent after dinner.  Also, remember what I said yesterday.  Things don’t always go as planned.  Click here to see photos from the day.

Ready to hit the road!
Happy to have a place to hang out on the way.
Packed and ready to go by 10:30, we all were giddy with excitement.  We drove about an hour and a half to Sulphur Springs to visit the Southwest Dairy Museum.  I highly recommend it if you’re passing that way.  It’s a self-guided free tour.  They have some very nice items and lots of good information.  For our kids, the giant cows out front were the highlight!

We made a quick stop at the local Wal-Mart Supercenter and realized we weren’t in Dallas any more!  As Mackenzie stated, “It’s like we’re in China again how everyone is staring!”  I don’t know if it was the signing or the Asian kids, but we did get a lot of looks.  One lady approached me, smiling, and said, pointing at Tian, “He is SO cute!”   I thanked her, then she asked me where he was from and if he was my son.  I was thinking, “Oh boy.  Here we go.”  Ends up, she was the sweetest thing!  She has read that right...TWENTY kids!  Nine biological, seven adopted from Guatemala, and four adopted from Vietnam, AND she’s a grandma, too, some of whom her bio kids adopted.  She told me she wasn’t sure how to ask me about Tian, but she had to ask because she was surprised she hadn’t seen us before.  (Small town and all.)  It was a real treat to meet and visit with her for a few minutes.  It also reminded me not to assume the worst.
Gas at the Wal-Mart in Sulphur Springs was only $2.91 per gallon!  We drove over to the pumps and it was such a mad-house, we decided it wasn’t worth it.  We crossed the driveway to an Exxon where gas was $.14 more per gallon.  Not one car was at the pumps!  It was one of those instances where time and stress aren’t worth the savings.
From there, we drove on to Arkansas, making one more Wal-Mart stop in Texarkana.  The campsite here at Lake DeGray is beautiful!  Towering pine trees, huge lake right off the back end of our campsite, excellent site with level, asphalt pull-in with big picnic area, BBQ grill, and fire pit.  Something I learned: I honk at starting a good charcoal fire.  Campfires, I can do, but I had a hard time with charcoal.  

We ate hot dogs, started a nice fire for s’mores, put out the fire after the kind park ranger came to let us know there was a burn ban in effect.  (I hadn’t seen it posted anywhere, but was wondering when I saw no one else cooking out.)
TJ, Kenzie, Travis and I took a quick walk/bike around the area, then headed in for the night.   We ended up microwaving our s’mores.
I’ll add that we’ve had a few stressful moments, which we expected.  It’s dang hot!  Kids are apt to fuss when they get bored, tired, restless.  A 31-foot RV is a small space for a family of seven!  This is a very nice, clean, and in-good-shape 2006 motorhome, but there are a ton of little bitty things that can mess up on an RV, most all of which were already in a bit of disrepair or had been rigged to be fixed, but not for long: The blinds, the trim on the counters, the plastic corner-edging, screws coming loose, toilet-paper roll holders falling off, hoses not connecting correctly, a toddler standing on the toilet flusher and filling the grey water tank, etc.  
Despite our learning curve and the heat, though, we’ve had a good time!  We know trips like this make for some fun family stories and memories later, so we’re enjoying it even through the stressful moments.  We enjoy not having to unpack and pack at every stop.  I love the fact that we are camping and at 10:30 at night, I was able to walk 4 steps to the bathroom and not worry about snakes or bugs.   It’s also very cold in the RV now that the sun is down and everyone is still and going to sleep.  Major bonus. 
Can’t wait to see what tomorrow holds!

