Little Town on the Prairie



This summer Little Town on the Prairie was one of our summer reading books. Like reading Tom Sawyer in preparation for our stop in Hannibal, Missouri, this book was read in preparation for our stop in De Smet, South Dakota.

This was one the stops I was most looking forward to. I have loved the Little House books since I was a young girl and fell even more in love with the series when it was turned into a TV series starring Michael Landon. I couldn’t wait to walk the grounds that were the catalyst of much of my childhood imaginary play.

On Friday night, as the setting sun turned the prairie sky brilliant hues of pink and orange, we pulled into the Laura Ingalls Wilder Homestead.

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Located a mile or two down a dirt road just outside De Smet, South Dakota, we camped for the night at the Ingall’s Homestead. The Ingall’s Homestead offers a few lodging options including 4 RV sites, tent camping and the option of spending the night in a covered wagon. Oh, I was so tempted to book one of the covered wagon sites but just couldn’t justify the extra cost when we had our own gnome bus to sleep in.

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Our RV site was located right outside one of the historic building with front door access to the old fashioned playground.

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As we pulled into the Ingall’s Homestead and piled out of the bus the first thing we noticed was the significant drop in temperature. It felt like fall and the kids went searching for sweatshirts. This was a big change from 24 hours earlier when we were melting our way across Missouri.

Halfway across Missouri we had a mini panic attack when the generator stopped working. When we are parked at a campground we run our lights, fridge, air conditioner, and water pump off the campground electricity, but while we are traveling or camping out at a rest stop we are dependent on the generator that is strapped to the back of the bus to run our power, so the death of that generator would be a very expensive and tragic hiccup in our trip.

So you can imagine our relief and hymns of praise when we discovered that the cause of its issues was a pin hole in a rubber tube that feeds diesel to the engine. It was a simple $22.00 fix and we were back in business. God is good!

We woke the next morning to a beautiful prairie view, ate breakfast, and walked over to the visitor center to begin our tour.

The Ingalls’ Homestead is the very land that Pa filed a claim on in early 1880 and proved on in 1886. The land is now privately owned, but generously shared with the public as an attraction with a knowledgeable staff and many hands-on activities to introduce families to prairie life and homesteading.

It was here, on this land, that five of the Little House books, By the Shores of Silver Lake, The Long Winter, Little Town on the Prairie, These Happy Golden Years and The First Four Years, take place.

The tour began with a short video that highlighted the history of the Ingall’s family and life on the prairie in the 1800s.

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We were then given a map of the property and encouraged to take our time, explore to our heart’s content as we worked our way from site to site around the Ingall’s Homestead. The Homestead is very kid friendly and kids are encouraged to touch, climb, and experience life on the prairie with the interactive exhibits.

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We began our day at the lookout tower that allows you to climb high above the Homestead for a glimpse of Pa’s 160 acres of homestead land.

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After getting an overview of the property we began working our way from building to building.

The first stop was to see a Dugout and a Shanty.

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The Shanty, though small and cramped, was definitely the more appealing housing option when compared to the Dugout.

Although you could see why a Dugout was the necessary choice for so many settlers:

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From there we worked our way to the well. Water was the key to survival on the prairie and a good, reliable well with a steady stream of fresh cold water was a blessing of immeasurable worth.

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Next we headed to the hayroof barn.

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Here in the hayroof barn we spent almost an hour. The kids walked in and discovered a litter of kittens and a baby cow who call the haybarn home. They settled in the hay with kittens in their arms and had a wonderful time. The smell of fresh hay, the meowing of kittens, and the smiles on my children’s faces were a great reminder that the simplest moments often bring the most joy.

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From there we moved on to Ma’s little house.

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Although not the original, it has been rebuilt to the exact specifications of the original.

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This was the largest home they had lived in up to that point.

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The house originally looked like this:

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Then in later years an additional bedroom was added and finally the organ room.

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In the organ room (which was their living room) there was a braille display where the kids could learn to read braille like Mary.


Here at Ma’s little house the kids were able to participate in experiences  of daily living on the Homestead.

The kids got a kick out of washing, ringing and hanging laundry. Monday was Ma’s laundry day and it was a full day’s work.

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Rusty hanging the laundry while Ozzie mows the grass in the background.

Then it was time for school. The kids were lucky enough to get a wagon ride to the one room school house. Most children, like Laura and Carrie, would have walked to school daily. Local school houses were erected every three miles so that no child would have more than a three mile walk to school.

