History Fest 2014

Another History Fest has come and gone, and it was another magical week for our family.

This is something I posted to my homeschool email list about this year’s event and it sums it up well…

I’m home at last from History Fest today.  Most of the family has been going since Wednesday (and helped set up Tuesday) but I stayed home with Fiona until today (her birthday) because it’s such a long day that starts so early.  We have to leave at 6:45 a.m. before the sun is up.

Every time I go I am just dumbfounded at how amazing it is, and the awesomeness of Jack McGowan and the mass of people who help make it happen.  It’s like we have our own personal Walt Disney, except he’s an Irishman and he does it for free, for the love of kids and because  he’s a bit of a big kid himself.  It’s just INCREDIBLE what he’s created there and what he continues to build and dream and make happen just about every week.

Last year, the EPA or some crazy organization suddenly announced that his History Fest buildings (a saloon, chalet, places like that — wooden structures built to be used for special events like History Fest of Boy Scout events, stuff like that) were on the flood plain because his land is between a fork in two rivers, and that the whole county would lose flood insurance by the government if his buildings weren’t moved.  They gave him something like 90 days to move 5 huge buildings and all of the outbuildings to another part of his property.  Keep in mind that History Fest is a nonprofit thing he does on an old sheep farm that the owner has let him use next to his house for years.  It started as a project he did at a local park because he thought the Mankato kids ought to have something like the Renn Fest to learn about history, and it just grew and grew and grew.  He’s a retired guy who owns a water conditioner business (that’s still big in Mankato), so this is not someone with the means to just move 5 buildings in 90 days.  He’s like 70 years old (though he’s tough and sprite!).  And we did it.  We moved all those damn buildings with help from all sorts of people and a construction crew that volunteered a bunch of it and donated money and Sentenced to Serve workers who did their time there and Jack busting his butt every day up on some ladder or using the backhoe or doing what needed to be done.  I was in one of the buildings today and realized I helped smooth that dirt floor and carry the log sections of floor back in.  That’s a pretty neat feeling.

And the owner of that sheep farm finally officially gave the land to Jack for History Fest and the finished buildings are even better now that they’re moved to their own little village area… and somehow Jack has managed to build even more amazing contraptions and improve even more buildings and do even more great stuff, out of the scary situation of thinking it was impossible last summer and the government was going to shut it down…  It’s done, and even better.

To give you an idea of how magical this place is, down by the river there’s a troll tunnel (marked with a painted sign) that goes all the way under the hill and comes up through a brightly painted grate in another part of the land.  He built a concrete troll tunnel for children to climb through!!!!! And there’s a giant piece of a house with a gas pipeline that goes on fire that the kids get to put out all day with water pumped through a fire hose from the river….. and there’s a trebouchet (sp?) that launches pumpkins into the river…. and he gives pianos to anybody anywhere who wants a piano (we got one last year and I love it)…  and there’s an ENORMOUS sandbox that’s always filled with buried treasures like dragon tears and coins… and so much more.

Daryl plays a gambler in the saloon and teaches kids card tricks and how to play chuck-a-luck (a fun dice game in a spinning cage).  He’s a hoot to watch — he really is great with kids.  But I found out today that Jack built the saloon because this lady Annette came to play the piano for history fest a few years ago and there wasn’t a good building for her to play in.  He asked where he ought to put another piano and she said, “Well, if you had a saloon….” and she said, “So Jack built me a saloon.”  Just like that!  This giant building with a bar and tables and stage and fun props (old time guns, funny signs…).  It’s just so amazing.

And all the people involved are amazing too.  I love being a part of it.  We have sassy trolls who fight children with foam swords and shields (the children always win!), and SCA knights who battle and teach the kids everything authentically, and presidents Lincoln and Jefferson and Roosevelt, and a blacksmith and a 1600′s Scottish camp where they make bread in a real stone oven and wooden stilts and carts everywhere for children to climb on, and horses and goats and sheep, and people teaching you how to spin alpaca and sheep wool and then how to weave it, and gunfights and soldiers and pirates and our fantastic friend Susan Hynes who dresses all in period black with her temperance sign about the evils of alcohol who yells at that awful JD Wyatt (my hubby) and his hooligan children who steal her sign and give her grief.  :)

Tonight was the pot luck for the volunteers and reenactors and there was a guy doing balloon animals for the kids.  He’s one of the reenactors and he did these massive balloon hats and 8 silver swords for Alex plus giant horns for his head, and just dozens of crazy balloon creations for all of these elated children.  And the trolls were still in character, giving me grief for having “a little fishy” (I was carrying Fiona’s balloon goldfish on a pole) and the pirates and settlers and everybody filled the hall and they’re just all such neat people and it’s such a magical thing to be a part of.

