Monday, March 23, 2009

Key West, Florida

Camping at Key West is a dream-come true! We’ve been at Sigsbee RV campground for 5 days, which is a naval base. To dry camp here runs us $12/day, as opposed to over $100 a day at the commercial campgrounds in this pricey neighborhood. Dry camping means we have no hook-ups, which is less convenient. We have to drive the RV about every 3rd day over to get potable water, and also to dump our grey water and black water. It’s only a few hundred yards away, and doesn’t take more than about 20 minutes. The showers and laundry facility are very clean. The best part is we’re just a stone’s throw from the Gulf of Mexico, and we can see the sunrise over the water from our bedroom window. Palm trees are everywhere, and the temp has been in the low to mid-80’s.

We rode our bikes into Key West soon after our arrival. The kids brought their snorkel gear in backpacks, and went swimming from the beach at Ft. Zachary Taylor State Park. They spotted many fish, but not nearly the sights we experienced out on the coral reef a few days earlier. We rode our bikes around the outdoor art exhibit, which was quite unusual, bordering on bizarre. The coolest thing was a huge display of at least 15 wind pipes, each about 20 feet long. You could hear the wind whistling, as the sun set over the Gulf of Mexico. That’s when we spotted all the commercial sailboats heading out to enjoy the sunset. We walked around the old fort, which is still surrounded by a water-filled moat, and the boys spotted a huge iguana.

Thom rented a boat from MWR here on base. The six of us headed out 7 miles across the gorgeous multi-colored blue waters, in search of coral reefs. We spotted Sand Key, an ideal snorkeling spot, and tied up to a buoy. On went the snorkeling gear, and over the side we went. At first, we couldn’t see anything except a beautiful, never-ending blue. Then the reef came into view, along with the unnerving, menacing barracuda. I only spotted two, and just like last time, I kept my distance. We continued on to shallower waters where we saw a puffer fish, parrot fish, and many others. The visibility (about 30 ft.) wasn’t as good as our earlier trip, but it was still captivating and beautiful.

Thom repositioned the boat a couple more times, and the third location was the favorite. There was a channel running through the reef where multitudes of colorful fish congregated. My favorite part was seeing about 5 huge dark purple angelfish. Ben got the hang of free diving! He now knows how to dive down, swim with the fish, and clear his snorkel upon surfacing. It’s a thrill watching the boys interacting with nature and loving every moment. Will bought an underwater camera and dove down repeatedly taking close-up shots of sea life.

Each day we continue our studies with Calvert, and the boys are up to about lesson 107 now (out of 160). We try and spend at least 5 or 6 hours a day at school. Sam’s ahead of everyone and just completed test 140. We want to get started on the 2nd grade Calvert curriculum soon for Sam, especially in math.
Oh, the other day while Thom was teaching outside at the picnic table, he suddenly jumped up and said, “It bit me!” Sure enough, there was a bright green caterpillar he flicked off. Within minutes, he had a bright red, swollen band across the back of his leg. Later the same day, another caterpillar got him on the foot. Luckily, he didn’t need any treatment and the swelling and pain went away. It’s just strange when we come across unexpected insects. There are also “no see-um’s” which bite you leaving mosquito-like bites. Luckily, the mosquitoes haven’t set in yet.

After a full day of school, we jumped in the car and headed to this area’s famous Mallory Square, where everyone goes to watch the famous sunsets over Key West. Street performers were everywhere and included musicians, jugglers, unicycles, comedians, dancers, and mimes. We even spotted a man who was all tied up in chains like Houdini, and within 5 minutes, he’d worked himself out of the chains as well as the straight jacket. The boys took it all in, and loved putting money in the hat at the end of the act.
We took pictures at the southern most point of the US, which is right here in Key West. It’s one of those great towns to just mosey around in, taking in all the sights. We also want to visit Hemmingway’s house before we leave.

One of my favorite stops has been Mel Fisher’s Maritime Museum. Wow! For those of you who don’t know, Mel Fisher was a scuba diver who searched for shipwrecks full of treasure for years. Finally in 1985, his crew found the Atocha, a Spanish ship that sank in 1622. To date, they have brought up over 35 tons of silver ingots (bars), 125 gold bars and discs, thousands of “pieces of eight”, the famed Spanish coins as in “Pirates of the Caribbean”, and loads of emeralds including one weighing 78 carats! Included in the museum is a jewelry shop, selling unique items such as an 80 lb silver ingot for $60,580 and a gold necklace for $130,000. To date, Mel Fisher’s crew has salvaged over $400 million in treasures from the Atocha!

