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
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.
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. And 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.
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 books.
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.
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.
I read the list above and put every single one of the titles on reserve at our library for our Pioneer Girl, but when I picked this one up I wondered if Pioneer Boy might be interested in it too. He does love a good read-aloud chapter book, so the first night we invited Miss Pickle in for his nightly reading time and tried it out it. It was an immediate hit with both of them.
Shivers is a scaredy-pirate who had the misfortune of being born into a very brave pirate family. He was named for the very piratey saying “shiver me timbers,” but unfortunately his shivers are more of the worried sort. His mother, father, and Brave Brother Brock are all known in pirate circles for their courageous acts of villainy on the high seas. Shivers, however, lives on a ship called the Land Lady, which is docked in the middle of the beach in New Jersey, and his greatest adventure is the battle with the alarm clock that he relives each and every morning — until one day when he receives a message by carrier pigeon telling him that his brave family members have all been taken hostage and that he is the only one who can save the day. Even a scaredy-pirate can’t ignore this call for help, so Shivers sets off to rescue his family.
After a little more than two weeks of a chapter a night, we finished Shivers this evening. I asked each of the big kids what they liked best about it, and they named particular scenes of piratey grossness that I will leave you to discover for yourself.
My favorite part of the book, though, was Margo. We meet Margo in chapter two, when she is the only one willing to help Shivers with his quest. Margo has always wanted to save the day, but being a regular police officer’s daughter, she hasn’t lead the life of a pirate. She is only too happy to take the clues Shivers receives and lead the way to adventure. As Shivers gives Margo the adventure she’s been craving, she lends him a little of the courage he’s been seeking. Along the way they develop a sweet friendship as they rescue each other from mishaps and one-eyed pirates and giant squids.
I was so glad to get to know Shivers and Margo and to have such brave, kind characters in our lives for a couple of weeks. I hope we’ll meet them again in future books. For now, this was a fun, silly adventure the whole family could enjoy, with a message of kindness and courage at its core and a strong female character to make it even more appealing.
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.
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.
Once we ventured outside, the kids played with a week-old lamb and petted a calf in the barns as we explored the grounds.
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.
Then, my favorite, we wandered into Prairietown, an 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.”
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.
(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.
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!
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
Sunday morning we woke up in a St. Louis suburb and continued east. We’d told our people about the Gateway Arch, and our little pilot-in-waiting was super excited to get so high up and see out the windows. We went … Continue reading
We are a flexible travel family. We go and we find and we do. If we learn about something we need to experience, we head out and experience it.
Today we started with a plan… and our plan changed.
We woke up in Amarillo, about five minutes from the Cadillac Ranch art installation. Since we go and find and do, even though it was a little backtrack we went to see this Americana landmark. You can’t not, right?
It was muddy and wet from the previous night’s thunderstorm, but that only made it more appealing to these flip-flop people. They scavenged for spray paint cans and added their own elements to the work. Next time you’re there, seek out the “E,” “J,” and “C” on the westernmost Caddy.
After the Ranch we stopped in at the Cavendar’s to find Texas Boy a Texas Shirt, but we had no luck. That’s what the Internet is for, right? One of these will be waiting for Texas Boy when we get home.
Then it was time to get on the road. These western states are huge, y’all, and if we’re going to make it through #thirteenstates we have to log some miles.
We cruised through the Texas Panhandle and on into Oklahoma. We had planned to head straight through to Okmulgee and Muscogee, towns that were of interest to me because of my family history, but when we checked the map and realized we’d be driving right through Oklahoma City, we added a stop.
On April 19, 1995, the deadliest act of domestic terrorism was committed in downtown Oklahoma City. When a truck bomb detonated outside the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building, 168 people were killed, 19 of whom were children under the age of six. In the place of that destruction now stands a beautiful memorial that we wanted to witness.
If we were going to go visit this place and take our three little children, we knew we had to tell them that it was a memorial and tell them how to behave there. If we told them it was a memorial and a quiet, reverent place, we were going to have to tell them what happened there. We’re kind of shelter-y parents. We talk a lot more now with Miss Pickle about world events because she hears about them at school, but we don’t bring up a lot of sad or scary events with the kids. I prefer to allow them to have a quieter, less stressful childhood, so unless I know something is going to come up at school and I think she should hear it from me first, we pretty much let her stay a kid. But taking the kids into this place, we knew we needed to prepare them.
About an hour before we arrived in OKC I turned around in the front seat to talk to my kids. I told them about the angry men who were upset with the government and decided to use violence to make a statement. I told them about the innocent people who were injured and killed there, including children. I told them how the place where it happened became a memorial, and that they needed to be respectful of the sad thing that happened there that day.
And then I told them about Survivor Tree.
Survivor Tree is a hundred-year-old American elm that stood in a parking lot across the street from the Murrah building. People would come in to work early to find a parking spot in the tree’s shade, a little bit of respite from the sun. The day of the attack, Survivor Tree was nearly destroyed. Evidence from the blast was embedded in its trunk, its limbs were blown off by the force of the explosion, and fire from the cars parked near it that day charred it so badly that people didn’t think it would live.
But, I told my kids, a year later when victims and friends and loved ones gathered for a memorial service there, they noticed blossoms forming. Survivor Tree survived, and now it stands as a symbol of the resilience of the people of Oklahoma and of the United States. It stands as a symbol to us that if our roots are deep and strong, we can survive hard things and come back even more beautiful than before.
We asked if they wanted to go see this place and if they would have appropriate behavior there, and they all said they did and they would, so we headed for downtown Oklahoma City.
A few minutes after I finished telling them the story and turned back to help our driver navigate, a voice called out from the backseat. It was my five-year-old son.