Anna was chatting with a friend tonight and said she had such a great day, and she told me afterwards, “It must have sounded like I was on a drug trip!  I was talking about getting so many pictures of the belly dancers and that the pirate captain told terrible puns and taking Fiona to sit with the buffalo and jousting with my brothers.”  LOL  I am just so happy that my kids have been able to grow up being a part of this.  :)   And now I’m off to sleep!  Tomorrow morning we’re heading back for the public day (the weekdays are for school kids — SOTH and HS) and it will be another full day!

I just had to share it with you all though.  I wish I could bring you all and your kids, and that everybody could come experience it.

 

and here’s a blog entry about it
http://magicandmayhem.homeschooljournal.net/2008/10/12/history-fest/

Jack McGowan gave an interview to the local news about why he does History Fest and it sums up his funny spunky personality so well.  You can also see my hubby playing the spoons in the beginning of it!

I am so happy to be a part of this magic, and so glad that this is one way my kids are growing up experiencing history class.  :)

Look What We’ve Been Up To….

We took a family vacation to St. Augustine, Florida!

It was Daryl’s first time to ever see the ocean, and our first big family vacation all together — ever!

We rented a very affordable condo on the beach for a week and it was all kinds of heavenly.

We celebrated Victoria’s 16th birthday, Jack’s 11th birthday and Alex’s 7th birthday.

Of course, life had to resume soon after we made the long drive back, and this week has been filled with sick kids, too much laundry, squabbles, cold Minnesota weather, a temperamental washing machine, an epically messy house and a bit of this…

It turns out I’m crazy anemic and need four weeks of IV iron.  It also turns out that my veins are as impossible to stab with a pointy thing as ever.

But all in all, life is good.  Give me access to a real beach once every two or three years and I remember how to breathe again.  :)

I can’t wait to share more, but for now I have laundry to switch and messes to clean and some teenage drama to sort out….

Hiking Monday

It’s fall, and that means we ease into the fall season of homeschooling. I love homeschooling by the seasons, and even though I am always so sad to see summer end I have to admit there are things to love about fall.

One tradition I love is hiking.  We generally plan for hiking every Monday, and we aim to go to a different place every week.

Last week we tried out Kilen Woods State Park for the first time, even though it’s barely more than a half an hour away from us.

It was a wonderful visit.

We had it to ourselves, and had so much fun.

Daryl announced when we got there that it was important to mark the start of fall with an acorn fight, and the kids had an immensely wonderful time ganging up on poor Daddy with acorns by the hundreds.

Even Fiona grinned and grinned.

Then we left our oldest and youngest behind (Daryl’s legs are still not up to hiking and Fiona is not quite old enough for the amount we wanted to do) and we headed down the wooded paths while they stayed behind to gather walnuts and acorns and play.

It was a wonderful trail, full of meandering creeks and treasures to find.

There was even a section that met up with the Des Moines River, and it was a beautiful spot to rest.

When we got back, we played with caterpillars (we ID’ed ours thanks to the ID books in the little cabin at the site but I’ve forgotten what he was!) and water pumps and sand boxes.

It was a lovely way to do our nature studies and PE for the day!

 

So Much for Posting Every Day….

Well, right after I resolved to try to post every day for the rest of July, I went and got myself into a funk and then took off to the wilds of Nebraska with Fiona and Toria to visit Tiffany and family.

So here’s a bit of what we’ve been up to since then…

We went and saw a Scottish homeschool family band (Jiggerypokery!) at a little hometown event.  Mom and Dad each had a baby strapped to their backs and four bigger ones! :)

We went to the library twice, went walking, read books, made gluten free goodies, visited with friends, went swimming…

Oh yes, and Tiffany helped give Toria a more exciting haircut!

We also took the younger kids to the zoo…

And we got Tiffany caught up in wild foraging, with some tasty mulberries and other goodies.

