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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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. ;))


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!




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

Day Four #thirteenstates: Missouri, Illinois, Indiana

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

Day Two, #thirteenstates: Texas, Oklahoma, Kansas

Cadillac Ranch Amarillo, Texas

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.

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Oklahoma countryside

We cruised through the Texas Panhandle and on into Oklahoma.  2015-05-15 12.08.23-1We 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.

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Oklahoma City Skyline

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.

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Survivor Tree. May 15, 2015

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.

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After lunch we went to the memorial.  2015-05-15 15.52.13As 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.

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After OKC, it was time to get on the road again.  2015-05-15 18.03.44-1We 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.

2015-05-15 17.43.06In 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.2015-05-15 17.48.53-1

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.

2015-05-15 20.10.11-1We 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.

Record Your Travel! – Make Your Own U.S. States Passport

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.

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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.

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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.  2015-05-11 13.58.09Super 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.