Back to School!

The crafting cabinet is stocked with Ticonderogas, pink pearls, and crayons.  The pantry is full of pretzels, apples, and whole wheat bread.  The backpacks are back and the swimsuits are stowed away. The Pioneer Children are back to school!


We love school around here.  We love notebooks and pencils, fancy pens, coloring and drawing and scissors.  We love friends and recess.  We lovelunch freshly packed in a fancy box.  We love standing by the door and waiting for the siblings to come home.  My little partner is on the floor playing Little People school bus right now, waiting for her turn to be off to school.

The littlest Pioneer Girl only turned four years old a few weeks ago, so she has had to say goodbye to the Fourth-Grader and Kindergartener every morning this week.  Preschool doesn’t begin until next week, so she has been Pioneer Mom’s partner these last few days, running errands to fill the hours and pick up the last-minute two-prong pocket folders and lunchbox treats.  We scheduled a playdate for the first day of school because we had an inkling it might be a little lonely.  That couple hours with a friend was crucial to suriving the first day.

Our Pioneer Boy started big boy school for the first time this year – my little-big Kindergartener.  It nearly breaks my heart to see that big backpack on that small body bouncing off to his classroom.  This morning he got out of the minivan, and then got back in for a good-bye hug, and then got out and ran to school, taking all of my feelings with him.

It’s day three today and I still sort of don’t know what to do with only one kid at home.  Roro doesn’t know what to do either.  She spent an hour this morning kicking a balloon around the kitchen.

Next week the real routine will start up — five full days of school for the big ones, preschool for the little one, homework and chores and piano lessons.  Next week I’ll start on those projects, too — the ones I had planned to do with all our free time this summer, the ones I quickly decided I’d wait to work on until the kids were in school.

I’m excited for the things we’ll be learning this year.  Juicy has been yearning to read on his own for months, and this year it will happen for him.  My Pickle has been invited into an advanced writing class, which is a little surprising to me given her disregard for capitalization and punctuation, but nevertheless it warms my heart.  I think it was in fourth grade in this very same school that my best friend and I wrote a six-page(!) story together that helped develop my love of writing.  What if my girl discovers she loves writing too?

We’ve been assigned wonderful teachers.  Ms. Fourth-Grade is being taught by a family friend who is in her first year with her own classroom, after having worked at the school in various capacities for the last 17 years.  We were next-door neighbors when I was young; I babysat her kids.  I know my daughter will be well loved at school — so well loved that I actually thought I better give the sweet teacher a mandate to lay down the law with my chatterbox and demand good behavior.

Kindergarten man is learning the ins and outs of school, running into old preschool friends on the playground, forgetting to bring home his lunchbox on the first day and his binder on the second day, but finding the bathroom every time.

And now it’s Friday and the afternoon carpool should be dropping them off any minute.  We’ll fill the weekend with family activities, church, maybe a few chores.  And then Monday, we’ll be…

back to school.




Day Six #thirteenstates: Indianapolis (part two)

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Memorializing in Indiana.

Today we had five priorities when we walked out of the hotel: Chocolate shop, Indianapolis Temple, Trader Joe’s, playtime at a park, covered bridge.

Once the people finally woke up (10am, thank you 11pm bedtime and hotel blackout curtains), we went out for the day. We started off at The Best Chocolate in Town, where we loaded up on chocolate-covered pretzels. Then we popped in at Trader Joe’s where we loaded up on some snacks and picnic supplies and hunted for the elusive state-specific Trader Joe’s reusable shopping bag, but alas, there is no Indiana version.  (I have a Texas one and an Arizone one.  Does your state have one?)

I looked on coveredbridgemap for a covered bridge nearby and found one not too far from the area we were heading to, near the Indy suburbs of Fishers and Carmel. We headed up that way only to discover that the bridge we were looking for was in the fantastic Conner Prairie Interactive History Park.

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Nothing says Indiana like a covered bridge.

We pulled in just as the field trip buses were loading up to take the fieldtrippers back to school, so by the time we got in we had the place nearly to ourselvecs. Inside there was a lovely imaginary play area with forts and art stations and reading areas, and RoRo’s favorite, a playhouse.  This child is never happier than when she is hosting a tea party.

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Once we ventured outside, the kids played with a week-old lamb and petted a calf in the barns as we explored the grounds.

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We crossed the covered bridge to “Dupont, Indiana,” which depicts the Confederate Morgan’s Raid that came into the Indiana and the North from Kentucky in 1863. They had a fun little indoor playground where the kids dressed in period costumes and put each other in jail for various crimes. This little Miss Pickle was delighted to finally be able to model the fashions of the day after spending the previous two days in her bonnet from St. Louis.

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Then, my favorite, we wandered into Prairietown, 2015-05-19 14.23.33an 1836 frontier Indiana town. Emma Higbee was born in 1836 (though on the frontier of western Missouri), so the kids got to see a town representing her era.  They explored a general store and a small schoolhouse, spoke with some townspeople and helped sweep and cleanup a prairie home.