And we watched Sherlock, drank wine, ate chocolate, had lots of tea, talked and relaxed.

While we were gone, my actors all carried on in the Wilder Pageant, performing for another couple of thousand people (nearly) over the weekend.  They also did lots more foraging and I came home to a freezer full of black raspberries, mulberries and raspberries, each labeled with contents, dates and where they were harvested.  Those should make for some good jellies, syrups, ice creams, cakes and other goodies later in the year and I hear they made for many smoothies over the week we were gone.

I am working on getting my head in order, battling this funk and also figuring out how to juggle all that I want to juggle this year — homeschooling 5 such different kids at different stages, doing crafts, reading books, homesteading, cooking, editing and completing two books, keeping up with blogs, keeping up with my columns, having a social life and support system, getting us all exercising more, getting the house in order…

Yep, feeling overwhelmed again!

Ah well, I’m working on it.  The break gave me a bit of breath to dive back in.  At least it’s never boring!

Back from the Civil War

We’re back from Wasioja!  It was so much fun and so much work, and I’m so glad we did it.

We learned so much I couldn’t possibly share it all, and it was so incredible.  I really recommend taking part in Civil War reenactments, not just as a visitor (do that the first time) but also as a volunteer/reenactor.

Here’s just a bit of what we learned….

  • How to do a field amputation.  In detail!

  • Why so many body parts were amputated.

  • The medical degree requirements of the time, and the medical “wisdom” (egads!).  It’s a wonder any human beings survived at all.

  • What it was like to be a southern woman in the south during the war.
  • The drugs (prescribed) of the day and how common they were for man, woman and child.
  • The language of the fan.
  • Battles, generals, songs and traditions.

  • What foods and materials were substituted during the shortages and blockades.  Roasted beet coffee, anybody?
  • The real casualty numbers of the Civil War and why they were so off (it’s actually closer to a million, they think).

 

  • And so much more.

 

We stayed with a fabulous unschooling family on their dairy farm Saturday night (Alexandra and her whole family are just delightful, and her Brazilian mother is a magical creature in her own right…. such neat people!!!!).

(Photo of Cupcake by Anna Bayer)

We got filmed for several news reports and for the Wasioja video, and interviewed for the local paper (note: How funny that the reporter managed to spell Hrdlicka right but misspelled Daryl, and that we have three children named Jack, Alex and Annie… reporters invariably get almost everything but your planet wrong even when you give them a direct quote and spell it all out!).

Jack and Alex worked tirelessly to teach kids (and some adults) how to roll hoops, play the game of graces and do other old-time games.  They also disappeared into the tall grass with our toy rifles to play war all weekend.

Daryl had a constant crowd in front of him to learn about old time musical instruments from the spoons to the dulcimer to the one string.  I hardly got to spend a minute with him the whole weekend because he was so popular.

Anna spent the first day in full costume (corset and all!) with me, but chose to go modern for the second day and be a little more comfortable.  :)

(Anna has taken part in the Wilder Pageant enough to know that you’re never supposed to smile in old time photographs!)

All of the kids (minus Victoria, who was up with friends in the Twin Cities for two weeks) helped out in the children’s craft tent where we were stationed too, and made me proud in the way they chipped in there.

Fiona stole the show on both days, waving and saying hi to every passer-by and even charming Abraham Lincoln.

We will definitely take part next time (two years from now).  Pipestone is next year again.  I’m so happy they stagger them so there’s one every summer.

It was a lot of work, but good work.  And we really came home with such a feeling of the realities of the Civil War times, minus the romantic movie versions and sound bytes.  We have a deep appreciation for the many ways it affected everybody.

If you have never taken part in a Civil War event, I highly recommend it.  Ren Fests are so popular but there are lots of historic times worth visiting.  Why just play in the Renaissance era?  :)

 

Gearing Up for Civil War Days

This is how we study the Civil War. :)

Anna and I went and picked out dresses to borrow from the Wilder Pageant for our upcoming reenactment roles at Wasioja’s Civil War Days.  The dress I like best is apparently far too scandalous for the times since too much skin shows, so I may wear it for the ball (ladies were allowed to show more skin at night) or improvise something with a shawl and long gloves.  Or I might wear the more respectable dress.  We’ll see!