The story goes on. Although Mel Fisher passed away in 1998, his family and crew continue to dive for treasure, since they have exclusive dive rights to that shipwreck. Thom and I inquired about their investors’ program. For $10K, you can join their investors’ club and go diving with their crew for a year. You keep the first treasure you find (up to six times what you’ve invested). Since Thom and I both dive, we thought this might be the ultimate retirement…….maybe in 11 years when the boys are off to college! Ah, we all must have our dreams. It doesn’t get much better than diving for treasure in the turquoise waters off Key West!

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Key Largo, Florida

We decided to spend St. Patty’s Day in green. What I mean by that is we took a boat 5 miles out from John Pennekamp State Park of Key Largo to the coral reefs. Turquoise and teal were the greens we saw, for as far as the eye could see! Thom and I are scuba qualified, but we’ll have to wait a few years until the kids are certified before we dive again. So we all went snorkeling for over an hour in the most beautiful water ever. It was about 85 degrees, and the water was probably 72. So, time for science!

The captain arrived at a coral reef called Grecian Rocks, anchored The Encounter, gave us a little intro, and the Besch boys were the first in the water out of about 50 people. I’m thrilled they’re such great swimmers and so adventurous. Most people snorkeled near the boat, but we headed past the bow and off to the edge of the reef. As we kicked along looking down with the sun on our backs, we spotted about 4 barracuda! The captain had named fish we might see, but I didn’t expect barracuda to be the first! Luckily, they seemed to be passive and not very hungry. We told the boys to keep their distance. We swam over sea grass and saw the giant conch shells the captain had described. The conchs were fished to extinction in the Keys, and they’re now being reintroduced and protected.

We came to sand, and then the colorful coral reef. It was like Dr. Seuss’s One Fish, Two Fish, Red Fish, Blue Fish! There were tiny electric blue and neon yellow angel fish, striped black and gold seargent major fish, long trumpet fish, and giant schools of silver snapper fish. It didn’t matter which direction…fish were everywhere. My favorite are the parrot fish, decked out in their purple, bluish green, and pink colors. I just floated and watched as they chomped on the coral. I spotted a symbiotic relationship between a tiny, busy fish cleaning away on a parrot fish’s back. The little fish eats away the parasites on the bigger fish, which is good for both.

The boys were into it, big time. Will, Robby, and Sam have learned the trick of diving down to swim with the fish, and then clearing the snorkel upon surfacing without removing it from the mouth. It’s a cool maneuver that comes in handy, and allows you to free dive. Thom and I dove down quite a bit, once we were past the barracuda! Ben was nervous, and stayed close to Thom, not wanting to try the diving. Thom held Ben by the arm as they swam, pointing out many things.
We heard a loud air horn, and I looked up to spot the captain pointing at guess who…the Besches. He signaled us to come closer. We did, but it’s too bad since that was the best, deepest area we saw. There were giant sea fans, long trumpet fish, and colorful schools of fish everywhere. The coral was the basis for all the life out here, at depths of only one to 20 feet below us. We saw fire coral, brain and star coral, and many soft corals that I thought were plants (sea fans and sea whips). The only plants were the sea grass.

The boys said it was like swimming in a huge aquarium. The visibility was crystal clear for probably 50 or 60 feet. As we swam back to the boat, we again spotted many barracuda, carefully swimming around them. Thom and Will said they came within 10 feet! We climbed back on the boat, and Sam was the last one up. The captain had jokingly warned everyone ahead of time that the last one back had to buy everyone the first round of drinks on St. Patrick’s Day. When Sam came up the ladder, the captain congratulated him, held up his hand, and announced to everyone that Sam would buy the drinks!

We camped right there at the state park where the boat docked. We’ve been so lucky to find a place for our big rig, since this is the height of the season, and spring break for some colleges. Today we’ll drive about 80 miles to Key West. Thom was here 20 years ago, and the rest of us have never been. So we’ll take our time making many stops on the way to see the sights and enjoy the gorgeous azure seas, along with mangrove trees everywhere.

