Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Tampa, Florida

I’m finally adding photos to our site…I’m far behind I know. The good news is that we’ve been taking loads of pictures. We’re just north of Tampa as we’re finishing our Calvert tests.

Yesterday was a highlight when we visited the Homosassas River on Florida’s west coast. We visited a state park which is just like a zoo of local wildlife including manatee, thousands of birds and fish, alligators, snakes, deer, and even a black bear. After that, Thom found a nearby swimming area where he and the boys ventured out. Guess what? They swam with 2 manatee! Two of the boys were in our red kayak to locate the manatee, and the others swam with these gentle, slow-moving mammals. They weigh close to 2000 lbs! Will said it was scary but really exciting to touch them underwater. These are memories of a lifetime!

Florida Panhandle

Jan 25
This morning is our 3rd day at Ft. Andrews, a lovely state park near Panama City. Our motor coach is parked on the bay side, and the boys camped out in the tent last night after our campfire. Robby and Will are working on their Boy Scout merit badge for camping. Feels like summer again! The boys discovered many hermit crabs in the bay, so they’re out digging with spatulas and shovels, filling up their buckets!
We drove less than a mile yesterday to enjoy the surf of the Gulf of Mexico on the other side of this peninsula. The boys went out on boogie boards and our red kayak, braving the waves. Thom and I opted to stay out of the chilly water, playing lifeguards from the comfort of our beach chairs. Once again, we enjoyed a romantic sunset over the Gulf.

The boys are now taking Calvert Test 80, and have been putting in many hours at school. Lately, we’ve been doing about 7 hours a day. We’re very familiar now with the expectations of homeschooling. The Calvert curriculum is challenging and detailed. Once each boy finishes a subject, he moves right along to the next, so he’s always learning. This is different compared with their traditional classroom schooling. In the classroom, the teacher can’t move on until all the students get through the material (or the bell rings). So I think our boys were used to a certain amount of time for repeated lessons or “rest”. Now, they’re constantly working on new material, with reviews every 10 lessons. Probably the biggest improvement we see is in their writing skills. There is more time for teaching one on one, which shows in their compositions. Sam is learning cursive writing, and he too is writing more each day.

Today we’ll head east, and then south in search of manatees. We’ve been told they can be seen swimming in the rivers north of the Tampa area. We have one week before it’s time for Disney World! That’s another good reason to get as much school done now as possible.

Thursday, January 22, 2009

Destin, Florida

We’re finally enjoying the beautiful white beaches and emerald blue waters along the Gulf of Mexico here on Florida’s panhandle. Florida surprised us with temps in the 20’s and low 30’s, but now it’s finally warming up with a temp of 58 outside! Yesterday, the boys donned their swim shorts and ventured out into the chilly water to their hips. “Brrrr,” beachcombers said as they walked by scanning for shells. We rode our bikes this evening to the beach, arriving just in time to watch the sunset. That’s when the boys decided to take a swim with the beautiful orange and red colors as a backdrop.
This is an ideal place for the Besch Boys as we power through school lessons, looking forward to recess at the beach. The sand here is unnaturally white, due to the quartz and lack of rivers dropping brown sediment. We’re preparing for Test 80, our 4th big round of tests this year, which will mark our halfway point.
From here, we’ll work our way down towards Tampa and St. Petersburg. We have reservations at Disney World’s onsite campground in Ft. Wilderness beginning Feb 1! Thanks to all of you who’ve passed on suggestions about fast passes, military discounts, etc.

Monday, January 19, 2009

Charlestown, South Carolina and Atlanta, Georgia

Jan 19
We departed this morning from the Turko’s home. Bob cooked up breakfast for all of us, rivaling the Fred McMuffins and omelets at the Cunningham’s! Thom and Bob completed a project together yesterday putting up 6 mirrors in their gym. Janet was thrilled, since she uses the gym daily. Thom was glad to utilize his handyman skills….any opportunity to work with power tools make him happy. They invited us to attend their beautiful new Catholic Church, and the boys helped with a service project. All the kids brought food to donate to needy people and families, and they assembled food bags in Sunday school. This trip is giving us many opportunities to attend many different churches. We’ve attended Baptist, Episcopalian, non-denominational Christian, and the United Church of Canada in addition to Catholic. Some are small, while others are huge. Everyone always makes us feel welcome.
Thom just gave us a driving tour of Ft. Benning, GA where he lived for 3 years as a 2nd Lieutenant and Captain. It’s fun hearing him describe to the boys exactly where he trained for parachuting (airborne), and what is was like jumping out of planes at night. He talked about Ranger school as well. Thom was a West Point cadet at the time. Here he is 26 years later driving his motor coach, wife, and 4 boys through the Home of the Infantry.