We’ve been to Pipestone’s Civil War days but this event is a new one for us.  Daryl will be playing old time music and the boys will be teaching children’s games like rolling hoops and the game of graces.  The girls and I are mostly “atmosphere girls” — our job is to make the scenes look that much more authentic.

That’s sort of what we did at Pipestone’s Civil War Days last summer.

(Speaking of which, I must go off on a tangent and rant for a moment!  See the fabulous hotel rooms we were in while we were in Pipestone?  That’s the historic Calumet Inn, which we fell in love with.  It’s got vintage furniture, sweeping staircases, period wallpaper, stories of hauntings and a blood red carpet throughout that just gives it so much character.  We found out today that the Calumet Inn is being featured on Gordon Ramsey’s hotels from hell show!  They’re filming this week and I will be horrified if they modernize that fantastic old place too much.  I’m very curious to see what the show looks like, since we absolutely love that place and the food is divine, which is quite rare in this part of Minnesota.  It’s possible that some of the other rooms were pretty dreadful.  We were in two rooms and one was certainly a lot more charming than the other.  Still, I hope they don’t change too much! Time will tell!)

Anyway….

We have two weeks to finish getting everything in order and get all the research we want done.  I’m going to find some good reading materials on the time to add to it, too.

It should be fun!

50 Things We Learned About in the Badlands

 

We’re back from a fabulous four days in the Badlands of South Dakota.

This was the first time the kids and I had ever been there, though Daryl was there years ago.

It was absolutely magical!  Not only is the landscape breathtaking, but it’s rife with educational opportunities and it’s all sorts of fun to climb and explore.

It will definitely be a regular vacation stop for us.

We all agreed that May seemed to be the perfect month to visit, too.  The weather was warm but not hot, the landscape was green and filled with the start of wildflowers, there weren’t many people yet, and hotel rates were cheaper since it was before Memorial Day.

Thank goodness we homeschool and can go on adventures all year, instead of waiting until school is out and the rates are highest.  :)

There were so many magical experiences…. watching thousands of prairie dogs running around and chirping at us, seeing our first burrowing owls (read “Hoot” to fall in love with these darling birds), having bighorn sheep crossing in front of us on the road, driving past grazing buffalo (no fences!) in the park, seeing spectacular views, climbing landscapes that felt like the surface of Mars…

And there were so many educational aspects too…. touring the Minuteman Missile museum (SD was once filled with missiles during the Cold War and you can still tour one site!), earning ranger badges at the parks, getting up close to animals we’d only seen in zoos like pronghorn antelopes that just lay in the grass as we drove by, learning how the Badlands were formed, seeing fossils preserved under glass at the site from animals that lived there millions of years ago, learning the Native American history of the area, stopping at educational sites along the way and so much more.

Here’s 50 fun subjects we learned about on our quick trip!

  1. burrowing owls
  2. prairie dogs
  3. bighorn sheep
  4. bull snakes
  5. The Cold War
  6. Minuteman missiles
  7. The Great Inland Sea
  8. black-footed ferrets
  9. The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy
  10. short, medium and tall grass prairies
  11. Wall Drug
  12. molting
  13. animal sounds (miss Fiona learned many!)
  14. new words (Fiona again — including vulture, buffalo and goat)
  15. Dr. Seuss and how his books were written to help children deal with fears of the Cold War and to diffuse politics
  16. Lewis and Clark
  17. long boats
  18. The Corn Palace
  19. pronghorn antelopes
  20. two-layered animal coats
  21. erosion
  22. soils, sand and dirt (components, how they’re made, etc.)
  23. fossils
  24. Native American names and how they’re given
  25. the meaning of Badlands
  26. outlaw history
  27. wagon trains
  28. The Wall Wildlife Museum
  29. baby prairie animals (Fiona)
  30. baby forest animals (Fiona)
  31. ghost towns (we explored one, Okaton)
  32. mesas
  33. buttes
  34. Pine Ridge Reservation
  35. vulture courtship
  36. Greek myths (on tape for the drive)
  37. baseball cards
  38. Lovecraft/Cthulhu (Victoria’s reading for the trip)
  39. Mt. Rushmore (we didn’t visit but we learned about it)
  40. vocabulary through Bananagrams at the hotel  :)
  41. river bluffs and landscapes
  42. glaciers
  43. prehistoric animals
  44. magpies
  45. coyotes
  46. South Dakota geography and news
  47. distance (we drove across the Missouri River and found out it was exactly a mile even though it seemed small)
  48. paleontologists
  49. change, time and impermanence (Jack had a bit of an existential crisis at ten about how “someday this will all be gone” and we talked about how much it had changed and the vast amount of time it had all been there.)
  50. “Prairie Dogs Have Plague!”

