Update From The Road…

roadschool texas - picking peaches

Welcome to my Update From the Road post! My family of seven is living full-time in a 5th wheel for the next year on a budget of $3,000/month.  If you’re new here, you can read about our adventure in my roadschooling post.

We have had an eventful week! We are making the most of our new full-time RV life by seeing all the sights in and around San Antonio. Our first stop? A peach orchard in Fredericksburg, Texas.

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I wasn’t much of a peach fan when I lived in Michigan. But Texas peaches are a whole different experience! Sweet, plump and tender, they are unlike anything I ever tasted in my prior yankee life. Yum!

peachy josh

While I was there, I chatted a little with the orchard owners, and learned a thing or two about peaches. Did you know you should never wash a peach until you’re ready to eat it? It’s true! Keeping them dry prolongs their shelf life. Also, if you want to find a perfect ripe peach, look at the yellow. The yellow shade is the true indication of ripeness. If you see lighter yellow or even greenish hue, it’s not ready to eat. Look for a deep golden color. I was under the impression that softness and/or redness were indicators of a ripe fruit, but they’re not!

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While in Fredericksburg, we made a quick stop to visit a popular German sausage store where my husband picked up a rare treat for himself!

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Later in the week, we visited The Alamo, and the Riverwalk, two popular tourist attractions that offer free admission. For more FREE & cheap ways to explore San Antonio, head over to my travel blog for a list of my faves.

Our Budget

Many of you have asked how we are able to afford this trip, so I thought I’d give you a monthly behind-the-scenes look.

While traveling, our income will consist of my blog earnings and ebook income, along with workamping my husband will be doing. Two years of saving means we have enough set aside to supplement our monthly incomes, and pay for maintenance and emergencies.  To stay on budget, we must spend no more than $3,000 per month. In a future blog post, I’ll share our money-saving secrets for accomplishing this. For now, here is how our last month went.

RV Lot Rent: $450
Gas: $610
Food & Household: $920
Entertainment: $17
Phones: $180
Clothing & Misc: $0
Total Spent: $2177 ($823 left over)

Included in the Food & Household category is $40 for half a bushel of peaches, and $27 for sausage from our Fredericksburg visit (don’t you judge me). Since we are still close to home, our gas expense is very minimal, but I expect this will go up quite a bit in the future. Our insurance expenses have been paid ahead, so they are not included here.

As you may have guessed by now, the bulk of the expense for this trip was covered before we ever left our home. We paid off debt. We established a savings. We paid cash for the 5th wheel, bought the homeschooling supplies, paid for insurance in advance and so on. So now, we are able to live very minimally on a tiny budget without feeling the pinch of it. We will both still be working while traveling, so it won’t exactly be a year-long vacation. And we are totally fine with that!

If you’d like to see how we are able to cram 7 people into a 5th wheel, you can head over HERE for a home tour. Read the story of our rig, and how we were able to afford it HERE.

You can follow us on Instagram, subscribe to MomsbyHeart, or visit our travel blog to follow our journey across the USA!

Update From The Road…

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Last week I shared the exciting news that we are officially roadschooling! It’s a dream we’ve been working toward for a while now, and after two years of hard work, we are finally on our way.

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As with all good things, there are always a few hiccups. Today my husband was rear-ended by a teen who had fallen asleep at the wheel. Luckily, he was not pulling our 5th wheel at the time, but he was pulling a flatbed trailer which caused the rear of the truck to buckle when it collided.

I had a mini panick attack when he came home early from work to share the news. As is my tendency. But God is teaching me through this journey to roll with the punches and to trust Him.

I am working on it.

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The bucking caused the exhaust pipe and a spring to push into the rear wheel. We have yet to hear from the mechanics, but are hoping there wasn’t any damage to the truck frame. The good news is that no one was seriously hurt, and the driver of the other vehicle had insurance which should cover everything. If all goes as expected, this should all be behind us in a week or so.

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In the meantime, we are exploring our great state of Texas and all it has to offer, while we tie up some loose ends before leaving the state. Case in point: peach season.