“Mommy, I like the story about Survivor Tree. I was afraid when you told us about it that the tree would die, but I’m glad it was a happy ending. I’m glad Survivor Tree is still there to make people feel better. I want to go see it.”
We had lunch at the delightful Kitchen No. 324, where we were seated outside near a small grassy area where the wiggly among us could wiggle. It was perfect since we knew we were going to let them walk around the memorial but not run and jump and somersault and cartwheel, which they really needed to do. We enjoyed the “Oklahoma fluffies” and let the wind come roaring down the plains and through our hair.
After lunch we went to the memorial. As we approached it from the east, the kids were drawn to an outdoor chapel on the ground of First Church. That boy who was touched by the story of Survivor Tree asked if we could kneel in the sanctuary and pray. He offered the sweetest, simplest prayer for the people affected on that day and for the tree that brought hope. It was the perfect way to start our visit to the memorial — where somehow they all managed to behave.
After OKC, it was time to get on the road again. We went to Okmulgee, Oklahoma, which is the government seat of the Muscogee (Creek) Nation, where I am a tribal member. My great-great-grandmother was named on the 1906 Dawes Indian Census, along with two sisters and a brother. Her family a few generations back had come to Oklahoma on the Trail of Tears, and her descendants remained there until as a young boy my Gramps left Oklahoma with his family during the Dust Bowl, headed for California. California was a little too far to travel, it seems. The family ended up settling in Arizona, and now here we are.
In Okmulgee we went to the Creek Council House, which was erected in 1878 shortly after their arrival in Oklahoma Territory. It was very moving to be in the place where my family had been for many years, which I had never seen. Gramps died when I was young and any memories of his life in Oklahoma are lost to me for now, but researching that part of my family history has been very meaningful to me. I feel a connection to that great-great-grandmother, and I’m so glad I got to walk in the place where she lived.
We had intended to continue on to Muscogee, Oklahoma, where the Five Civilized Tribes Museum honors those who were relocated to Indian Territory during the Trail of Tears — the Cherokee, Creek, Choctaw, Chickasaw, and Seminole. Our stops in OKC and Muscogee put us behind schedule, though, and we would have arrived in Muscogee after the museum had closed, so we decided to turn north and head into Kansas.
We crossed the state line into Kansas at Coffeyville, where I missed my “Welcome to Kansas” picture and made the driver turn around to give me a second try. Whew! We marveled at the W.P.Brown Mansion as we cruised through, an enormous home built in 1906 by a local natural gas magnate. Late night Kansas backroads took us up to Overland Park (“Fancy Kansas,” according to my favorite Kansan), where we rolled in well past everyone’s bedtimes and promptly got to bed.
We’re hitting the road this week. The dad of the family has a conference in Indiana, and we’ve decided to road-trip along with him. We’ve made the trek into a family history/U.S. history research trip, and we are so excited to be off-schedule for a while and visit new places in late spring while the weather is nice. (It has already hit the triple-digits here in Arizona. Ugh, already.)
Two years ago we made our first cross-country trip in a minivan with three kids (then 7, 3, and almost-2), traveling from Phoenix to St. Petersburg, Florida. Other than the dearth of excitement in West Texas, it was a great trip. We listened to our bodies and to the kids to know when we needed a break, and made good use of refueling and lunch stops. We ate from our “food box,” so at least one meal per day was a picnic at a local or national park. (We take our National Parks seriously.) As we traveled, if the kids needed to stop and wiggle, we stopped. If we saw an interesting roadside attraction, we visited it. We played with cousins in Houston, ate beignets in New Orleans, swam in the Gulf of Mexico on a stunningly beautiful beach in Destin, and visited Winter the dolphin in Clearwater.
We kept a map of our route and traced each day’s progress with the kids. Our destination was St.Pete, but we had little plans to do other things along the way so each day had something to look forward to.
In high school I made a goal of visiting all 50 states. It’s not an easy concept out here in the West. I can drive for four or five hours and not make it out of Arizona. (Don’t even get me started on Texas.) When I moved to the Washington, D.C. area after college the goal suddenly seemed feasible. I could go north from Arlington, Virginia, where I lived, and knock out four states, not including Virginia or the District, in that amount of time. My husband’s family is from Florida, so we took the I-95 trip south from D.C. several times in the 9 years we lived there, including delightful stays in Charleston, Savannah, and North Carolina’s Outer Banks.
So as I’ve continued to check visits to different states off my list, I’ve started recording our travel for my kids, too, hoping that they’ll have the same goal eventually. Before we set off for trips to Colorado and Florida in 2013, I created a “passport” for each of my kids.
Each page has the name of a state at the top. (They’re in alphabetical order for ease in finding them when traveling.) I put each kid’s photo inside the front cover and had them each sign their name. (Super legible when you’re not yet 2.) Whenever we stopped and got out of the car, we grabbed the bag of passports and carried it with us. When we had a moment — waiting for our food at a restuarant, playing in a park, whatever — we got the passports out and wrote down the city we were in and the date, and then the kids stamped that page of their book.
Another awesome benefit to this that I didn’t even anticipate is that the National Parks Service (serious nerds over here, folks) has put out their own National Parks Passport, so as we visit those, they have their own stamp we can log in our passports. Of course we also bought one of their passports, so there’s just hours of stamping fun whenever we get out of the car.
This year I found these great printable stickers we can use. Super nice because they’re the perfect size to use with a 1″ hole punch. Each kid will get a set that we’ll keep with their passports, for this trip and future trips.
The kids love all the stamping and stickering, of course, but I hope that they will be glad to have this record of the places they’ve been and the things they’ve seen. We have our family photo albums, but this is a fun way for the kids to record their travel and when they visited each place.
And hopefully someday they’ll each have an international passport, too, and I’ll get to watch as they explore the world and fill their books with even more stamps.