We climbed on the wagon and the kids were each given an opportunity to drive the team of horses.

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Grace driving. You can see the schoolhouse in the distance.

When we arrived we were greeted by the teacher ringing the bell to announce the start of school.

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This school house is an original 1880s school house, although not one of the three local schools that Laura taught at. The inside was filled with the original black boards and desks.

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 When we entered the kids were dressed in period clothing and asked to take their seats.

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The teacher then led the kids through a typical school day, sharing with them how a day would play out, what would be expected, and even taught them a lesson that Laura may have taught in her classroom.

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She talked about how the classroom was kept warm, what chores the children would have had assigned to them each day (like bringing in buckets of water from the neighbor’s well and feeding the pot belly stove during the winter months) It was fascinating and informative and a whole lot of fun!

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Ozzie was asked to come up to the front and read out loud to the class from the fourth grade primer.

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 He read aloud the following riddle. Can you figure it out?

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Rusty guessed it. The answer: An egg.

Then the bell was rung and the students were dismissed. Back at the barn the kids had the opportunity to ride a horse. This was a new experience for some of them.

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We all fell in love with this one month old foal. His momma was tied up but he had free reign of the farmyard. It was delightful to watch him run, and jump and kick up his legs in youthful enthusiasm.

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Like most kids this little fellow plays hard and then sleeps hard!

In one of the out buildings we learned how to make hay twists. During the Long Winter, Pa and his family couldn’t get any coal so he and Laura had to sit out on the porch making hay twists… 300 a day to burn instead! Sometimes Pa’s hand hurt so bad he couldn’t play the fiddle.

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While at the Ingall’s Homestead we also had the opportunity to do some hand crafts. In one of the out buildings the kids were able to make a few pioneer toys to take home as souvenirs from their day. They began by making corn cob dolls like the one Laura played with as a young girl.

First they ran the corn through the corn sheller to strip the cobs of the dried kernels and then they were able to pick the fabric and string needed to transform the cob into a doll.

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They also were able to make their own jump ropes.

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To weave the jump ropes one would sit on the seat of the machine and turn the crank while someone else, (usually Toby since he was strong enough to pull back against the machine) would hold the other end of the ropes while they weaved into a jump rope.

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It was so neat!

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The kids loved the experience as well as the fact that they were able to leave with some really cool mementoes of their day at the Ingall’s Homestead!

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From the Laura Ingalls Wilder Homestead we drove over to the De Smet cemetery.


Here can be found the resting places of Pa, Ma, Mary and Carrie.



It was a delightful day. As a little girl I fell in love with Laura and the Ingall’s family and longed to step into her world and live her life. Today I had that opportunity, if just for a moment, and it was just as magical as I dreamt it would be.


Next stop: The Corn Palace.

On the Road


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We are five days into our journey and we now have a routine that drives our days. Here is just a quick peek into the blueprint of daily bus life…life that is happening when we aren’t site seeing.

Our days begin between 7:00-8:00 am when everyone begins to stir. Actually if we are being honest our day begins when Tyler opens his eyes, because when Tyler wakes up no one can sleep! He always wakes with a joyful noise!

The first task is making beds and converting the futon back into a coach so we have walking room in the bus. Then everyone takes turns in the bathroom or in our bedroom getting dressed. We pick our color for the day and everyone grabs the corresponding rolled outfit from their bucket.

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We attached a small mirror to the bedroom wall to create another area where hair and make-up can be done so as to help cut down on bathroom congestion.

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Once dressed everyone has a chore they must get done before they can have breakfast. Just like at home everyone takes ownership and responsibility in keeping our home clean. Each child has been given a daily cleaning task that is theirs for the duration of the road trip.

Grace is in charge of making the bunk beds.

Rusty is in charge of empting all the trash cans and taking the trash the dumpster.

Molly ties open the curtains that were closed for the night and windexes the finger prints off the door.

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Ozzie Clorox wipes the bathroom sink and swishes the toilet clean.

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And Tyler shakes out the mats and sweeps the bus.

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While this is all going on I put dinner in the crock pot and lay out breakfast for the day.

Then everyone gets their breakfast and we are on the road. This morning routine takes us about 30 minutes and we try to be on the road by 8:30 each morning.