Jan 17
It’s snowing in Atlanta! We keep heading south in search of warm weather, and record lows instead are experienced everywhere we go. Perhaps we’re the ones responsible for the cold that we’ve brought from Alaska.

We’re now in Roswell, Georgia visiting Bob and Janet Turko, and their boys Robbie (10) and Chris (9). We won’t get a chance to meet their daughter, Mary, who’s on a ski trip, but all the boys are getting along famously. Bob is another classmate of Thom’s from West Point, and we’re enjoying this long weekend together in their stunning home. The boys stayed up until 1 am, and then their boys had basketball games the following morning! From there, we had a great lunch at The Five Seasons (thanks Clipper and Dennis!), and drove out to Stone Mountain. The latter is an enormous chunk of granite, and we all hiked 30 minutes to the top. The boys all crashed much earlier in bed the second night!

Before arriving in Georgia, we visited many friends in South Carolina. First, we visited with Miles and Laura Huff, who Thom worked with about 15 years ago in NY. Laura’s now retired from the Air Force, and Miles is a culinary instructor at Trident Technical Institute in Charleston.
Miles gave us a tour through the impressive classrooms and kitchens, and showed us how to make an apple bird as an attractive garnish. Ben’s already made one for our host in Georgia! We also had a chance to meet Laura and Miles first grandchild, Ethan, who is now 8 months old and absolutely adorable.

After that, Thom took us out to Patriots’ Point and Ft. Moultre. This historic fort protected the port of Charleston back in the days of the American Revolutionary War through the Civil War, and up past World War II when we worried about German subs. It was here where the first shots of the Civil War were fired. Confederate Army soldiers fired from Ft. Moultre upon Union soldiers who had given up command of Ft. Moultre and retreated to Ft. Sumter. We could see the tiny island of Ft. Sumter across the narrow harbor.

Next, we met up with our Alaska friends, the Brady Family, who have relocated to the Charleston area also. Mike, Cindy, Nicolaus, and Adam treated us to dinner and a fun visit. The boys headed for the nearest park, and later played Risk while the adults shared stories about life since Alaska. We wish we could have spent more time with all our dear South Carolina friends.

Prior to that, we stayed in Fayetteville, NC where we worked hard at school, and Thom made contact with two friends he hadn’t seen in quite awhile. Dennis Callahan, another West Point classmate, was astounded when he received Thom’s call. They caught up over lunch, and later, he and his wife Karen had us over for a delicious spaghetti dinner. Their children, Adam (14) and Hope (8) were terrific hosts and shared their electronic games with the Besch Boys. We continue to be overwhelmed with so much hospitality!

Thom also spent time with longtime Army buddy, Bob Clausson. Bob and his friend, Holly joined Thom for breakfast and they caught up with what’s happened over the past 20 years.

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

North Carolina, Jan 11

After two months of a stationery lifestyle in Maryland, we’re up and moving again. Currently, we’re visiting friends in Cary, North Carolina. Fred Cunningham and John Brundige were classmates of Thom’s many years ago at West Point, and we’re now enjoying a mini-reunion. We parked the RV in front of John and Juliet’s home, and our boys love playing with their children Ian, Bemmy, Rexy, and Thomas. After an afternoon of driving, Juliet had a home-cooked turkey dinner and wine awaiting us! This morning, we all headed over to Fred and Janette’s new home where they treated us to a wonderful breakfast of custom omelettes. Their children Laura and Mark shared toys with all 8 visiting kids. We could get used to this…life is good!

The chilly weather of MD in the 30’s is changing rapidly as we head south, and we awakened to a temp of 55 this morning. Our dear friends in Alaska experienced temps over the holidays of -55 F. All our winter gear is in storage in Alaska, and I don’t miss the extreme cold. The boys miss the snow, hockey and friends.

So let’s go back to Maryland. Before our departure, we were able to visit with Crystal, Mark, Charlie, and Josh Moran. Crystal and I met about 9 years ago through Moms Club, and spent many cherished times together at parks with our young kids. Charlie and Robby are the same age and reminisced about the old days, as well as discussing current issues like Boy Scouts and Disney World. Their family spent a week in October at Disney, and gave us all the insights. Josh shared his electronic games with our boys down in their basement, and they only surfaced for pizza and photos!

We had a productive doctor’s visit for Ben’s eye. The pediatric ENT was pleased to see he’s recovered beautifully. He described the surgery to remove some of the sinus tissue in his left nasal area, which is fairly straight forward with remote risks. Yet he cautioned us about jumping in so soon to have this procedure done. After discussing it, we opted to wait and watch, being vigilant about any possible congestion or sinusitis. The doctor agreed, and released Ben. So we can now head out of state, which means south for the winter! If Ben picks up a cold or congestion, hopefully we can keep his sinuses clear with Afrin and avoid the left eye from swelling up again. If he swells, we’ll run for the nearest hospital for antibiotics. At that point we may decide to pursue surgery.