Monday, March 16, 2009

Pembroke Pines, Florida

We’ve spent the last four days at C. B. Smith County Park in Pembroke Pines, just north of Miami. We chose it since it’s near our friends, Albert and Sol Tio. Thom worked for Colonel Tio about 15 years ago when Thom was a Captain in Garden City, NY. This was when Thom and I were married, and I relocated from California to be with Thom. COL Tio was one of the greatest bosses Thom ever had. Now that both are retired colonels, he insists that we call him Al or Albert.
After at least 12 years, we had a wonderful reunion yesterday at their beautiful home. Their son, Sergio joined us along with his wife, Anita, and children Gabe and Allie. Our boys loved swimming in their refreshing pool, and playing with the grandkids. Sam was the water taxi for little Allie (3), and later played monkey in the middle with Gabe.

Sol cooked up an exquisite Cuban dinner, since she and Albert are originally from Cuba. We talked about so many things including life after the army, family, travel, Cuba, and work. We loved every minute, and laughed at so many of their stories.

We’re heading south this morning to the Florida Keys! Before we depart, the boys insisted on one more round of golf at the park’s driving range. Thom’s been taking the boys there daily, and now they each spent allowance money on golf gloves! Sam decided that golf is his favorite summer sport.

This park is huge and offers tennis, a water park, open picnic areas, baseball diamonds, and even ski/wakeboarding lessons behind a boat on the lake next to us. We heard loud music the second evening. Upon closer investigation, we discovered an adjacent school was hosting “Relay for Life.” This is a terrific all-night fund raiser for the American Cancer Society, which brings public awareness to the fact that cancer never sleeps. We participated in the past with Relay for Life in Delta Junction, AK. It was fun to compare how they do things in Florida. Our campsite is very near the event, so we heard them late into the night, and early the next morning.

Another fun thing we did here was link up with friends Judy Lee, her husband Pascal, and kids Luc and Lea at Miami’s famous South Beach. The biggest difference between this beach and all the other Florida beaches we’ve experienced are the enormous crowds! We sat in traffic just getting to the beach for about an hour. Once parked, the fun began. The color of the water is gorgeous, like teal or turquoise. The boys noticed right away that many women go topless, and Ben even spotted a woman sunbathing completely nude! There were so many activities with surfers, airplanes pulling advertisements, parasailers behind boats, beach paddle ball, volley ball, football. A funky band with drums walked down the beach, with a woman on stilts in the sand! A handsome man dressed in full tuxedo walked along the beach interviewing beautiful women, accompanied by a camera man and two others. We still don’t know what they were doing. Thom and I sauntered down the beach and came upon the Cosmo Bikini Bash. At least 150 women were dressed in identical blue bikinis, posed in formation for the helicopter and giant crane. Camera crews, a producer, a director, and the press were there for over an hour taking photos. So we’re going to keep our eyes open for Cosmo’s South Beach edition, and buy a copy as a souvenir!

We haven’t seen Judy since Clipper and Wendy’s wedding about 12 years ago. She and Pascal have a beautiful family and life here in the Miami area. It was great visiting on the warm, sandy beach while the kids surfed and played paddle ball. We hope to link up with them again on our way north, after the Keys.

That evening, we put away the beach toys, and meandered down Ocean Ave through the famous art deco restaurant area. The boys enjoyed all the cool cars, including Corvettes, Ferraris, muscle cars, and Hummers. We spotted a huge sand castle across from the restaurants with amazing details of manatees, alligators, birds, a snake, and fish. Women were decked out in high heels and fancy clothes. Another experience to add to our world travels!

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Long Point County Park, FL

This morning I woke up before the others, and went outside to enjoy the beautiful sunrise. All was quiet as I looked around at our neighboring RV’s. Robby, Will, and Sam camped out in the tent, once again. Yet when I looked in their direction, I spotted Sam’ orange sleeping bag in our red kayak. Sure enough, I went over and discovered Sam sound asleep in the kayak….that's a first! I thought we’d tried all possible sleeping arrangements by now, but I was wrong! Sam came in later, and said he can’t wait to sleep in the kayak again.

God is good to the Besch Family. He’s blessed us with safe travels, good health, the opportunity to learn and teach not only about Calvert School’s curriculum, but also about our world and history. Most importantly, we have this year to spend together as a family. It’s not always easy sharing our limited space between six of us. The boys continue to argue and annoy each other, yet they’ve grown in their understanding of respecting each other and negotiating. Thom and I practice patience daily, and he amazes me with his level of tolerance, at times of the boys. He’s a great teacher, and our kids are learning so much from their Dad. He teaches them about the stars, fishing, camping, tying knots, electricity, fire safety, geo-caching, and catching lizards. For homeschooling, he takes the lead in science and algebra, as well as poetry!