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While we travel we do school. Because we are traveling during the school year the kids all have assignments that need to be completed daily. This means that we need to use road time as school time. The time of day that happens depends on what traveling and site seeing we have scheduled for the day.

The bus gets very quiet during school time. The highschoolers log on to their school and start working on lessons. The girls usually set themselves up on the coach, while Rusty likes to lay in his bed.

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Ozzie does his work seated in his seat,

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and Tyler and I go to the back of the bus and lay on my bed. By closing the door we are able to block out the noise and do school without too many distractions.

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When Tyler is done with his worksheets and online lessons he is free to go play and I then work with the other kids who need my help.

Tyler can often be found pedaling his way across America while visiting with Daddy in the front seat. Before we left our therapist, Miss Tina, lent us her under desk bicycle. It is a neat contraption that allows those who sit at a desk all day to get some exercise. She thought it would be a great outlet for Tyler’s energy when he is stuck on the bus for long stretches. It has been a great tool. He likes the fact that it is recording how many miles he is pedaling as we travel cross country!

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In addition to using the bike to help Tyler with his excess ADHD energy we also make a point of stopping at rest stops a few times a day do that he can run and toss a ball for 15 minutes before we are back on the road.

Yesterday we also made a stop at the grocery store for our once a week grocery shopping. Because I don’t have the kitchen cabinet space or fridge space to store more than a week’s worth of food for a family of seven, we need to shop once a week. We look at our itinerary for the week and pick the day that is most open or a travel day to stop and shop.

This time we stopped at a Walmart in Nebraska.

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We knew we were in a different area of the country when we saw bison in the meat cooler.

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Then we put the groceries away and were on the road again!

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We drive until dinner time or until we reach our next stop. On Thursday night we were driving our long 9 hour stretch from Hannibal, Missouri to De Smet, South Dakota so rather than booking a campground we opted to spend the night at a truck stop.

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While I fixed dinner the kids played Frisbee in the grass and then we enjoyed a spaghetti picnic dinner. For a treat we let each of the kids pick a soda from the vending machine to have with dinner.

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Molly volunteered to do dinner dishes and Tyler kept her company as he colored in the kitchen.

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In the evenings we pull the curtains closed, put on PJs, play a board game or watch a movie as a family before having evening devotionals and family prayer.

As part of our evening routine everyone records their top three moments or experiences of the day on index cards that will be added to the vacation scrapbook so that they will be able to read their own account of this trip, years down the road, and remember the experiences they had.

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Then it is time for bed. The boys climb into their bunks and the girls settle into their bed.

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Winter Quarters, Nebraska



After four hours of travel from Hannibal, Missouri toward De Smet, South Dakota we found ourselves in Council Bluffs, Iowa. This was an significant stop on the Mormon pioneers westward trek.

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We arrived early, before the visitor center opened and let Tyler burn off some energy, before we asked him to be still and reverent for the next hour, with a game of football in the parking lot.

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When the senior missionaries assigned to this historical site arrived they walked us through the history of this site:

“In the Kanesville Tabernacle, built by 200 pioneers in just two and a half weeks, Brigham Young was sustained as the second president of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. The present log tabernacle is a replica of the original meeting hall. The tabernacle now serves as a visitors’ center, where you can learn more about the epic history of the Latter-day Saints’ migration westward.”

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The sod fireplace was very cool. The original sod fireplace would have stretched across the entire wall of the building. It was neat touching the sod and getting a feel for what living in a sod home would have been like. I can’t imagine how they would have kept things clean.


The kids were even invited to play the 150 year old organ. Linda Neeley, you would have been proud!

Then we drove 15 minutes away, across the Missouri River, to Winter Quarters in Omaha, .Nebraska.

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“Winter Quarters encompassed the area of North Omaha near State and 33rd Streets. Historic sites include the Mormon Pioneer Memorial Bridge, Florence Mill, Florence Park, Mormon Pioneer Cemetery, Cutler’s Park, and the first Mormon pioneer camp after leaving Winter Quarters. A major interpretive center was built by the L.D.S. Church at Winter Quarters Historical Site in 1997.

Witness glimpses of the great “Mormon Migration” as you walk beside a covered wagon, pull a handcart, climb in the bunks on a steam ship, and imagine a railroad journey. Exhibits also explore the expulsion from Nauvoo, the crossing of Iowa, and temporary settlements in the Middle Missouri Valley, including Winter Quarters, where the center is located.”

