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.  :)

Another Nebraska Getaway

We were lucky enough to get to spend another week at the fabulous Baker house in Nebraska last week, and it was a wonderful break.

The original plan was for me to go down with just Fiona and Anna since Daryl and the boys have pageant practice, but Alex missed me so badly that Daryl brought him and Jack down to join us a couple of days later.

Tiffany is doing day care out of her home now, and it was fun getting to help out.  Most of her day care kids are around toddler and preschool age, so they were great fun for Fiona to play with.

There was lots of painting, lots of messes and lots of chaos (though still less than there generally is in my house with just my kids!).  :)

The big kids even joined in the day care fun on some days!

The theme for the week was dinos, and we did all sorts of dino-related fun such as……

  • Drawing the length of an apatosaurus on the sidewalk and marking its stride, and then seeing how long the kids’ stride was in comparison.
  • Having dino snacks (carrot sticks carved like dino teeth, hard boiled eggs, etc.).
  • Reading dino books.
  • Singing a dino song each day about herbivores, carnivores and omnivores (we considered it a great success when Kennedy was overheard singing “carni, carni, carnivore….” on Friday).
  • Cutting out life-sized T-rex feet and putting them on the dining room wall at the proper spacing for how far apart their footsteps were (it took up the whole wall!).
  • And so on!

I’ll try to post some examples after I download the pics from my camera.

I’m inspired to do some themes around here each week now, even for the bigger kids.  Some of the ideas I have are seeds, space, fire, continents, oceans, mammals, fish, birds, invertebrates, amphibians, weather, the periodic table, colors and senses.  I am thinking of having a different general theme each week, and maybe doing lots of science themes too — magnets, electricity, evolution, etc.

As always, Tiffany’s house has inspired me to try even harder to get organized too.  Hope springs eternal.  ;)

 

 

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….

Gearing Up for Pageant Time

It’s that time of year again.

Opening night for the Wilder Pageant is in two days.

The next three weeks will be crazy.

  • Most of my family will be at the pageant every Thursday, Friday and Saturday night until after 1 a.m.
  • Every evening there will be the frantic search for clean costumes from the dryer, missing shoes, bonnets, etc.
  • My kids will walk around during the day with smudged black “fishtails” around their eyes from stage makeup.
  • Thousands of people will be filling the hillside by the banks of Plum Creek in Walnut Grove to watch the show every weekend.
  • For two hours each performance night, the stage area will be transformed with real fires, horse drawn wagons, a grasshopper plague, singing, dancing and drama under the stars.
  • My cast members will bring Sharpies every night to sign programs, t-shirts and the occasional car (!) after performances.
  • My kiddos will fall asleep exhausted within minutes of getting home in the wee hours, and sleep late.
  • Our lives will be transformed in the frantic, exciting, magical annual passage back to the past.

This will be Anna’s 9th year in the pageant and Daryl’s 8th.  Victoria is sitting out this summer, after doing it every year starting when she was six.  This is Jack’s 2nd or 3rd year and Alex’s very first.

Click here or here or here or here or here or here or here or here or here or especially here if you want to see pictures or read accounts of some magical memories from earlier years in the pageant.

Let the exhaustion begin.  :)

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?  :)

 

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.

 

 

Pageant Pics!

At long last, here’s a billion or so pictures of the Wilder Pageant from last weekend.  I think the average attendance was around 1,100 people and I don’t think there were any nights with less than a thousand people in the audience!

All of us back stage before the show, with Daryl’s mom

Victoria with two friends from the cast before the show

A crowd starting to form!

Grandma and Grandpa with the boys (Jack made friends with the lady in the orange shirt and talked her ear off!)

Two fisted snacking!  This is Alex’s favorite part of the pageant — lots of cheap goodies from the concession stand!  The lollipop was his.  The push-up pop he stole from Grandma!

The opening scene, as “Old Laura” starts to tell us her tale, we meet the townspeople and the Ingalls Family arrives on the banks of Plum Creek

The Ingalls meet their neighbors (my “sweet” Anna Nelson is in the foreground to the right and has Laura’s beloved doll Charlotte)

Anna plays with Charlotte while the neighbors talk

When Laura takes Charlotte back, Anna wails loudly and Ma makes Laura give her beloved doll to her.  When the grownups aren’t looking, she gleefully jumps up and down on Charlotte!  That’s my girl!  ;)

The Nelson kids at the Kennedy house (Anna is in the middle) as they prepare for Reverend Alden’s arrival

We meet the Reverend (Daryl) as he makes a joke and leads a prayer

In one of the more impressive scenes, the town builds a church!  It’s constructed as we watch, with some narration and music in the background during this very quick process.

More walls go up, as Mrs. Oleson strolls by

(gratuitous horse and wagon scene!)

Finally done, with the cross on top!

Later, the church is turned around and used as the schoolhouse

Reverend Alden drops by the school and Willie forgets his bible verses (Victoria is in the purple/burgandy in the front row.. I miss getting pictures of her big scenes while toddler wrangling)

The exciting fire scene (there is a gas pipe along the ground on the set and there is a line of real flames that Ma, the girls and Mr. Nelson beat at to save the house and land!)