A mini-tour of Washington took place following our DC doctor’s visit to include the Lincoln Memorial, the Korean War Memorial, a trip to the top of the Washington Monument, and a wonderful visit to the Smithsonian Air and Space Museum in the city. It was a rainy day, but we all enjoyed the sights. We drove past the White House and the Thomas Jefferson Memorial as well.

The next day we packed up and headed south to Fort Monroe, Virginia where we camped for 2 nights at their RV park. From our bedroom window, we watched the sun rise over the Atlantic Ocean. I awoke the boys so they could peer out at the beautiful orange sky. After being inland so many months, it’s wonderful to be back on the water. The Army base itself is an old fort, complete with a full moat and “working” interior. Unfortunately, the museum was closed the day Thom took the boys to see it. We understand the base is on the BRAC list, but hope the museum will remain open.

We took a daytrip to the colonial triangle to explore Jamestowne, Williamsburg, and Yorktown. I had no idea they were so close together. You may remember Captain John Smith from your early American history classes as the man who established the first permanent British settlement in North America back around 1608. That’s Jamestowne. Will and Ben completed the Junior Ranger Booklet questionnaire, earning an official Jamestowne patch. We explored the visitors’ center, Fort James, New Towne, and the Archaearium where hundreds of artifacts have been found. The boys were fascinated with the human skeleton on display, which has been nicknamed J.R. complete with the bullet that remains in his right leg. It was a beautiful sunny, crisp day as we walked along the James River. We all put our imaginations to work envisioning life here 400 years ago, when just surviving the winter against disease and Indian attacks was a huge challenge.

From there we drove to the glassblowers’ building, where we watched a female artist create glass candlesticks. Later in the day, we visited a shoemaker’s shop where we spent 30 minutes talking with and watching a shoemaker work on a pair of leather soles. Back in the day, a good craftsman was capable of making 8 pair of shoes in a 6-day workweek. Our boys were impressed with the attention to detail and time spent. They asked many questions about apprenticeships, and learned that some, like shoemaking, required 7 years. It’s a shame we don’t have more handmade products these days.

We had lunch next to the beautiful William and Mary College campus, and then ventured into Williamsburg. It’s a quiet and slow time for tourists, so we stepped right up to the stockades. The boys couldn’t wait to place their hands and heads into the stocks! We spoke with men and women in costume, who explained interested things about colonial life. As I’ve mentioned before, this is a great way to learn about our country and we see firsthand how these “field trips” relate directly to their history lessons. Robby has American History for 8th grade now, which is ideal for this year on the road. Robby is a Star Scout in Boy Scouts, and is working on his Citizen of the Nation merit badge. He researched Williamsburg and designed questions for each of us to find the answers to on our daytrip. We then “reported back” at the end of our day, and passed!

Will is also a Boy Scout, with the rank of Tenderfoot. He’s working on a few merit badges, which ties in again beautifully with our visits to these historic sites. Ben is a Bear Cub Scout, and Sam is a Tiger, and you can bet they’re also checking off many requirements to achieve their rank.

Briefly, we drove into the Yorktown Visitors’ Center, which is only about 10 miles from Williamsburg. This is where General Cornwallis of Britain surrendered to the Patriots; thus, ending the American Revolutionary War back in 1781.

The day came to a fine finish as we drove to Doug and Michelle Mikatarian’s home at Virginia Beach. Michelle cooked up a scrumptious meal, which we enjoyed with their two daughters Kaitlin and Kendra. The Merlot from Folie a Duex flowed as we caught up since our last visit about 6 years ago. The boys pumped Doug with lots of questions about nuclear submarines, which Doug commands at Norfolk. It’s truly great catching up with so many long time friends.

Now we can add two more states to our map on the outside of the RV: North Carolina and Virginia. It’s a great way of showing all the places in North America we’ve visited.

Monday, January 5, 2009

Happy New Year from Ft. Meade, Maryland

We’re still here at Ft. Meade, MD where our RV has been parked at the campground for almost 2 months. It’s hard to believe, and we certainly hadn’t planned on remaining this far north for so long. Our main reason for remaining into January is for follow-up doctors’ appointments for Ben. We have a meeting with his Pediatric ENT on Jan 7 to discuss a surgical procedure at Walter Reed Hospital. This will hopefully prevent orbital cellulitis from flaring up in his left eye again.

In the meantime, the boys have put their noses to the grindstone and worked hard at school. With chilly weather, we’ve spent most days in the RV focused on home schooling. I suppose this is why we haven‘t blogged much lately, since there hasn’t been too much change and excitement. I’m really proud of the four boys. Their writing skills are improving, and for the most part, they manage their time well. They can work through 1.5 to 2 lessons per day if they set their minds to it. At the same time, they’re well aware that most kids are on a 2-week Christmas vacation currently while the Besch Boys are busy at school. Yes, they complain and ask why we can’t be a normal family, going to normal schools. I think they realize the benefits, but it’s their job to complain about something, right?