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Parked across from Winter Quarters Temple

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Winter Quarters Complex – Omaha, Nebraska

“Built on Indian land with permission from the U.S. Army, Winter Quarters served as the main settlement of the Mormons on the Missouri River until they moved the fitting-out site to Kanesville in Iowa.”

“The winter of 1846-47 was devastating, and with inadequate shelter and food they died by the hundreds of malaria, scurvy, dysentery, and a host of other unidentified ailments. Louisa Barnes Pratt recalled in her memoirs, “I hired a man to build me a sod cave. He took turf from the earth, laid it up, covered it with willow brush and sods. Built a chimney of the same. . . . I paid a five dollar gold piece for building my sod house, 10 x 12. . . . A long cold rain storm brought more severely again the chills and fever. These with scurvy made me helpless indeed! . . . Many of my friends sickened and died in that place, when I was not able to leave my room, could not go to their bedside to administer comfort to them in the last trying hours, not even to bid them farewell. Neither could I go to see their remains carried to their final resting place where it was thought I would shortly have to be conveyed.”

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As we walked around the visitor center we really got a feel for the stories and sacrifices made by those who found themselves wintering over in Western Iowa and eastern Nebraska. Their losses were great but their faith was even greater.

December 1846- Diary of Lucy Meserve Smith

“We moved down to Winter Quarters when my babe was two weeks old. There we lived in a cloth tent until December, then we moved into a log cabin, ten feet square with sod roof, chimney and only the soft ground for a floor and poor worn cattle beef and corn cracked on a hand mill, for our food. Here I got scurvy, not having any vegetables to eat. I got so low I had to wean my baby and he had to be fed on that coarse cracked corn bread when he was only five months old. We had no milk for a while till we could send to the herd and then he did very well till I got better. My husband took me in his arms and held me till my bed was made nearly every day for nine weeks. I could not move an inch. Then on the 9th of February I was 30 years old. I had nothing to eat but a little corn meal gruel. I told the folks I would remember my birthday dinner when I was 30 years old. My dear baby used to cry till It seemed as tho I would jump off my bed when it came night. I would get so nervous, but I could not even speak to him. I was so helpless I could not move myself in bed or speak out loud. . . . When I got better I had not a morsel in the house I could eat, as my mouth was so sore. I could not eat corn bread and I have cried hours for a morsel to put in my mouth. Then my companion would take a plate and go around among the neighbors and find some one cooking maybe a calf’s pluck. He would beg a bit to keep me from starving. I would taste it and then I would say oh do feed my baby. My appetite would leave me when I would think of my dear child. My stomach was hardening from the want of food.

The next July my darling boy took sick and on the 22nd, the same day that his father and Orson Pratt came into the valley of the great Salt lake my only child died. I felt so overcome in my feelings. I was afraid I would loose my mind, as I had not fully recovered from my sickness the previous winter” (“Original Historical Narrative of Lucy Meserve Smith: 14 Aug. 1884–1889)”

I can’t imagine packing up my family and heading to an unknown land with minimal provision, propelled forward only by a hope of a better life and a faith in God.

In the visitor’s center there was a display showing the provisions allowed for each wagon headed west. These are the provisions for a family of 5. Handcart pioneers were more limited in the weight they could pack because of the fact they would be pulling their carts across the country without the help of oxen.

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The boys got to try out their Tetris skills as they attempted to get all their supplies to fit in the toy wagon.

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On one display we were able to see the means used to track the pioneer’s mileage west. By tying a rag to the wagon wheel, and by measuring the size of the wheel, one person was assigned the task of counting each rotation of the rag, recording the daily number, and calculating  the mileage for the day. Can you imagine having that job?!

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We left with a better appreciation for our pioneer heritage and gratitude that we are trekking west in an air conditioned bus with running water rather than a handcart!

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Mark Twain’s boyhood home


“Twenty years from now you will be more disappointed by the things you didn’t do than by the ones you did do. So throw off the bowlines. Sail away from the safe harbor. Catch the trade winds in your sails. Explore, Dream, Discover” – Mark Twain

This morning we found ourselves in the charming, riverside town of Hannibal, Missouri, home of the beloved author, Samuel Clemens, better known by his pen name of Mark Twain..