Being a Yankee, I arrived in the Lone Star State with no knowledge of the art of sweet tea, peach cobbler or smoked meats. But I’ve been working on it, Lord knows – hoping to get my honorary Texan card. Here I am making my second cobbler since becoming a full-time RVer. Amazing what a good toaster oven is capable of.

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My husband is working on perfecting his smoked meat technique.  His smoker is coming with us on our trip, in case you were wondering.  I don’t mind telling you, he kind of rocks at this whole thing.  You’d never know from the look of that pig that he’s a Yankee.

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Just look at that sandwich.  Oh, Lordy.

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This is a photo of my youngest child going under water for the first time, something he was afraid to do up until this point.

I’m positive the other campers think I’m a little wacky when they hear the hoots and cheers coming from my mouth whenever this child accomplishes something. It wasn’t so very long ago that he was completely non-verbal, paralyzed with fear, and showing no awareness of his environment.  With his autism, every new skill he attempts to acquire is an exercise in patience and faith.  So there are lots of tears and cheers with every single success.

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For example, he’s decided he loves gluten-free cake. But he still has a hard time recalling words, so it’s hard for him to tell me what he wants sometimes.

The other day, I was in my room.  He approached me and said,

“I want ha-bir-t-yoo please”

Umm, what?

“I want ha-bir-t-yoo please”

“Show me” I say. This is my technique for figuring out what he wants when I can’t understand him.  He stood still.

“I want ha-bir-t-yoo please”

Over, and over and over.  It is such a feeling of helplessness when he initiates language, and I don’t know how to reinforce it because I don’t know what he is saying.

“I want ha-bir-t-yoo please”

Suddenly, it hit me.

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My daughter had just celebrated her 14th birthday. He couldn’t think of the word for cake, but he remembered the song, “Happy Birthday to You”!

Needless to say, I made him a cake.

I think if he asked me for a sports car I would do my best to go and get him one.

Good job talking. Here’s your Mustang.

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So we haven’t done a lot of sight-seeing yet. We don’t have impressive photos of the mountains and the oceans yet. We are itching to start our full-fledged adventure, but we are entirely content with our present moments. Eating. Swimming. And growing closer as a family in our little trailer.

Follow along on our journey! You can subscribe for free daily email alerts from MomsbyHeart, and from our travel blog 7 Happy Hobos. Find us on Instagram, too!

We Did It! We Are Roadschooling!

happy hobos abode

About a year ago, I shared a dream with you. It was a big dream, but one that my whole family was excited about. We wanted to sell all our belongings, pay cash for a 5th wheel and spend a year traveling across the country while homeschooling the children.  It’s a little thing called roadschooling.

A strange lifestyle choice by conventional standards, I’ll admit. But for the past few years as we dealt with unemployment, a cross-country move, and an autism diagnosis, we found ourselves stuck in a rut that went something like this. We worked too many hours, and spent less and less quality time together as a family, while throwing ourselves into helping our special needs child. The other kids spent most of their time with friends and extracurricular activities, and slowly we grew further and further apart. In a nutshell, we lost focus on what was truly important. I’m sad to admit it, but it’s the truth.

7happyhobos rv tour

Luckily, we recognized this growing distance and decided to take a hard look at our lives to see what could be done about it. For us, full-time RV living was the answer for many reasons.  Here are a few.

1. We can have an income while traveling.
This blog allows me to earn an income from anywhere.  Since we’re not independently wealthy, that was kind of important.  So we had that advantage.

hobo tour

2. We need to restrengthen our family relationships. 
In this whirlwind of challenges, our children spent precious little quality time with us.  And vacations?  Non-existent.  This trip will allow us to create some much-needed memories and strengthen some bonds that have been weakening.

