Something to Read: The Buffalo Storm

This treasure was displayed on the shelf near the checkout at our local librarybuffstorm a couple of weeks ago, and as we all love a good Pioneer Girl story, we picked it up on a whim on our way out the door.  I’m so glad we did!

Written by Newberry Award-winner Katherine Applegate, The Buffalo Storm beautifully illustrates the story of young Hallie, who must leave her beloved grandmother behind and go west with her family to Oregon.  It is written in free verse and is poetic and beautiful and full of adventure and heart.

“We joined other wagons,
like beads slowly stringing.
Papa let me drive the team, though some said
I was too young and green, and a girl, to boot.”

The Buffalo Storm is beautifully written with a message of strength and resilience and finding home.  The lovely artwork suggests the vastness of the setting.  We’ll read it again and again.  We hope you will, too.


I was so excited to see #HappyBirthdayGrandma was an existing hashtag on both Facebook and Instagram when I had occasion to use it this week.  People are posting about their grandmas’ happy birthdays!  What a great use of social media, right?

My Grandma turned 91 years old this week.  She had three days of celebrations, as the family gathered to have cake on birthday-eve, before I took her for birthday lunch and a special outing at her request on her actual birthday.  Then the day after was our weekly #GrandmaDay, so she came for lunch and we sang happy birthday again and polished off the birthday cake together.

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That’s 91 candles, y’all.

My sweet Grandma.  Grandma is a caretaker.  Grandma has spent her life taking care of her husband, her children, her grandchildren, and now even her great-grandchildren.  In her younger years she worked as a lunch lady at the elementary school down the street and served in the Primary at church, caring for the children of her neighborhood and congregation.  She had a way with numbers, and in her time she knew the birthdays of every one of the 50 or so kids she served at church.  When Grandpa’s health started to fail, she cared for him, too.  And now, because she cared for us, we care for her.

As she has gotten older and lost her beloved husband, her heart has turned to things not of this world.  I would even say she is looking forward to returning “home” and reuniting with Grandpa, and with her 10 brothers and sisters, with parents and grandparents, all of whom have passed on.  Her heart has always been turned to those who came before her.  She has told us family history stories since before I knew who or what she was talking about.  The names and stories of her parents and grandparents and great-grandparents were written on my heart during the elementary school summers I spent with her.

And this week, on her birthday, Grandma wanted to go visit the resting places of those people she still holds so dear.  So I dropped off the little ones at school and preschool and we headed for the cemetery.

First we visited her grandparents, Emma Higbee and Henry Clay Rogers.
Emma and Henry married in Provo, Utah, in 1856, two weeks before Emma’s 20th birthday.  They had nine children while living in Utah, and then after 20 years of marriage they were asked by Brigham Young to bring their family south and create a new settlement in Arizona.  They came to Lehi, Arizona (now part of Mesa) in 1878, helped build a new community, and made a home.  Their last two children were born in Arizona.

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Henry and Emma’s last child was a little girl, Hester Caroline “Caddie” Rogers.  She grew up in their desert community near the Salt River, east of the little town of Phoenix.  She helped her mother in the house during the week and went to church on Sunday.  She watched her father build their little town with the help of the local Indians, whom he often invited into their home for meals and gospel discussions.  The garden was small but somehow Mother and Caddie were always able to scrape together a good enough supper for whoever gathered around their table.

In her teenage years Caddie met a boy from Mesa, Henry “Cobb” Watkins, whom she later married.  Intent on marrying in a Mormon temple, they traveled with two other couples on their own version of the “Honeymoon Trail” from Mesa to Los Angeles, where they caught a train to Salt Lake City.  They married in the Salt Lake Temple in 1905, when Caddie was 23 years old.  They returned to Mesa and started their own family.  Like her Mother before her, Caddie had 11 children.

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This is Caddie and Henry’s last baby, Number Eleven, their caboose, on her 91st birthday:

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She was born in Arizona, but the family left seeking work in California when she was only six months old.  They traveled through California following Henry’s employment opportunities, as he fixed the fruit sorting machines behind the seasonal workers.  After two years of this sort of work, Caddie insisted they settle somewhere so her children could get a proper education.  On their way back to Arizona they stopped to visit an ailing family member in Blanding, Utah, and were talked into settling there for a while.

My Grandma spent most of her childhood in Blanding before returning to Mesa and graduating from Mesa High School.  After finishing her education in 1943, she went to work at the Air Force base outside of town, where she met a handsome young cowboy and stole his heart.  He never remembered how many times he asked her to marry him before she finally said yes — but one day she did, and now here we are.