Knowing that a stop in Mark Twain’s hometown was on our itinerary we decided to add The Adventures of Tom Sawyer to our summer reading list. Every morning, while the kids ate breakfast, I would read a couple chapters from the book. I knew the older four kids would enjoy  The Adventures of Tom Sawyer. A few had already read Adventures of Huckleberry Finn and liked it. I was surprised, however, how much Tyler liked it. He found Tom to be a hoot and very relatable, commenting often, “He is just like me!” (I don’t know if that is a good thing, but I had to agree!)😉

After reading The Adventures of Tom Sawyer all the kids were excited for this stop.

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We found parking at the riverfront and walked across the street to the Mark Twain Visitor Center.

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There we purchased our tickets and began our tour. The admission tickets include entrance into the Huckleberry Finn House, Mark Twain’s boyhood home, the Becky Thatcher House, J.M. Clemens Justice of the Peace Office, and the Mark Twain Museum, all of which were located within a block radius.

The tour began in the interpretive center where we walked through a timeline of Mark Twain’s life. Many of the displays were narrated with Twain’s own words from his autobiography, printed on the walls.

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As we walked through the building reading the story of his life, penned by his own hand, we were blown away by his gift with words and for story telling. He truly was an artist and words were his medium.

Next stop was Huckleberry Finn’s House. This was a replica of the childhood home of Tom Blankenship, a childhood friend of Twain’s from which he based the character of Huck Finn.

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It was fascinating as we moved through the various exhibits and read the stories of his life in Hannibal, Missouri because we could see that so many of his beloved fictional characters were reflective of the people of his childhood.

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The next stop was Mark Twain’s boyhood home.

It was fascinating to walk through the home that served as a catalyst for so many of his stories.

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Outside the home was the infamous white washed fence that Tom Sawyer tricked the neighborhood boys into painting for him when he was sent out to paint it as punishment. Tyler, who loved that particular part of the book was eager to recreate the scene. Identifying with Tom, Tyler played that role and assigned Ozzie the role of gullible school chum. Unlike Tom Sawyers friends, however, Tyler couldn’t talk Ozzie into taking on the task of white washing the entire fence.

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From the cobblestone square outside Mark Train’s home we faced Becky Thatcher’s House and J.M. Clemens Justice of the Peace Office.

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We then walked a block along the Mississippi River to the Mark Twain Museum. We were charmed by downtown Hannibal and the girls had fun poking their noses into cute little shops.

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The Mark Twain Museum was wonderful. The downstairs was comprised of vignettes taken from five of his books.

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In the Adventures of Tom Sawyer vignette  they had the famous white washed fence with boxes that lit up revealing the treasures turned over by Tom’s friends for the privilege of being allowed to white wash his fence.

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Tyler was thrilled to see that his favorite payment collected by Tom was represented:

The rat who was tied to a string.

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Other scenes included Huck’s raft where the kids could sit and watch the old black and white version of the movie, Adventures of Huckleberry Finn,

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and the castle from A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court, one of my favorite Twain books.

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Upstairs there was a replica of a Mississippi River steamboat. Here the kids could try their hand at the wheel and blow the steam whistle.

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We were very impressed with the museum and enjoyed visiting with the staff, all of whom were retired school teachers that volunteer there part time.

As we walked back to the bus we decided to take a detour down to the river where replicas of the Nina and Pinta were on display for the public.

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These are moving “museums” that travel up and down the rivers of America, docking in various cities, so that the public can experience what life would have been like for those who set sail for a new world with Christopher Columbus in 1492.

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We didn’t go aboard since we had toured them last fall when they were docked in Pittsburgh, but it was fun to see them again, even if just from the shoreline.

Then it was back in the car for the nine hour drive to De Smet, South Dakota.

We spent the day with Twain…

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Next stop will be spent with another one of our favorite authors…

Laura Ingalls Wilder!

The St. Louis Arch


We couldn’t have asked for a better day than the one we had at the City Museum. We stayed until closing, which on Tuesday was 5:00 pm. As we walked back to the Metro station we made an impromptu decision to head over to the St. Louis Arch. Everyone was still holding up well and rather than go through the process of taking the Metro back into the city the following day we decided to go ahead and stay in the city later than planned and visit the St. Louis Arch a day early.

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We got back on the Metro where we met a kind young man who filled us in on all the must see stops of his city. He also guided us through the process of getting to the Arch via the Metro.