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3. Autism often creates fear of new places & people.
According to the experts, the best way to alleviate this fear is overexposure. In other words, doing the thing he is afraid of over and over.  Traveling the country, our son will have the advantage of bringing his home and all his familiar objects with him, but he will also learn to accept new things, instead of fearing them. We believe this will help him a great deal.

rv living room

4. We were struggling with public schools.
I’m a firm believer that no one choice is right for everyone. And for our children, public school just wasn’t working. I have felt a tugging on my heart to homeschool for a few years now, but to be honest, it was not something I had ever envisioned myself doing. So I was reluctant. But a series of events gave me just the right push to convince me it had to be done. And that made us work even harder to accomplish this roadschooling goal.

7 very happy hobos

5. Doors have opened for us to do this.
Spending 2 years working on a dream can be exciting. It can also be filled with challenges and disappointments. When it came time to purchase our 5th wheel, we had paid off our debt and saved $8700 for a rig. But finding an RV in that price range that would work for full-time living, and fit a family of seven was a near impossible task.  That’s where our first miracle comes in.

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We found a 2005 Excel (an excellent brand) that needed a LOT of TLC, and was in our price range. Luckily my husband is an amazing craftsman.  He spent every evening and weekend for five months pouring himself into it.  When the dust settled, we had a beautiful home that we OWNED, and that looked even better than the day it rolled off the assembly line.

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6. We Wanted to Simplify Our Lives
Minimalism is the new buzzword, and there’s a reason for it. As this recession drags on, folks are taking a hard look at their priorities and looking for ways to restructure them. They want a simpler life. At least, that’s what we wanted.

Would you believe it took two yard sales and a huge donation truck before our belongings were mostly gone? That’s too much stuff, y’all. You may think that we are suffering or doing without, but to tell you the truth, I hardly miss that stuff.  Everything I own, I love.  The rest of it was just cluttering up my life.  As a family, we have vowed never to let “stuff” take over our lives again. Having each other, our RV and the open road is more than enough for us!

moving sale

Over the next year, I’ll be sharing my adventures from the road in a weekly blog post. The rest of the time, you’ll continue to get all the time-sensitive deals you need to save on essentials for your family right here at Moms by Heart. We have every internet doo-hickey you can think of built into this RV, and I’m confident I’ll have strong internet access as we travel across the country. I have some folks backing me up too, just in case.

In a few weeks, I’ll start sharing some frugal family travel tips and ideas that we have tested out in a little series called Savings Across America!  We are so excited to get this dream rolling, and we hope you will come along for the ride! You can keep up with us on Instagram, or through our travel blog which is just getting rolling.  Or get free daily email alerts from me here at Moms by Heart.

SIDE NOTE: We have a budget of $4,000/month while traveling. As we go along, we’ll show you how we are making it work!

Roadschooling Update: We Bought a 5th Wheel

roadschooling rig

If you’ve been following along with my Roadschooling dream posts, you might remember that we have a goal of hitting the road full time in a 5th wheel starting this summer. We’ve been working hard to pay off debt, and save enough to pay cash for our dream rig. And yesterday was the day! We found an amazing deal on Craigslist, and headed to Houston to check it out. It was beautiful, and much nicer than anything we thought we’d be able to afford.  So we made an offer, and hauled it home!

Our plan is to blog across America, sharing deals and discounts as we go in a series called Couponing Across America. I’ll continue to share in-store and online bargains as well.  We’ll be homeschooling the children, and using our travels to help them learn about the history of our great nation. We can’t wait!  I’ll share more about our dreams and goals in an upcoming post. For now, you can scroll through HERE to read more about our adventure.

For those of you who still think couponing doesn’t help the budget very much, here’s a great example of what you can accomplish! We are a middle income family with five children, and we were able to stash away a little bit every week until finally we realized our dream!  If we can do this, anybody can!

Our Roadschooling Goals: An Update

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Those of you who follow this blog may recall the ginormous personal goal I am pursuing .  Since January, we have been saving and preparing to embark on a one year roadschooling adventure as a family. You can read all about it HERE. In a nutshell, roadschooling is homeschooling while traveling the country in an RV. We are selling most of our belongings and making the road our home for one full year.  During our travels, I will continue to operate this blog remotely, and with a few virtual helpers.  Our hope is to hit the road in June of 2014 and return in August 2015.