This little one has seen 91 years on this earth, 63 years of marriage, three children, eight grandchildren, and 19 great-grandchildren (so far).  She has sent seven of us on missions around the world and seen six graduate college (so far).  She has visited all 50 states and most of the Canadian provinces.  She has shown us an enduring example of faith and patience and kindness, and we love her.  We all just love her.

So, #HappyBirthdayGrandma.  Thanks for sharing it with us.

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Happy New Year, Pioneer Girls!  We hope your 2016 is off to a great start.

Have you set goals this year, made resolutions, chosen things you want to accomplish?  I have goals for the next few months — not anything I would call a “resolution” at all, but things I’m hoping for and working toward.

A couple friends in my circle have foregone the traditional resolution setting in favor of a simplified “One Word” focus for the year.  Because of their posts and discussions online, the idea has been rattling around in my head.  Then, this week, I saw this image in the Pioneer Girls Facebook feed:


“…the joys and glories of creation.”  I love it!

I’ve finally done all I can do on my own to the Emma manuscript and have sent it out to pre-readers for notes and edits.  While they’re working, I’m continuing to compile notes and different perspectives on the real events that Emma experienced on her grand adventure.  And while all that is percolating, I’m doing research for the next book I want to write.

All these things are happening in my life at the beginning of a new year, and then this lovely quote pops up in my feed.  And my #OneWord for the year distills in my mind: CREATE.

How about you, Pioneer Girls?  What is your theme for this year?

A Little Nudge and Some Inspiration

I have some great friends.

I got an email tonight from a wonderful friend who has been so supportive of me in the creation of this blog and the writing of this book.  Occasionally she drops little things here and there that let me know that she is thinking of me and that when (if!) this book is done, she’ll read it.  That’s at least one reader, right?

This exemplary friend read this quote and thought of me, you, us — all the Pioneer Girls:

A pioneer is not a woman who makes her own soap. She is one who takes up her burdens and walks toward the future. With vision and with courage she makes the desert bloom.
– Laurel Thatcher Ulrich

Laurel Thatcher Ulrich is a historian whose focuses on women and private experience in history makes her a Pioneer Girl herself.  Dr. Ulrich is now a professor at Harvard University, and she is also known for another phrase you might have heard:

“Well-behaved women seldom make history.”

 So today I am thankful for friends who support me, pioneer women who walk toward the future, and all the little nudges that encourage us.

(Thanks, Pamela. ;))

“It is not a lie to say something nice to somebody.”

Have you ever just been reading along, enjoying your novel, and been confronted with a profound truth?  That’s one of my favorite things.  Here’s one I found recently that I wanted to share with you.

Precious looked at the house.   It was not very large and she wondered how everybody could fit inside.  But she did not want to say anything about that, as people are usually proud of their houses and do not like other people (and that means us) to point out that their houses are too small, or too uncomfortable, or the wrong shape.

And so she said, “That’s a nice house, Teb.”

That was not a lie.  It is not a lie to say something nice to somebody.  You have to remember that you can usually find something good to say about anything if you look hard enough.  And it’s kind too, and Precious Ramotswe was a kind girl, as everybody knew.

Alexander McCall Smith
The Mystery of Meerkat Hill, p.24

Whit Ro & Co Brings the Kindness

I had the most wonderful interaction today and I have to tell you about it. I serve in the children’s ministry at church, what we call the Primary, where we work with children from 18 months old through their 12th … Continue reading

Love Notes

Today our Pioneer Boy learned how to make envelopes in Kindergarten. He came home with this envelope all folded up and glued and ready to carry a note to someone.

He got a piece of paper from me and some markers and pens from the crafting cabinet and headed for the kitchen table.  After a few minutes and a few “how do you spell…” questions, he came for a piece of tape so he could have this note ready to give to his sister when she gets home from school this afternoon.

What warms a mother’s heart more than seeing this?
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I think we’re going to have a happy Pioneer Girl on our hands this afternoon.


Pioneer Girl friends, we just had such an amazing #GrandmaDay.  There was such a connection between my kids and their great-grandma, a cherished photo was snapped, and I think (and super hope) that a lasting memory was made.

Every Wedneseday we have my beautiful 90-year-old Grandma over for lunch, also known as #GrandmaDay, my kids’ favorite day of the week.  She comes over around 10 in the morning and stays until about 1pm, and while I cook she does puzzles and coloring with the kids, tells us stories about her parents and what life was like when she was young, and occasionally shares a signature recipe with us.  Today we had all of that and more.

