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Friday, Apr 27, 2018
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Valrico family off to see America - in an RV

VALRICO - Imagine selling everything: the cars, the perfect house, the furniture, the books, the kids' toys.
Now imagine being debt free: no mortgage, no car payments, no credit cards. It's stretching it, but now try to imagine packing your remaining clothes and taking off with four preteens in a 31-foot recreational vehicle to travel the country. For a year. "When people hear about this, the first thing they say is, 'You're crazy!' " says Tim Gregory, husband of Jodie and father of 12-year-old triplets and an 11-year-old son. "The next thing they say is, "I wish we could do that.' " Tim, a marriage and family counselor, and Jodie, a former AT&T network specialist who home-schools the kids, first mused about how cool such a thing would be several months ago.
Then one day in February, Jodie realized that meant sooner rather than later. "I was having alone time, and sensed the Lord speaking to me and saying, 'It's time. Sell the house. And I'm not kidding.' " She expected some resistance from Tim, but he was gung ho. "It's kind of a God-calling thing," says Tim. "We feel like as a family, we want to be able to use this critical time with the kids making the transition into their teenage years to grow a family identity." The triplets - Nathan, Nicole and Noah - are gleeful about the chance to visit battlefields, Washington, D.C., science museums and mountains, seeing for themselves what their friends back home only can glimpse in textbooks. The trip will take them coast to coast and north to south, with educational stops along the way. Nathan, the family geographer, is plotting the route. Nicole, a passionate bookworm and planner, is all over the logistics. Noah, the techo-dude, has started a family blog that includes a countdown to departure, sometime around Aug. 31. And then there's young Nicholas. Sensitive, guitar-strumming Nicholas wants to stay put. "I'm a home kind of person," he says. "I love my house and my neighborhood." But he's keeping his eye on the end prize. "Maybe when we get back to Florida in a year, we can buy a house with a pool." Nicole, sister of three brothers, says the quarters in the RV are tight - starting with her bed. "I used to fit," she says, demonstrating how the couch folds out to form a small futon-like bed. "Now, the only way is to lie diagonally." Since she's only likely to continue growing in the year ahead, the family is trying to find a suitable fold-out. Two of the boys share a small space for sleeping above the driver's seat. And then there's the sole bathroom. Nicole now enjoys her own bedroom and private bath at her home, where she has lived since she and her brothers were babies. "We're going to have to get used to sharing a lot of things and sharing space," she says. "We are going to have to respect each others' belongings." Nicole said it was "surprisingly easy" to let go of her childhood treasures in the family's massive garage sale. "We are all really ready to simplify and just live with a few things," she says. "It will be so much fun." The kids will share a new laptop for their studies. Mom scored big points with the boys when she acquiesced to bringing along the Wii video game system. Nicole will send instant messages to her friends, of course. And e-mail, for sure. It's not all about living a Spartan life. Jodie and Tim, who teach marriage classes at The Crossing Church in Tampa, say they expect to do some of that on the road, and probably will sign up the family with Habitat for Humanity. They'll get a chance to stretch their legs - and spread out a bit -- on planned stops at the homes of friends and relatives. Some churches on the route have RV hookups. And about once a month, the family plans to spend a couple of nights at a hotel. Long, hot baths. Regular-sized beds. Heaven. Tim believes the year on the road will create pleasant memories and help the family focus on what's important at a time when it's becoming more natural to go "in six different directions." "It's so easy at this age to be self-absorbed - 'it's all about me' -- and not just for the kids," he says. "We're going to try to learn how to give freely for what we've been given." Follow the family's progress on gfamweb.withonline.net.

Reporter Donna Koehn can be reached at (813) 259-8264.

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