Wednesday, June 27, 2012

Pre-Trip: RV Pick Up and Packing

Today, all seven of us spent our morning running errands.  Our plan had been to grocery shop, but things don’t always go as planned. 
We had to get our SUV inspected.  Again.  It hadn’t passed due to the computer not reading it right, so they reset something and had us drive over the weekend, then try again once we went 50 miles.  It failed again today, so we drove over to the Ford Dealership.  They knew immediately what was wrong: the car place wasn’t setting the weight right in the system.  I still don’t understand what exactly happened, but we drove back to Driver’s Edge where they set things right and our SUV finally passed inspection.  Third time’s a charm.  But that little excursion (Ha! See what I did there? Our SUV is an Excursion.) ate up our morning, so we only had time to run to Walgreens for prescription refills, pick up a few burgers for lunch, and then head home so the boys could nap.
After getting the kids settled in, Ken and I went to American Dream Vacations to pick up the RV.  Not taking the kids was a most excellent decision!  After a little over a half-hour of signing paperwork, we went out into the 106-degree heat to do the RV walk-through.  The technician first showed us how to power on the generator and turn on the AC.  Obviously, the AC is the most important thing.  However, that meant we spent the next hour and a half in the sweltering heat, first walking around the outside of the RV, then checking out the inside.  When we were outside, it felt like my flip flops were melting into the asphalt.  The inside of the RV began to cool off a little just as we were leaving.  Our technician was nice and super-helpful.  Kudos to him for working out in that heat all the time!  On the drive home, I felt nauseated.  I must be a heat wimp!
Ken was a pro driving the 31-foot motorhome.  He said it was comfortable and easy to drive; he just had to remain mindful of the fact that braking would take longer and it was 13 feet high.
The kids were excitedly waiting outside when we pulled in to the apartment.  One of our maintenance guys was kind enough to move his car so we were able to park right in front of the house.  
Ken and I rested a few minutes, took several loads down to the RV, then decided to call it a night.  We were beat and had a long day ahead of us.

Thursday, June 21, 2012

Road Trip! RV Style!

The Brown Seven are getting ready to head out on a two-week RV trip to Louisville, Kentucky and back.  We will be attending the National Association of the Deaf Biennial Convention and Kentucky DeafFestival.

We made the decision to rent an RV so we could enjoy the long drive up and back.  I wouldn't say it's a money-saving way to travel, but we will have more freedom to get out, play, and move driving an RV as opposed to staying in hotels.  I know we'll see some money savings in our meals, since my goal is to make our meals most of the time.
Our plan is to leave Dallas and head to Lake DeGray for the night.  We should have a little bit of time to see the lake and walk in the woods.  Then we will head to Mammoth Cave, Kentucky for a two-night stay at Jellystone RV park.  It looks like a fun place!

From there, we'll head up to our main destination in Lousiville.  We'll basically be staying in a glorified parking lot with laundry and bath facilities, but that's what you get when you're conveniently located downtown.

On our way home, we'll drive a tad north, stopping for a couple of nights in St. Louis, then make our way to visit Ken's family in Oklahoma.

My goal is to blog about our RV adventure as we go, so be looking for those updates at the end of next week!  Now, it's time for me to get shopping for our trip!

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Teasing Tian

This morning, while I was making pancakes, Tian was playing around in the kitchen.  He had grabbed his toothbrush and was using it to "clean" the front of the refrigerator.  For a cleaning agent, he sipped his milk, put his brush in his mouth to fill the bristles with milk, then turned on the brush, scrubbing the fridge from top to bottom.

At lunch, I was sweating over a pot of beans and weinies when I heard the boys in my bathroom.   I sent Hannah in to check on them and her "Mooooommm!!!" let me know I was in for a surprise.  This is what was up:
A sink full of bubbles with Tian right in the thick of it! [Instagram]
While I was emptying the sink of bubbles, Tian ran into the kitchen, grabbed my quickly-neglected-because-I-ran-to-the-bathroom open can of beans and proceeded to cut his finger nice and deep.  He didn't cry one bit.  He simply came into the bathroom (where I was still cleaning up) and signed/said, "Please, bandaid, hurt."

One more cute, but not ornerey Tian story:  Yesterday, we went to tour the RV we will be driving to Louisville.  After looking at two RVs, we headed to the grocery store.  On the way there, Tian began crying as if he was hurt.  He was fussing, not telling me what was wrong.  After my prodding, he finally signed "CAMP. TRUCK. MONSTER!"  I thought he was signing "HURT" incorrectly (looking like "camp"), but Hannah corrected me.  He was (obviously) saying he wanted to go back to the RV (monster truck) and go camping!  Silly and smart!  I guess any super-large vehicle is now a monster truck in his eyes.

If you didn't see this on facebook, then here's a quick video of Tian saying his new favorite phrase:

Sunday, June 17, 2012

Besties and Brothers

Travis went shopping with Ken, then when they got home, he came running up the stairs, screaming happily all the way.

He ran into the kitchen, looking for and finding Tian.  He was waving two electric Thomas the Train toothbrushes in his hands.

He handed one toothbrush to Tian and signed, "Toothbrush!! Thomas!"

Tian gasped with a thrilled smile and signed, "Thank you!"

Travis leaned over, hugged Tian, kissed him on the forehead, gave him a thumbs up, then invited him to go with him to the bathroom to brush their teeth.

Sweet sweet sweet!!  These boys are best friends and brothers for life!  Ken and I thank God every day for His leading us to bring them both home together.