The kids dancing at the social

Curtain call, where we find out what happened to the characters afterwards (including the accident that claimed Willie’s eyesight!)

The audience meets the cast and mulls around the set afterwards

Alex finds Daddy

Jack explores “Plum Creek” with some other small audience members (the real Plum Creek is much larger but nearby)

Grandma presenting flowers to Annalee

Grandpa presenting flowers to Victoria

Victoria signing an autograph

Annalee with one of her best pageant friends

Victoria with one of her best pageant friends (who played Laura)

Boys being boys  :)

We’ve all survived another pageant year!

Celebrating at home, our tradition of running through the streets on the final night with the girls still in costume

Looking up at the sky at the end of the night, looking for more shooting stars (we spotted two!) with my own shining stars  :)

 

 

Thanks to Victoria

That was the headline in the Marshall Independent last week, talking about our girl!

WALNUT GROVE – A curious 10-year-old girl helped to fill the park at Walnut Grove on Saturday to hear twin sisters Lindsay and Sidney Greenbush talk about their days as the Carrie character on the TV series “Little House on the Prairie.” …

marshall-072108.jpg

 

The whole article is here (minus the photos that ran in the paper). She was also mentioned on the evening news in Wisconsin, in our local paper, in the St. Paul Pioneer Press (scroll down), on Minnesota’s WCCO evening news, North Dakota’s KXMC news and countless newspaper and TV reports as the story was picked up by the Associated Press.

When the Greenbush ladies visited last Saturday, they talked about their experiences filming “Little House on the Prairie” and answered questions from the audience. At the end, Victoria was introduced and she went up on stage to ask another question. As a cast member herself (of the play now running), she wanted to know what the girls had done between their scenes. They said they liked to play backgammon and that one of the guys had installed a weight bench that they liked to use too. Afterwards, they hugged her and posed with her for the newspaper editor. They played with her braids, gave her an autographed picture and were very sweet to her.

As we were leaving the park, a woman came chasing after Victoria shouting “Pigtails! Hey Pigtails!”. A confused Victoria stopped to let her catch up. It turns out she was a reporter from Marshall and she wanted to know the whole story. We filled her in and Victoria gave her contact information. In the morning, the reporter called and asked some more questions. She was a neat woman and kept exlaiming, “That is so cool! Awesome! Wow!” as she listened to the story. ;)

Our little superstar is taking it in stride, but she is really tickled by the whole experience.

Media Night

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Tonight was media night for the Wilder Pageant, so Daryl and the girls had to be in full costume and ready to pose for newspaper photographers and such (this picture is from media night two years ago!). We did a grocery run in the afternoon and got home just in time to dash about getting everybody ready and out the door again.

My part in it went about like this….

Herd everybody in with groceries, unpack cold groceries with Victoria quickly while Anna goes potty and grabs her costume, direct Jack putting away groceries, put Daryl’s shirt in the dryer and check to see if his pants are dry enough to wear, brush Anna’s hair and help her put her pinafore on, have Victoria unbraid her hair and start brushing it, direct one kid after another to stand in the driveway and watch the sleeping baby so we can get ready without my holding him, apologize to Daryl for giving him a wet shirt to wear, throw together pistachios and dried cranberries for a snack for the car, quickly brush and part and braid Victoria’s hair since she says they’re too rough when they do it at the site, find black socks for the girls, help Daryl get his socks and shoes, button Victoria’s dress in back, tell Victoria to pause her tomagatchi and leave it at home, get the sleeping baby out of the car and the girls into the car with Daddy, blow kisses, holler “I love you” and then … breathe.

The boys and I hung out while they were off being famous. We spent our time getting covered in plums and bathing, or at least some of us did.

Approximately 30 seconds after Daryl and the girls got home, Anna and I practiced her teenaged years again. We survived. I mention it only in the spirit of full disclosure.

We finished off the night with a moonlit walk. I invited Jack to go walking with me and Victoria heard and asked him if she could come. He’s a sweetie and said sure. He asked if he could bring his lantern and I said sure, so we headed out with his little camping lantern down the quiet streets.

On our second trip around the block, Anna came running out and asked to join us. We said sure and we did another loop. We took turns holding the lantern and holding hands, talking about everything from the short story Victoria is writing with her pageant friend to Jack’s new fear of ghosts.

We finished the night watching a DVD about the hidden wonders of Hawaii. It was an IMAX movie from Netflix and was beautiful and interesting. There was a crazy botanist who paddles dangerous waters and climbs up a rock face every year to fertilize some poor plant that is becoming extinct because its natural polinators have disappeared. Who would have thought botany was so dangerous and exciting? We saw plants that looked like bad special effects, oozing lava, wild pigs and a whole lot of incredibly beautiful scenery.

Jack fell asleep cuddled up to me, no doubt dreaming of lava and wild pigs.

The day had some mayhem, some drama and some magical moments. Hopefully we’ll remember the latter most.