These days Grandma is doing a little something I call un-nesting.  We lost her husband, “Cowboy Grandpa,” four years ago this past summer, and she misses him dearly.  She loves us and everything, but if he called her home today she would gladly go to him.  In her preparations for returning home, she is slowly passing along her belongings to her descendants — and since she comes here every week, we are inheriting a lot of great things from her.  This week she brought us her cookie press.

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Grandma has made Cookie Press Cookies since the 1950s, when her neighbor brought home this new fancy machine.  Mr. and Mrs. Gardner were dear friends who lived in the house next door, and whenever Mr. Gardner found something new and interesting at the department store, he would pick up one for his wife and one for Grandma.  Grandma says if she wanted it she could pay him for it, or if she wasn’t interested he would sell it to someone else or return it to the store.  One day his find was a cookie press.

Grandma and Grandpa had built their home in downtown Chandler, Arizona in 1950, and very shortly thereafter Grandpa’s mother, Elsie, who we call Grandmother, had to move from their dairy farm and into town for health reasons.  Grandmother had been widowed young and when Cowboy Grandpa, her youngest son, married and moved “to town,” it wasn’t safe for her to be out there alone anymore.  She sold the farm and built just down the street from her son and new daughter-in-law.

Grandma was a Mormon, had been born and raised in the Church, and while Grandmother wasn’t fond of the religion, she quickly became fond of the new daughter-in-law.  Grandma’s second language is service, and she has always found many small ways to endear herself to everyone around her.  Elsie was no exception, and the day Grandma took her first batch of cookie press cookies to share, Elsie was even more impressed.

Elsie and her husband had been early and influential residents of the area, and she remained active in political and social circles in the community throughout her life, even after her husband’s passing.  She frequently hosted parties for ladies’ activist groups and luncheons for the ladies from her Methodist Church congregation.  Every time she was going to have a ladies’ group over, she would order up a few batches of cookie press cookies from her daughter-in-law.  She found them the perfect light and elegant treat to serve the ladies.

Grandma continued to make cookie press cookies as a Christmas treat for her friends and family until just a few years ago when cooking and baking became more of a struggle as she approached 90 years old.  The cookie press has sat in the pantry for the last few years, until Grandma brought it to us this week.  We cleaned it up again and tracked down a recipe and had a wonderful morning mixing up the dough, having Grandma show us how to work the press, and sampling the tasty results.  2015-09-30 11.43.20-1And after these few hours of working and talking and laughing together, I feel closer to my great-Grandmother, and my Grandma, and my kids.  I hope they’ll remember this morning spent with their great-Grandma.  I think they will.

A Labor Day Scavenger Hunt

How do you celebrate Labor Day? For so many of us, it’s a seasonal marker — the end of the long, hot days of summer, back to school for students and back to work for Congress. But is there something more to it?

Labor Day was created as a day to commemorate the social and economic achievements of workers here in the U.S. For some workers, it’s a day off to remember how hard we work all the other days, a nice long weekend before we start our fall routines.

This year, Amy Poehler’s Smart Girls created a 2015-09-04 09.16.19Labor Day Scavenger Hunt
to help us get the most out of this “day off” and honor those who work hard for us all year. Our family was excited to get out and mark of *most* of the activities over the course of the weekend.

Friday night we took the PioneerKids night swimming 2015-09-04 19.34.08in the backyard.  It was supposed to be bedtime, but we had an end-of-summer surprise and spent an hour splashing and laughing together under the stars.  It was the perfect start to our holiday weekend, and a great way to check off #3 on the scavenger hunt: “Get your hair wet!  Get all the way into a body of water!”

Monday morning we really went to work on the hunt.  We decided to start with #1 on the list: “Not everyone gets a day off for Labor Day.  Find someone working and give them a thank you card!”

We decided to take cards and donuts to our local firehouse2015-09-07 10.43.22 and thank the firefighters who keep us safe.  Kids got out crayons and paper and made pictures and cards for the firefighters and paramedics.  We remembered watching them come to the rescue recently when we saw the immediate aftermath of a car accident.

Last week on the way home from school, we stopped at an intersection and saw a horrible car accident a few feet up the road on the cross street. We got there right after it happened, just before the first firetruck arrived. Two sedans and a pickup truck were involved, and one of the cars somehow ended up on top of the other. We prayed that everyone would be taken care of and that any children involved would be comforted.