We’re approaching the 9-month mark of our journey. We departed Delta Junction, Alaska in our motor coach on June 18th. I’m seeing signs that we’re getting ready for our transition to a “traditional, more typical lifestyle.” First of all, it feels great to just stay in one place for awhile! We’ve been in Florida since Jan 19th (almost 2 months), and at this particular campground since Feb 26th. Two weeks at one spot is a long time for our family. We’ve met many friendly people here, and the boys have made friends too. That’s hard to do when we stay only a couple nights at a campground before moving on. We accomplish more school time staying in one place. And lately, Thom has spent more time online looking at job possibilities.

In the past nine months, we’ve traveled through 26 states, seven countries in Europe, and many parts of Canada (Yukon Territory, Alberta, British Columbia, Ontario, Quebec, New Brunswick, Prince Edward Island, and Nova Scotia). It has been a fabulous opportunity to show our children first hand this beautiful world. Now I see we’re slowing down, as the travel bug is diminishing. We had thought about making a full circuit of North America with travels to the southwest and California. Now I’m not sure how much further we’ll go. We love Florida’s weather in March, and as I mentioned, it’s so nice to stay in one place for awhile.

The boys mention things like, “I can’t wait until we live in a house,” and Ben asked just this morning, “Mom, can I have my own room? It’s OK if it’s really small, as long as it has a closet where I can keep my things.” Sam complains that our toilet doesn’t flush as well as a “regular toilet!” Will misses his friends from Delta Junction, and of course playing hockey. Robby looks forward to going to school with other students, and with “regular teachers.” These are all good signs. When I remind them that we’re nearing the end of this adventure, and we should enjoy our school mornings started by swimming with dolphins, they smile. It’s a special year that we probably will never experience again, in this depth. And yes, it’s true about the dolphins. One of our campsites here at Long Point was next to the intercoastal waterway of the Sebastian Inlet. Dolphins swam regularly past our campsite, and so the boys swam out three mornings in a row, getting within 10 feet of the dolphins!

Please pray for us as we make our big decisions. We pray that God will show us where He wants our family to be next. Thom worries, as can be expected with our economy the way it is, and lays awake at night. I remind him that he continues to be a wonderful provider for all of us. Thom wants to please us by finding a job so we can live in the northeast near his family, near the cottage at Frost Point, Canada, and of course where the boys can play hockey. That would be ideal, but more importantly to me is for Thom to find a job that he’s excited about. He’s fervent about renewable energy, especially wind power. I’d love to see him working in this field, especially with all the problems in our world, including global warming and our country’s dependence on foreign oil.

Now we have about 3 months of travel time remaining. In June or July, hopefully Thom will have a job offer and we’ll look to settle down wherever that job may be. It’s a great real estate market for buyers, so we’ll most likely buy a home. Then the boys will start school in August. So, again, please include our family in your prayers as our travels wind down, and we move onto our next chapter.

Wednesday, March 4, 2009

Sebastian Inlet, Florida

We continue camping at Long Point County Park on Florida’s intercoastal waterway. School is the focal point now, and the boys are working hard to make up for lost school time at Disney. They’ll be taking green tests #100 this coming week. It’s nice to stay in one place for a week, with both Thom and I teaching. The kids get into a nice rhythm, and make rapid progress with their lessons. For recess, the boys ride bikes, fish, paddle around in our red kayak, or play in the sand. We’re at an ideal campsite directly on the water. Dolphins swim past, and yesterday we spotted about six fins. We watch pelicans diving for fish from our small beach where Sam likes to build sand castles.

Last night the boys all went tent camping while Thom and I had the RV to ourselves. They’ve done this many times, but last night was different because they paddled out in the kayak to camp on an island! They made multiple trips hauling their tent, sleeping bags, food, and gear. They kept in contact by radio, and let us know at 7:40pm that it was time for bed. We asked what time they thought it was, and Will guessed 10pm! Thom paddled a canoe over this morning, and found them eating oatmeal. What an adventure.

The boys love playing in the Atlantic, which is a 5-minute car ride from our site. Yesterday for recess, we all went over. The waves were the largest they’ve seen, but they all went in! Poppa bought a surfboard for the boys, and they also have their boogie boards. Tommy, a friend of ours who lives in the area, loaned the boys three surfboards. With the big waves, they just decided to play and get pushed around by them. The water’s too cold for Thom and me, so we watched from shore while doing our pilates exercises. Julia and Matt introduced us to this workout using stretchy bands. It’s perfect for us living on the road.