When we stepped off the Metro we knew he hadn’t steered us wrong:

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There was a lot of excited and nervous energy as we walked toward the Arch. Everyone was excited to see it up close but some were less excited to travel up inside. Before we left on our vacation I worked with Molly and Ozzie (my two that were most scared to go up inside the Arch) to prepare them with what to expect. We watched YouTube videos of the experience so that they could see exactly what would happen. I told them I would stay on the ground with anyone that didn’t want to go up. (I was not too thrilled with the prospect of climbing into a little capsule and riding 630 feet into the air.) As we approached the Arch I could see that both were facing an internal battle with their own fears, not wanting to miss out on this cool experience but both shaking in their boots.

Because of renovations currently taking place on the grounds of the Arch you now have to go over to the old justice building to purchase your tickets to the top.

Inside there was a sample capsule that guests could try out prior to making a decision about riding up to the top of the Arch. It was such a helpful tool. Everyone was able to get a feel for whether the experience was beyond their comfort zone BEFORE getting locked into the capsule for the 3 ½ minute ride up. After sitting in the test capsule both Ozzie and Molly decided to go for it, which meant I was going up too…Eek!

They were nervous, but both felt they would regret it the rest of their lives if they didn’t try.

Testing out the test capsule also gave me a chance to snap a picture of them all together in the capsule since we would have to ride up in two separate groups.

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As we waited for Toby to purchase tickets we wandered into the domed center of the justice building. There the kids were educated by a wonderful park ranger about the history of the building. She had them each take a turn standing in the exact center of the dome where they got to experience the cool phenomenon of acoustics and amplification. She explained that in years past, before the use of microphones, politicians would give speeches in that very spot. Because of the amplifying effect of the architecture thousands of onlookers positioned around the balconies would be able to hear the speech.

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I was amazed! The effect was incredible. It truly did sound like I was speaking through a microphone as my voice amplified through the domed room…so cool!

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As we walked through the back doors of the justice building we were greeted by this amazing site:

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We then headed over to the Arch for our 6:30 pm tour. The crowds were low, due in large part to it being a Tuesday and because so many kids are back in school. Just a month ago we were told the lines to get up to the top were 3 hours long. We are SO glad we decided to postpone our trip until fall.

As we approached the Arch we were astounded by the sheer size and visual impact. As you drive by and view it from a distance you really don’t get an accurate feel for how large and magnificent it is.

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As we moved inside we went through security and then got in line for the ride to the top of the Arch.

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The capsules move like connected train cars. You are assigned a door to stand in front of and you wait for the capsules to arrive caring passengers down from the top of the Arch. Each capsule holds 5 people…very tightly, with shoulders and knees touching.

Tyler, Ozzie, Toby and I rode in one capsule and the big kids rode in another.

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The ride to the top of the Arch took 3 ½ minutes. It is a slow moving journey since it can’t go straight up and down like a traditional elevator. I was very anxious but didn’t let Ozzie in on that fact, knowing how he feeds off the energy of those around him.  So I kept things light hearted as my heart pounded in my chest.

When we arrived at the top we stepped off the tram cars and found ourselves at the top of the St. Louis Arch, looking out those tiny windows we saw from the ground.

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The top of the arch is comprised of a hallway with narrow windows you can lay and look through.

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Each of the kids wanted a picture of themselves at 630 feet, especially Molly and Ozzie who were proud of themselves for overcoming their fears and making it to the top.

As we looked out the windows of the Arch we were rewarded with stunning views of the Mississippi River and of the city. We could see for MILES!

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It was Toby who spotted our bus. I never cease to be amazed by his eagle eyes and keen sense of direction. I wouldn’t even know where to begin looking for our parked bus, but within a minute of looking he had found it. He then helped the kids find it.

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Can you see it??

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How about now??

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We were pleased to see that it was still where we left it, although at that distance we couldn’t tell if anyone had added any new” details” to our paint job. (FYI- It was just fine!)

After spending 20 minutes at the top of the Arch we got back in line for the ride down. The ride down was much quicker.

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When we arrived at the bottom we headed to the theatre to view “Journey to the Top,” a film documenting the building of the Arch.

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All I can say is, “Wow!” The movie scared me more than the ride to the top. As they played the actual footage of the workmen, cigarette in one hand and wrench in the other, hanging over the edge of the Arch hundreds of feet up, to tighten a bolt…WITH NO ROPES OR HARNESSES…I felt my limbs go numb.

For a person with an extreme fear of heights that movie is crazy!

But boy, did it give us all a more profound respect for the monument and the men who labored so diligently and dangerously for two years. I found it a miracle that no lives were lost during the construction of this National Monument.