I have never homeschooled, but my heart has been heading in that direction for some time. I have resisted, mostly out of my own fear. I have four children who are still at home, including one who has autism. So homeschooling as a newbie is intimidating. To be perfectly frank, I don’t want to screw it up. But thanks to the dozens of successful homeschooling moms sharing advice via the blogosphere, I have gained some wisdom and courage, and we are going for it!  We have prayerfully pursued this dream of ours, and we are convinced this is the best thing for our family right now.

From our own experience as parents to five children, we have seen how significant hands-on learning can be.  Roadschooling allows us to walk our children through science and history by showing them American battlefields, natural wonders and a variety of museums and landmarks and pairing them with lessons.  This will be especially important to our autistic child, who is a very concrete learner.  My prayer is that God gives me the wisdom and tools to utilize the educational benefits of this trip to the fullest.

For those of you following along with our journey, here is the progress we have made over the past two months.

  1. We remain debt free, and have nearly doubled our savings!
  2. We have narrowed our 5th wheel choices down to three possible manufacturers: Nu-Wa, Excel and New Horizons.  All three are created specifically for fulltimers, which means they are higher quality and created for all-season use.  The older models are within our price range too!
  3. Through conversations with other roadschooling families we have learned about the Thousand Trails Campground Pass, which allows us free camping at dozens of campgrounds nationwide for an annual fee.  We are investigating, and considering adding this membership to our budget.  From what we see, it looks like it could save us some serious bucks.

Our goals for the next 30 days:

  • Continue to add to our savings account.
  • Create a list of family-friendly campgrounds across the US.  If any of you have any suggestions, I would be most grateful if you would leave them in the comments!
  • Begin formulating a plan for homeschooling next year.
  • Continue to simplify our lives by selling items on Craigslist and donating to a local thrift store.
  • Make no new purchases except what is absolutely necessary.

You can read about our Roadschooling Goals, or follow along with our Monthly Progress Reports.  Be sure to subscribe to Moms by Heart so you don’t miss a thing!

SPONSOR US!
If you own a business that would benefit from national exposure, contact me for details on how you can be one of our roadschooling sponsors. We will be providing media updates on our homeschooling adventures, Couponing across America, affordable family travel and more!

photo credit

Roadschooling Goals Update

I’m thrilled to report that over the past few months we have accomplished our goal of becoming debt free! We have also managed to stash $3,725 in savings for our 5th Wheel. This is the first time in our 20 year marriage that we have been debt free, and the first time since Dylan’s diagnosis that we have had a savings.  We have had a long and challenging road as a family, both with financial struggles and fighting autism, so this milestone is a little surreal.  We are filled to the fullest measure with gratitude and joy!

How We Did It

  • Debt SnowballDave Ramsey knows what he’s doing, man.  We followed the system and it worked.  Fewer monthly payments = bigger savings deposits. Simple as that.
  • Garage Sale – We had a wildly successful 2 day garage sale that netted us a little over $1,500. All of that went right into savings for our rig.
  • Extra Work – We are both putting in an extra 8-12 hours per week for the next several months so we can see this dream become a reality.
  • My Book has generated some extra income, and has allowed us to add to our savings and stay on track with our roadschooling goal.

With our progress so far, I am cautiously optimistic. But we still have a long way to go before we’re ready to hit the road. Our plan is to leave in June 2014 for a 15 month trip.  During this time, I will still be bringing you the best deals each and every day here on MomsbyHeart.  I will be hiring some helpers for those times when internet is spotty or unavailable, so you never miss a thing.

Please pray that God would give us patience as we pursue this dream along with wisdom in all the decisions we will be making. I leave you with our theme song ;)

You can read about our Roadschooling Goals, or follow along with our Monthly Progress Reports.  Be sure to subscribe to Moms by Heart so you don’t miss a thing!