We’re all reading books more than ever before. That’s a real plus for this lifestyle. Ben’s on his 4th Harry Potter book, while Will’s on his 3rd book by cowboy author William Johnstone. Robby’s a big fan of Tom Clancy, and Sam’s reading Diary of a Wimpy Kid. Thomas Friedman is the author of Hot, Flat, and Crowded which is keeping my attention with its eye-opening news about the pressing need for alternative energy. We’ve got to wean ourselves off of foreign oil! The book analyzes global warming and how Americans have been incredibly short-sighted with our consumption of energy. Thom’s reading the same books as the boys, along with Homer’s The Odyssey. We watch very little TV, and about once a week the boys watch a movie on the big screen TV. Most of our news comes from the internet and NPR. Thom and I recognize how much time we’ve wasted in the past watching TV. Well, the boys are paddling the kayak back, so I’d better go.

Feb 25
Clayton and Louise flew home to New York today after a very good visit with us for a week. I know Louise was sad to leave this lovely beach atmosphere in the middle of winter, but I think Clayt was ready for home. Halfway through their visit, we changed accommodations to a beach house through MWR of Patrick Air Force Base. It’s been wonderful! It’s a 3 bedroom house that comfortably sleeps 8 people, and it’s right on the beach. Diane Vose’s son, Tommy, lives nearby and he loaned us 3 surfboards. So now the kids are doing a completely different February sport from hockey….surfing!

One day we all headed over to Cape Canaveral to visit the Kennedy Space Center. Discovery STS-119 is the space shuttle scheduled for launch hopefully in about 2 weeks. We saw it in position on the launch pad! There’s a chance we’ll still be in the neighborhood to actually view it on the launch day. At the space center, we watched many movies of Apollo rockets, and the earliest astronauts from the Gemini series. We rode a bus to three different stops, so we saw much more than just the main museum. We learned that “the crawler” moves the shuttle from the vehicle assembly building to the launch pad about 3 miles away. The crawler weighs 6 million pounds, and carries another 12 million pounds for a total of 18 million lbs! There are 14,000 employees at Kennedy Space Center, and I encouraged our boys to consider working there one day. Will informed me that he’ll never live in Florida because it’s way too hot here. We also learned that each space shuttle is worth about $3 billion dollars. We spotted numerous alligators in the small canals and waterways throughout Cape Canaveral.

Thom flew up to Maryland for a couple days to complete his VA medical review. He’s pleased with the appointments so far. Once he flies back to FL tomorrow, we’ll head south a bit and continue with school.

Feb 20
Florida’s east coast is beautiful with long beaches as far as the eye can see. Around this area just south of Cape Canaveral, it’s not as developed. We’re enjoying this slower pace, after our Disney venture. School has risen to the top of the priority list. The boys have settled into a nice pace, checking off at least a lesson per day and sometimes more. We spent a few days at a terrific campground called Long Point. It’s about a mile inland from the coast, but is on the intercoastal waterway with most campsites on the water. Dolphins, pelicans, and fish can be easily spotted, giving the boys lots to do at recess. A local wood stork which stood at least 3 ft high awkwardly stepped around the campsites in search of handouts. The boys rode their bikes, swam in the small pond, and fished daily.

Thom’s parents’, Clayton and Louise, arrived yesterday from New York to spend a week with us! Thom arranged for them to stay at a nice little hotel right on the beach. Thanks to Diane Vose for all your help! We pulled our RV into the parking lot where the hotel’s letting us stay. Sam woke up the morning of their arrival excitedly saying, “Today Nana and Poppa are coming!” The boys have gone boogie boarding each day, as the giant cruise ships head out to sea in the distance. It’s quite lovely sitting in a beach chair, reading a good book, and just taking it all in. Today, Thom bought a used surf board and wetsuit for the boys. Will was the first to try. He took a surfing lesson 3 years ago in Hawaii, and seemed to catch on with the basics, like paddling out. Once the kids get cold, they all head for the Jacuzzi!

It’s nice spending time with Clayton and Louise. They left sleet and freezing temperatures behind in NY. The weather here is cooler than last week, with high’s in the 60’s. I’m not complaining though! The boys are getting along nicely, and we’ve played cards and read books with Clayt and Louise. We’ll finish the night with a dip in the Jacuzzi.