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Today when we decided to go over and thank the firefighters and paramedics, the kids remembered what they had seen and how a kid involved in that accident might have felt.
“I would have been scared when that happened, and probably hurt if I was in the bottom car. But when the firetruck pulled up, I would feel better because I know they are there to help me and I will be okay.”
It was a great experience to be able to go thank them in person and let them know that we appreciate the work they do for our community.

Next we decided to indulge and work on #2 on the list: “Support your community.  Eat at a locally owned establishment!”  We headed straight over to Joyride Taco House for tacos and quesadillas and burritos, and fun.
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Joyride is in the Gilbert Heritage District, which is one of our favorite places to hang out.  We ride our bikes to this historical strip during the fall and winter.  We can be found at the Gilbert Farmers Market here almost every Saturday morning, and at the splashpad under the water tower during the summers.  So it was easy to choose Water Tower Plaza, a symbol of our town and this great neighborhood, as the answer to #7: “Everyone has a favorite spot in their city/town/village.  Show us yours!”
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We found ourselves with a few ideas and options for #5: “Find a statue of someone and tell us about that person.”  Since we are a bunch of PioneerGirls, we considered going to Pioneer Park in next town over and taking a photograph of the pioneers there, the people who came to settle Lehi and Mesa, Arizona.  Our own Pioneer Girl Emma Higbee is one of those pioneers!  But we decided to try to keep it local and stay in our town, so we headed to the new Gilbert Arizona Temple and chose the Angel Moroni who is on the top of the spire.

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Moroni is found on top of many Mormon temples around the world. He represents the Angel spoken of in the book of Revelation: “I saw another angel fly in the midst of heaven, having the everlasting gospel to preach unto them that dwell on the earth, and to every nation, and kindred, and tongue, and people” (Rev. 14:6).

On our way home we grabbed a photo for #9 on the list: 2015-09-07 13.24.52“Show us street art!”  This mural is painted across the street from a school in our community.  It was recently updated as an Eagle Scout project and we love seeing it when we pass by.

We got home for the afternoon and took another dip in the pool.  Labor Day might mark the unofficial end of summer other places in the country, but we’re still in the heart of 100-degree weather.  We’ll swim through October!

A few hours later as the sun began to set, we decided to head out to accomplish the last two items we’d be able to do this weekend.  First, #10: “Be an explorer!  Head out to a local hiking and biking trail and show us something unfamiliar to you.”  We got the bikes out, dusted them, aired up the tires, and set out to explore.  It was a little late in the day to find something new, but we did find something we love: an Arizona sunset.  We rode through our neighborhood to a little lake and watched the ducks swim for a few minutes.

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Then we hopped back on the bikes and headed back to the Heritage District for #8: “Summer is almost over.  Womp womp. Keep it alive by showing us your favorite summer treat!”  We headed straight to Dairy Queen for a traditional family favorite, dipped cones!
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We had a great weekend remembering those in our community who help make it great, and enjoying a day off as a family.  I think we’ll make this Labor Day Scavenger Hunt a Pioneer Family tradition!




Something to Read: The Great Cake Mystery

Raise your hand if you participated in the Summer Reading Program at your local library this year!  We did, and at the end of our program each of our Pioneer Children got to choose a free book as a reward for all their reading hours.  We tabbed through the items offered by our reading program and I was so excited to find a children’s book by an author I’ve enjoyed.

Alexander McCall Smith writes The Ladies’ No. 1 Detective Agency series, which (despite the ungrammarly title) I have enjoyed.  We love stories that help us discover new places, so a few months ago we read a couple of the author’s Akimbo stories, which are set in Botswana as well. But, for all our reading, I didn’t know Smith had written these books about a young Precious Ramotswe, the protagonist of the Detective Agency bGreatCakeMysteryooks.

In “The Great Cake Mystery,” Precious is a schoolgirl of about 10 years old.  As she and the other children spend their days doing lessons in their classes, the treats that they bring from home to make the boring school lunches more bearable begin to disappear.  Friends come to Precious with stories of a thief at school, and Precious employs her detective spirit to investigate the situation and solve the mystery, all while making a new friend.  The story opens with a startling lion encounter and ends with a lesson on honesty, loyalty, and friendship.

The end of the book includes a note from the author on what he hopes children will take away from the book, as well as some pronunciation guides, a short glossary of African terms, and some thoughtful reading questions.  Ms. Pickle hosted a summer reading club last summer, and I think this book would have been perfect for that sort of setting.  It makes me want to bring reading club back!

Precious is a beautiful character filled with kindness and generosity.  She is a lovely person to spend the last few minutes before bedtime with, and we enjoy our time with her so much that we have already picked up books two and three in this series.