Roadschooling Update

Over the past few weeks, we have had some great gains and a few setbacks in our roadschooling goals. First the good news. Our oldest son is away at college, and recently received word that there were extra funds in a grant he applied for at the beginning of the year. Apparently when this happens, they distribute funds to reimburse current year expenses.  This is his first year, so I was shocked when I received a check for $5,000 in the mail!  Yes, that’s right.  Five thousand smackers.  Out of the blue.  Can I get a woot-woot?  Since we had already budgeted his tuition into our expenses, this was like found money.

But as is often the case when a windfall blows in, our beautiful stack of Benjamins was all but gobbled up by an unexpected medical need.  With a family of seven, these kinds of things are bound to happen. We were able to put $1,200 away toward our debt, and that’s nothing to sneeze at. But the rest went to pay for these dreaded doctor bills.

*Sigh.*

So anyway, here’s where we are:

Goal #1: Be Debt Free
Original Medical Bills: $8300
Additional Medical Bills: +$3800
Total: $12,100
Paid Off So Far: $6650
Left To Go: $5450

I am thankful for this unexpected income bump, even though most of it went away quickly.  If we didn’t have it, our financial goals would have had some serious setbacks.

Goal #2: Increase Passive Income
My book Operation Dinner has finally been released and is doing well! As a new author, I am thrilled and humbled by all the support you guys have given me. My happiest moment so far was seeing my book on Amazon’s Hot New Releases list!

Say what?

My life is small. I live in middle incomeville and spend most of my time with my kids. The most excitement I normally see is a money making ECB deal or two at CVS. So for me, this is huge. Thanks so much to everyone who has shown support via Facebook shares, Pinterest pins and words of encouragement. I have another book in the works on a different topic, and am working on a few other passive income ideas to help us get on the road. More on that in the coming months.

Goal #3 Pay Cash for a 5th Wheel
We won’t be putting any money away for this until our debt is 100% paid off. For now, we are learning all we can by listening to advice from other roadschoolers, so we make the best decision possible.

Motivation
As with any huge goal, there are times when the going is slow and our hopes are dashed. But we have drawn encouragement by reading the inspiration posts written by others who are doing what we want to do.

My favorite roadschooling posts:

One of our biggest priorities in planning this trip is having a solid educational plan for our youngest who has autism. Over the summer, we have some professionals who are helping us implement a home learning program for him so he doesn’t lose any skills while school is out. These folks will be spending extra time helping us research and set up a roadschooling program for Dylan, so we are certain all his needs are covered.  Since our plan is to leave in June of 2014, we have plenty of time to test the program and tweak as needed.

Finally, we have decided to start a blog to document our trip.  We will begin posting as soon as we buy the 5th wheel, so you can see the modifications and improvements we make, and follow along as the big day draws near.  I purchased the domain 7happyhobos.com for this purpose, although there is no site up and running as of yet.  We will share our travel adventures and mishaps over the 15 months we will be on the road.  Since our kids are a little older, we plan to let them post every now and then too…

All in all, I am happy with our progress, slow though it may be. I can’t wait to share more exciting developments as our departure date draws near!  I leave you with a video from one of my favorite blogs Long Long Way to Tipperary. In it they tell their roadschooling story via Johnny Cash.

Love it.

photo credit: Wandrly Magazine

Roadschooling Update

A few weeks ago I shared my big goal for 2014: we will be embarking on a 12 month roadschooling adventure with our children. Beginning June 2014 we will join the hundreds of families across the USA who are pulling up stakes and traveling in an RV for an extended period of time. During these trips, children are homeschooled with lessons reinforced by hands-on experiences at national parks, museums and other first person experiences. We are over-the-top excited about this and have been working hard all month to inch toward our goal.

It’s a huge goal to be sure.  And some would say a little weird.  But for us, it is just what the doctor ordered.  We are longing to have a time of reconnection with each other and create some lasting memories after having a whirlwind of change and challenges over the past few years.

We.  Need.  This.

My daughter is a tween and was initially a bit apprehensive about our upcoming adventure. After all, at that age the last thing you want to do is leave all your friends behind for an entire year and hang out with your mom, dad and brothers. What a drag!