Stay tuned for pictures of the ghost town we explored and more.

 

 

Checking In

What a terrible blogger I’ve become!

I swear, there’s something about having five kids that is somehow ten times as busy-making as having four kids.  :)   I love it, but my does it interfere with my productivity!

We’ve been busy bees around here…

  • The boys and I went to the Science and Nature Conference.
  • The whole lot of us went to a homeschool day at the petroglyphs, where we taught kids how to make their own atlatls and hunt the buffalo (the wind meant they had a rough go at it!).
  • We all went to a PBS screening of a show they produced about parks in our area, at a nearby historic theater.  It was fun seeing “our” parks featured and seeing them interviewing our friends from the park.
  • I’ve been busy planting my garden for the year.  In so far:  red and orange carrots, lots of lettuces, spinach, lots of kinds of peas, potatoes (which got overly wet and rotted so I have to replant), chard, turnips, dill, cilantro, nasturtiums, beets, lots of tomatoes (started indoors early), eggplants (ditto), basil, sunflowers, borage, and probably a few things I’ve forgotten!  And I’m not even a third of the way done….
  • We’re planning a trip to the Badlands next week.
  • Anna spent 5 days with family friends in Northern Minnesota.
  • Daryl and the girls have been doing a lot of birding.
  • Anna and Victoria have been doing lots of biking.
  • Victoria has been doing a lot of photography.
  • Daryl and the kids are in the Wilder Pageant again.  Toria is sitting out this year and Fiona will still be home with me, but the rest of them will be busy with rehearsals soon.
  • We’ve been enjoying the warm weather (at last!) with lots of time outside — playing in the sandbox, heading to the beach, climbing trees, riding Big Wheels, playing ball, going to the park, walking the dog, working in the yard, making mud pies, you name it.

I have a list of 100 things I want to learn/teach in our homeschool by the end of the summer.  We’re having fun working on it.  The kids helped make the list and I have no idea how many we’ll get done but it’s a fun goal.

We’ll be doing some Civil War reenacting next month and there’s all sorts of homeschool projects I want to get to and books I want to read with the kids.  My to-do list is several thousand items long, I think.  :)

This year is so much better than last year at this time!  Some experiences really do keep you focusing on the big picture and counting your blessings.  I am so grateful to have last year that far behind us and Toria healthy and tentatively cancer-free.

I’m hoping it will be a pretty awesome summer.  I’ll do what I can to help make it happen!

 

Checking In…

My goodness, I’ve been gone a lot lately!  We’ve been so busy for being recluses.  ;)

Here’s a bit of what we’ve been up to….

Daryl had his recheck for his hip replacement surgery at the Mayo.  All looks great and he has the go-ahead for physical therapy.

While we were there, I surprised the kids with $10 each to spend at Rochester’s giant thrift store, Saver’s.

My boys pooled their money for light sabers, nerf guns, tech toys and mini figurines.

Anna used her cash for yarn, an awesome high-tech watch, a wizardry book that goes along with Harry Potter crafts, and a 39 Clues card collection case.

Victoria spent it on nothing but books (The Outsiders, Slaughterhouse Five, Farenheit 451…).  And then talked me into buying an enormous stack of extra textbooks for her (organic chemistry, psychology, biology, surgical nursing, algebra one if I got her the others…).  That girl sure makes me smile sometimes.   ;)

Jack and I have been playing this game like crazy to help him learn his multiplication facts (and also because it’s just plain fun).