The best moment was when they helped some boys who were chopping firewood at the Eagle Inn.  They boys cut the kindling, and then my kids helped stack it on the wood porch of the Inn.  As they worked, they asked us, “Where have you traveled from?”
I answered, “Arizona,” but then said, “Well, Arizona Territory.”
Then I did the math again and realized that in 1836 Arizona was still decidedly part of Mexico, so I said, “Well, Mexico right now, I guess.”
The innkeeper rested his axe on the stump and looked at me: “Ah, Spaniards.”

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A possum alseep in a little house on the prairie.

Too soon it was 5pm and time to leave Conner Prairie — but again, thanks to Daylight Savings, we still had hours of daylight to burn.  We took toys and picnics to a nearby park where the kids made immediate friends with a bunch of Indianans.  They played and swung and cartwheeled and slid and climbed and somersaulted, explored in the woods and hid in the prairie, and barely had time to eat a peanut butter sandwich.

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(This person travels by cartwheel.  No grass is safe.)

Hours later as the sun began to set, we left the park in Fishers and headed to Carmel, Indiana, where the Indianapolis Temple is almost finished.  The open house will be held in just a few weeks, but even though they’re just finishing up construction we still wanted to go over and see it.

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I love the way the new temples are incorporating local culture into their architecture, and the Indy temple was no exception.  When I first saw renderings of the temple it kind of reminded me of the Phoenix Temple — long and low with a single spire.  But when we drove up on it the spire was much more substantial than it had looked in drawings, and it called to my mind monuments we had seen when we’d arrived in Indianapolis.  The Indianapolis World War Memorial and the Soldier’s and Sailors’ Monument are beautiful, iconic structures, and the temple spire draws inspiration from these two local institutions.

After taking some photos and loving the temple, it was finally time for the sun to set and for us to get ourselves to bed.  We drove through a tunnel of trees on our way back south into the city, and the kids were amazed at the greenery.
We had a great time exploring Indianapolis, but tomorrow we will pack up the car and begin the #PioneerGirl and Emma Higbee days of our trip.  We are so excited!

Day Five #thirteenstates: Indianapolis (part one)

Blessings from above, the kids slept until about 10 this morning.  The poor dad of the family had to go to meetings at 8am, but the rest of us enjoyed a leisurely morning. We received tickets to the Indianapolis Children’s … Continue reading

The Fourth Grade Teacher

My fourth grade teacher’s name was Lavona Areghini. “Lavona from Sedona, Arizona,” she told us one day, making the room full of nine-year-olds giggle. She was an experienced teacher when I came into her grade, and her room was always warm and welcoming.

I’m sure I learned long division in her class, and I know we read some classics together. She introduced me to one of my favorite authors when she read Cynthia Voigt’s Homecoming aloud in class after lunch recess every day for a week or so. I never wanted her to stop reading. I represented our class in the school spelling bee that year.  I got straight As. My handwriting looked like my dad’s.


There were probably other important facts and skills that I picked up there as well, but the most important thing I remember about that year was being loved. Mrs. Areghini loved her job, and she loved her students, and we all knew it. And that’s what good teachers are about.

The next year we faced a family tragedy, and though I had just begun fifth grade when it happened, I went back to Mrs. Areghini’s room when I needed to feel safe. In fact I spent a few months at the beginning of the year kind of in a stupor, and one day purely out of habit I returned to that place of comfort. I was so embarrassed when I realized I had stumbled back into her room, now full of a new class of fourth-graders, but she was welcoming and kind and accommodating even after I interrupted her new class — all the things I needed in that moment.

This week is Teacher Appreciation Week in the US. I’ve been appreciating teachers in my heart for the last couple of weeks, since a writer friend posted on Facebook about catching up on recording her personal history. She has been posting excerpts to keep herself motivated and working. Susan had gotten as far as fourth grade when we saw this post:

“Someone posted today how grateful they are for a teacher helping their child, and I reflected on the teachers who made a difference in my son’s life and mine. And then I realized that both of our favorite teachers of all time were our fourth grade teachers and both of them are my FB friends. My fourth grade teacher even came to one of my book launch parties! Thank you … for making such a difference in my son’s life. And thank you … for making a difference in mine.”

Our school year is almost over. The last official day for our district is May 21, but we’re leaving early to go on an epic family adventure so my daughter will finish school next week. It is time to show our gratitude and appreciation to our third grade teacher and then get ready to relax and recharge and learn by experience for a few weeks.

And then, after our family experiences of the summer, my Pioneer Girl will begin her own fourth grade adventure. We looked through my school scrapbook this afternoon, and I told her that fourth grade is a great year. I wish her success in her academics and personal growth, but most of all I wish her a teacher who loves, like Mrs. Areghini loved.