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  :)



A trip to 1900


Today was the Victorian lawn party at the Betsy-Tacy society and they asked if the girls could dress up in period clothes and volunteer as costumed actors to help set the mood and show the kids how to play with the period toys.





The kids played, made friends, had ice cream and lemonade…



Alex made a friend so I had to get a picture… just as his new friend kicked him in the leg!  So much for new friends!  The singing cowboy was neat though.



There was even a horse drawn carriage!



And we took a ride!

The girls sat on the back…



…While the boys rode with me.

Alex LOVED the ride, and went “clop clop” for the rest of the day talking about the horses, even though he looks miserable here!  :)



Then the kids and I went on a historic home tour.  It was so fun and interesting!


Here’s a mini tour.


House #1 had enormous burgandy velvet drapes and a “pass through” in the dining room for the cook to put the food so the company would never have to see the help!



House #2 was owned by the head of the university theater department and his wife.

They were such neat people!  They were totally kid people and they gave us lots of information about the house and where they got the stones for the floor and so on.

The man told us that his grandson calls their shower the dagger shower because it’s a European walk-in shower and if you turn it on full force it pushes you against the wall!



House #3 was the most beautiful outside and so huge and spacious.

A friend of the owner’s showed us around and apparently he rents the top floor but he is too messy to let people see that floor.  My kind of guy!

The house was once a sorority house, frat house and group home and the owner went to masses of work to restore it.  It’s huge and beautiful!  There are reading rooms and an enormous dining room and a porch you’d never get me off of.  :)



House #4 was a B&B on sale for only a little more than a half million dollars!

This is the only house I took pictures inside (with permission) since it felt intrusive in people’s homes.


The owner gave the girls a lot of background information about the house.



She explained that the fresco on the wall was done by a traveling painter who would have gone door to door painting scenes for a living.  Frescoes were painted on either wet or dry plaster.  This one is “winter” and “autumn” is in the dining room.



Sorry for the blurry pics, I had the flash off!  Here’s where breakfast is served!



The girls on their way up the stairs…



The suites…




This one is the Betsy-Tacy room!



House #5 was the most whimsical to tour!



The owner is a retired shop teacher who has traveled around the world and does welding and woodworking as a hobby.  He built on many rooms and built a garage with dormer and an amazing all-season porch that said “Live Like You’re in Heaven on Earth” on a plaque.


It felt like it inside!


He showed the girls some of his carvings and they were so intricate.




He got the kids interested in learning to wood carve and then when he saw how delighted we were with his work he gave us a tour of his yard.  It was so delightful!



It was FULL of whimsical statues he’d made like these.



The gardens were amazing and I wish I’d taken a billion more pictures but I was trying to chat and be discreet and not be too much of a tourist in the man’s yard.  :)


He even brought the girls inside his garage and was showing them how to use a lathe to carve these wonderful spindles he was making for a cabinet for a friend.



After the tour we headed down the street to Great Grandma Leuck’s house for a visit.

Doesn’t she look fabulous for 94?!



Daryl’s mom hung out with us too, but the only picture of her had her hand in front of her face.  You just have to imagine her there.  ;)   She wanted to take us out to dinner but had to go, so she slipped Daryl some cash to take ourselves.  We ended up at a Chinese buffet.


Sushi!  Victoria was in heaven.


Anna put on her kerchief and decided she was a gypsy fortune teller.  :)



All in all, it was a whimsical, magical, interesting, hot, foot blistering, friend making, historical kinda day.





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.” …



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


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.