Here’s a bit of what I posted about it on Facebook:

It’s called Roll n Multiply and you play it similarly to tic tac toe but it’s far more fun. Jack and I love it. You roll two dice and multiply the numbers (they are 10 sided), then put the game piece with that number on it anywhere on the board flipped to your color. The object is to get 4 in a row. BUT, if you roll a number that is already on the board you can take it and use it elsewhere (whether it was yours or your opponent’s, you just flip it to your color and put it where you want it), so you can move things and unblock lines that were blocked before. So if I had 3 in a row and Jack blocked me with his orange 24, and then I rolled 6×4, I could flip over his 24 to purple and win. It’s part luck, part strategy, part math. We play it a ton of and both of us like it. There’s a cheat sheet you can use if you don’t know your facts too, and I think Alex will be able to play it fine even though he’s only 5 and doesn’t know most of his facts yet. You really don’t need to know them but they end up learning them accidentally very quickly. I highly recommend it and I promised Jack I’d buy us a set of our own. You can check it out at the MSU library as soon as I return it and see if you guys like it. It’s nice and sturdy too, which I like. Here’s the link on Amazon (different cover now but the inside looks identical).

We stayed at a hotel for a couple of days while we were there for the recheck and had fun swimming at the pool, putting together fun gourmet (gluten free, vegetarian, etc.) hotel room meals and splurging a bit one time.

We finished off our visit by stopping by a fabulous HS family’s dairy farm to meet up in real life for the first time after us moms had known each other online for years.  It was a really special day and so much fun.  None of us could stop smiling afterwards and we can’t wait to visit again.  :)

I was too busy having fun to take any pictures but I think Toria and Anna got a few.  I snagged this from my friend’s FB feed of one of their new babies.  I love the fact that every single one of the 90+ cows has a name (Vanessa, Molly, Avery….) and that they are treated so lovingly (Avery steals peanut butter cups).  We learned so much, too!  And we just plain adored their family.  :)

In other news, someone made these beautiful flint-knapped driftglass arrowheads for our family.  Daryl struck up a conversation with the artist a few years ago as Daryl was looking for sharks’ teeth at a small local lake and this man was looking for arrowheads.  They’ve networked a bit since then (the “primitive tech” community is a small and friendly one!), and my sweetie offered him some big chunks of good flintknapping rock that we had sitting unused in our garage.  In thanks, he made these for all of us.  Aren’t they beautiful?!

We’re also working on our seeds, readying the garden and so much more.  Poor Fiona has been in and out of doctor’s offices and ERs the past week (she’s okay) and so much else is going on, but that’s a good bit for the first catch-up!

Oh yes, and we’re in the middle of some crazy winter storm that’s got people all around us without power and everything is covered with ice.  Trees and power lines are broken left and right, and there’s some pretty dire situations all around.

Hopefully all of that will pass quickly.  Minnesota winters are a bit like movie bad guys.  Every time you think they’re finally dead, they grab your ankle and come after you one more time.  ;)   I’m just pretending it’s green out there and going on with my garden planning.

Hopefully it will be less than a month till the next check in!

An Afternoon at Nancy’s Farm

My oven thinks I ought to be more sociable.

Well, it ended up making me more sociable anyway, by blowing up on Saturday after I’d assembled one double batch apple crisp and tried to bake it. The element was kaput, which meant I needed to go be sociable with someone with an oven. Nancy has an oven! And she’s fun! So Sunday we played at Nancy’s.

Here’s some pics…

This is Logan.  He’s been friends with Anna since he was one year old.  He calls her on the phone about 85 times a day and they talk until the phone battery dies.

Jack didn’t think it was right at all that Logan just wanted to play pirates with Anna and not him, and that he lets Anna boss him around all she likes but he doesn’t want Jack to boss him around.  So he acted rotten for a while and then hung around with Miles.  Yes, he wore one knit glove.  He’s like that.

Alex just hung around with the cats.

He also avoided the birds, especially the peacocks since they like to sneak up behind him and scream.  It’s actually really funny.  Poor boy.  :)   He does a mean peacock impersonation now, but they still give him the heebie-jeebies.

Okay, this isn’t a peacock, but I think it’s a quite impressive turkey and I thought he looked kind of picturesque against the laundry and the barbecue grill.

He has a good life.  Nancy is a vegetarian.

We also ate homemade Mississippi Mud Pie with fresh whipped cream and homemade fudge sauce, but there are no pictures because I was busy gobbling it up.

I love Nancy’s farm.  I’m still mad at my oven, but it was a really fun day.

PS  The oven is fixed and Daryl and the kids picked, peeled and sliced 20 more cups of apples.  There will be more apple crisp tomorrow.  Stop by!  :)