We’ve had a number of highlights over the last few weeks. We had a terrific visit with our friends Chris, Kathy, Jack, and Alex Tone. Christ returned two months ago from a year-long deployment in Afghanistan. We decorated Christmas cookies, enjoyed a delicious meal prepared by Kathy, and shared many stories. We’re so glad they’re united together as a family. In June, they’ll move to Heidelberg, Germany for Chris’ next Army assignment.

Chris and Suzie Miltner invited us to a divine dinner at their home nearby just before Christmas. Their dogs, Jack and Millie, are the softest dogs I’ve ever petted! Chris shared his secret of using Prell shampoo on them! The kids really enjoyed running in the backyard with the dogs. Chris and Thom worked together before at the TIG’s office in Crystal City, VA. He and Suzie invited us over 5 years ago during that crazed stage of packing/cleaning/departing. It was nice to spend time and catch up again. Thanks for loaning us “It’s a Wonderful Life,” along with an Anne Frank biography.

We spent 3 days with Eric, Terry, Erin, Logan, Lauren, and Duncan Besch for Christmas. What a fantastic time! The kids were a little worried that Santa wouldn’t find us there in Frederick, MD, but he did! Our boys understood this wouldn’t be a big holiday season for gifts, because of our unique year on the road. So they each asked for one special gift. Each of our boys was delighted to find his special gift, along with a few others. We enjoyed celebrating with our cousins, and going outside to play in the park in the crisp, cool weather.
Eric cooked up an amazing and memorable “quail, inside chicken, inside duck, inside turkey” masterpiece! More than ever before, I enjoyed being in a warm home with the decorated tree, stockings hung by the chimney, and loved ones. It’s the first year since we’ve been married that we didn’t buy a gazillion gifts and get caught up in holiday stress. Simplicity at Christmas time is a beautiful thing. We enjoyed going to Cornerstone Church the Sundays before and after Christmas, along with attending Christmas Eve service with Eric’s family. Sitting at the Zelnosky dinner table while Sharon read the advent prayer was a joy. Treasuring the drives through lit-up neighborhoods, there was truly the feeling of good will and appreciating our blessings. Celebrating Christ’s birth is what this season is all about, and it was easy to do this year. This lesson is one I will remember for future Christmases.

Our good friends John and Juliet Brundige came up from North Carolina with their beautiful four children for a couple days. We explored the Smithsonian Air and Space Museum out by Dulles Airport. We’ve been to the one in Washington DC before, but not this one. Juliet’s friend Kurt and his two children were part of our group, along with Eric and the cousins. Off we all went with 14 children in tow! The kids loved the Blackbird, Space Shuttle, astronaut suits, Concorde, experimental aircraft, and IMAX pilot movie. That evening, Kurt was brave enough to invite all of us over for pizza. It was wonderful meeting his wife Kari, and once again being together in a beautifully decorated home during the holidays.

We decided to ring in the New Year by attending a party at the local roller rink. The six of us roller bladed from 9pm until 1am! They served everyone breakfast at midnight, and had a TV tuned into the ball being dropped at Times Square. We had a great time, and the kids were full of energy right up to the end. I finally realized a personal goal by learning to skate backwards, as well as flip around from forwards to backwards and visa versa (it wasn’t always pretty). Of course all the boys, including Thom make it look so easy when they do it, but they kept encouraging me. Wheee!

Yesterday was a special day. Our friends Lisa and Frits were visiting Lisa’s family in Virginia. You may recall that we visited them at their home in Switzerland last month. So we linked up at their hotel, with the kids swimming and the adults visiting. Dianne Del Rosso joined us as well. Dianne and Lisa served as young Army officers together for many years, and both attended our wedding. We haven’t seen Dianne in years, and neither had Lisa. It was great meeting Lisa’s Mom and Dad, brothers and families. Our boys shared stories with Lisa, and then played with Frits.

Later, Dianne joined our family as we headed over once again to visit Pancho, Veronica, and Francis Kinney. We wanted to see their daughter, Anita, who was only home a bit longer for the holidays. Sure enough, we caught up with her the night before her flight back to Oregon. Another great visit (thanks for dinner again, Pancho!).

One day after school, Thom took us to the Cryptology Museum adjacent to NSA only a couple miles from here. The boys learned about decoding, espionage, and cool spy stuff. We may try and visit the new Spy Museum located in Washington D.C. before we depart. There are so many things to do here. We’ve driven through the Capital a few times and they’ve had a chance to see The White House, Washington Memorial, and Jefferson Memorial. It would be nice to spend one day visiting the sites….maybe we’ll fit it in after Ben’s doctor’s appointment on Wed!