Since she has always had a huge interest in marine biology, we have spent the month discussing travel destinations that would allow her to explore this passion with hands-on learning. She has decided one of the must-see stops is the Hatfield Marine Science Center in Oregon. As she spends time researching other locations and adding pins to our map of the US, she is becoming more and more excited.

(This is our map, with the pins indicating places we’d like to visit)

In other news, we visited an RV dealership last week. There were a few used models we were interested in and wanted to see them up close. My hubby has been doing some research on how to examine and evaluate used models to be sure they will be able to hold up under such an arduous 12 month journey. He wanted to put his newfound knowledge to the test and this was the perfect opportunity. He crawled under it, poked around, looked at the piping and wiring. He fiddled with things, shook things, pulled and pinched and pressed things. He muttered “hmmmm” and “okay” under his breath a few times. He even took a few photos. I really don’t know what he was doing, but I was totally impressed. I remember thinking “I’m really in good hands here. This guy knows his stuff”.

When we got to the car he grabbed his notepad and began feverishly taking notes. I waited for him to finish, then said “Well, what do you think?” To which he replied, “I have no idea”.

I took a second to figure out what that meant.  Really dude? What about the “hmmm’s” and the photo taking and the poking and the fiddling with the parts?

“I was winging it” was his reply.

We both looked at each other for a minute then burst into hysterical laughter. What a pair of dorks we are.

Gosh, I love that man. He really had me going.

Apparently it’s one thing to read about it and quite another to get your hands in there and do the evaluation. So it goes without saying that we still have some stuff to learn. But that’s okay. After our disastrous first attempt, we have enlisted the help of our neighbor who is a retired RVer. He agreed to accompany us to a few evaluations so he could explain what to look for. Thank goodness for the kindness of others. Because for now we are hopelessly and unapologetically green.

*Sigh*

Side Note: if you’ve never been to an RV dealership before, beware the golf carts. These harmless looking things can go about 147 miles per hour if your salesman has had too many lattes. It can be scarier than the gravity-defying Dare Devil Dive roller coaster ride. I may be exaggerating a little bit. But I’m pretty sure this guy had a death wish and I. am. traumatized.

Another exciting experience this month.

I learned that Kimberly, founder of Fulltime Families also had a special needs child, so I immediately sent her an email asking for her sage advice. I was thrilled to be able to speak with her by phone and get some amazing inside information on roadschooling. It was surreal. I felt an immediate kinship with her because she was once where I am now. Mother of a large family including a special needs child, dreaming of a roadschooling adventure. Only she was doing it.  Not only that, she had made it her career to equip others to do the same.  I felt incredibly inspired and even more determined to see this dream to fruition.  It was an experience I will never forget.

Since Fulltime Families is open to those who are roadschooling and those who are aspiring to, Kimberly and I are discussing the possibility of having me write a column for Fulltime Families magazine. I am so honored and excited to be doing this, and I’ll update you as soon as we have the details ironed out. It’s a great publication for anyone exploring this way of life.

The Nitty Gritty
As for real financial progress toward our goal, here’s where we are:

Goal #1: Be Debt Free
Medical Bills: $8300
Paid Off This Month: $1650
Left To Go: $6650

Goal #2: Increase Passive Income
You may remember that part of our passive income to help fund this trip will come from books I am writing. Today my first book Operation Dinner: How to Plan, Shop and Cook Ahead for Easy Family Meals is nearly finished and ready to go on to the editor. I am so excited about it! In it I share all the dinner tricks and techniques I have refined during my 18 years as a busy mom of five.  It covers all aspects of meal planning, strategic shopping and prepping food ahead to simplify your dinner routine, including tons of recipes!

Goal #3: Pay Cash for a 5th Wheel
We will begin chipping away at this goal after our debt is paid off. For now, we are learning, exploring and testing out different models so we are well informed when the big day arrives.  So far, the well informed part needs a little work.  We are hopelessly green, but we will get there…

So there you have it.  Month #1 has come and gone and we have made a few baby steps toward our goal.  We are thrilled!  Next month I’ll have more exciting news to share as we inch toward our roadschooling adventure.  You can read my first post HERE where I share the details of our dream.