Wednesday, June 13, 2012


Ken and I have started that exciting and horrible search for a home in Austin.  It can be so much fun, but also tedious and disheartening at times.

Over our 15 years of marriage, Ken and I have learned a few things about the difference in wants and needs in a home.  We've also learned (the hard way) that some of the wants that we felt were needs end up being a big, expensive pain in the rear!! (Beautiful, extensive landscaping for example.)

We adored our home in Highland Village.  It served us well for the 4 years we lived there.  The neighborhood, the pool, the schoolroom, the location were all dreamy!  Then we hit the jackpot finding this place to rent.  It was scary to move from a pretty big house on a half acre into an apartment, but the Regency has been an excellent home.  I'd recommend this place to anyone moving to the Coppell area.

We had our share of trouble with neighborhood kids, but that has all died down.  The kids have found some sweet friends, making all that's great about this home even better.

In Austin, we plan to rent for the first two years.  This will give us time to save up some money to buy a home again (maybe) while we're getting to know the communities in Austin.  Right now, we're looking in a particular area that is an easy commute to TSD as well as a safe location for the kids to play.

If you're curious, here are our priorities in finding a home to rent:
- Under 2500 square feet, to keep utilities lower and keep it easy to clean.
- Space for 3-4 bedrooms plus an office for Ken. That office could be an extra living area or dining area.
- Safe road without too much traffic.  A cul-de-sac would be ideal!
- Hard floors in as much of the house as possible. (Don't care if it's wood, tile, or stained concrete, but the less carpet, the better.  With 5 kids and some with allergies, carpet ends up being a pain!)
- Less than 10 miles from TSD since we will be commuting there and back every day.
- Safe walking/biking access to parks and trails.  We've loved that about living here.  We can go to two parks and several lakes without ever having to cross (or even be near) a street.
- Easy-to-maintain landscaping!! Simple grass, trees and shrubs or xeriscape.
- We would love to have our own saltwater pool and hot tub again, but aren't concerned about that in a rental. We're hoping to find a neighborhood with a community pool.

This is another season when I have to remind myself to lean into praying for God's direction.  It's so easy to get caught up in worrying about finding a place with the appropriate rent, location, etc.  I find myself spending too much time scouring Trulia or HotPads for rental houses.  It's good to do our homework, but I get so dependent on those tools that I forget to pray and trust what I know: God has a plan!

Friday, June 1, 2012

Travis is Four!

Travis. I'll never forget the first time I saw Travis' little face.  Then, he was only known to me as Xu (I thought it was pronounced "zoo," but it's actually "shoe."  These were the photos we saw in his file:

When we saw his photo and read his file, we knew he was supposed to be our son.  I had read of other adopting families who felt that special "knowing," but didn't understand it until we saw our boys' pictures.  I am thankful to God for His direction.  Travis adds a special joy to our family that I find difficult to put into words.

A few things about Travis:
He's smart! There's no better way to say it.  He observes every detail about life, soaks it in, and tries to understand it.  He is hyper-observant, just like his dad, taking in every visual detail possible.  Travis is loving and friendly.  He gives visitors a big smile and often hugs or even kisses to match.

Travis is almost always easy-going and happy, but if something rubs him the wrong way, watch out!  He can throw a fit like any good kid his age.  He likes things a certain way and in a certain order.  He has his favorite foods (noodles!) and favorite clothes (Thomas the Train or airplanes) and favorite toys.  Travis enjoys swimming, riding his Strider bike, playing GeoTrax and airplanes, and hanging out with all 4 of his siblings.

Travis came to us with no language.  It's been a treat to witness him grow and blossom within his family and with his natural language.  At times, it seems unbelievable to see some of the things he signs.  He also enjoys correcting others if they sign incorrectly.

Travis has this adorable fake smile he does for pictures.  You can see some in the photo album of his birthday.  He's also kind of doing it in the top left photo above.  He REAL smile is shown in the two photos on the right.  I love them both!  His face just makes my heart leap!

Today's birthday party was a complete blessing.  The weather was perfect, the park was beautiful and covered with shade trees.  Travis loved all of his gifts and adored the friends who came to help us celebrate.

Happy birthday, Travis!  Your daddy and I love to see you grow!  We are SO proud to call you our son!

For you formed my inward parts;
    you knitted me together in my mother's womb.
14 I praise you, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made.
Wonderful are your works;
    my soul knows it very well.
15 My frame was not hidden from you,
when I was being made in secret,
    intricately woven in the depths of the earth.
16 Your eyes saw my unformed substance;
in your book were written, every one of them,
    the days that were formed for me,
    when as yet there was none of them.