When we finally left the Arch the sun was low in the sky and the St. Louis Arch was bathed in lights. What a stunning symbol of American ingenuity and pioneering spirit.

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 Next Stop: Hannibal, Missouri!



A birthday celebration at the St. Louis City Museum


Tyler is now 10 which means we are now in that six week season when all my kids are evenly spaced out two years apart…18 years old, 16 years old, 14 years old, 12 years old, and 10 years old. This will only last until the beginning of October when Rusty will roll over into an uneven birthday number by turning 15.

We arrived at our first campground on Monday night. We were staying at Granite City KOA, 20 minutes outside St. Louis. We arrived early enough to enjoy some of the amenities the campground offered, including a swimming pool,

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and a jumping pillow which was conveniently located right next to our campsite. It was wonderful being able to send the little boys over to play while I put out the makings for taco night.

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It was an early night. Everyone was tired from driving all day and we wanted to make sure all were well rested before our jaunt into St. Louis the following day for Tyler’s birthday.

In our house it is tradition to wake the birthday kid up to the “Happy Birthday” song and a candle lit cupcake. This morning it was Tyler who did the waking up. I think the excitement of the day was too much for him so the family woke to the banging of cupboard doors and gleeful shouts.

When he saw us roll from bed he quickly dove for his bunk to get in position for his birthday song.

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For breakfast he requested pancakes. We enjoyed a birthday breakfast at the picnic table outside and then let him open his gifts, knowing we would be gone all day. Each of the kids  either made or bought Tyler a surprise with their own money. The gifts were all pre-wrapped and hidden under our bed before leaving on the trip.

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From Mom and Dad Tyler received wheelies that strap to his shoes…a perfect gift for an ADHD kid who can’t take his bike on the bus trip!


Grace made Tyler a backpack for the trip. She took a used stuffed animal and upcycled it and repurposed it into a backpack by removing the stuffing, adding a liner, and sewing straps to go over his shoulders. I was so impressed and her upcycling project was a perfect lead-in to our day at the St. Louis City Museum, an entire museum created from repurposed materials.

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After talking to the KOA hosts we realized taking the bus into downtown St. Louis could be a challenge so we decided to follow their counsel and head to the nearest Metro station. Upon arrival there was a bit of concern that perhaps we would arrive back to the bus to find additional “decorations” and perhaps a few creative words decorating the outside of it. We were parked in a very “colorful” area of St. Louis!

The kids were thrilled with the adventure of riding the metro into the city. The entire experience, from the acquiring of tickets from the machines, to the drunken homeless man sleeping on the sidewalk were new experiences for my country mice.

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Once we arrived in St. Louis we began our walk to the City Museum. The kids got excited when we caught out first glimpse of the St. Louis Arch. We paused for a picture and then the skies opened up and we were quickly soaked to the skin by the unexpected shower.

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As we walked along we had many comments about our outfits. (Hint: “Go Cardinals!”) It was red day. We all dressed in the same color to help me easily keep track of everyone. Little did we know that when I chose the color red most of St. Louis would be wearing the same color. Finding my family in the crowd only became more challenging when we found ourselves in a crowd of Cardinals fans headed to a game at the ball park!🙂

Visiting the City Museum was a last minute decision. I was looking for something that Tyler would enjoy for his birthday while we were in St. Louis. I happened across an article online about the city museum and as soon as I began reading about this unusual place I knew we must go!

Here is a little history of the City Museum found on WIki:

“City Museum is a play house museum, consisting largely of repurposed architectural and industrial objects, housed in the former International Shoe building.

Popular among residents and tourists, the museum bills itself as an “eclectic mixture of children’s playground, funhouse, surrealistic pavilion, and architectural marvel.” Visitors are encouraged to touch, climb on, and play in the various exhibits. “Don’t touch the art” is never commanded; although safety docents are present on each of 11 floors.

The City Museum has been named one of the “great public spaces” by the Project for Public Spaces and has won other local and international awards as a must-see destination.

City Museum was founded by artist Bob Cassilly and his then-wife Gail Cassilly. The museum’s building was once an International Shoe Company factory and warehouse but was mostly vacant when the Cassillys bought it in 1983. Construction began in January 1995.

The City Museum opened to the public on October 25, 1997. Within two years, it was drawing 300,000 visitors a year.

The museum has since expanded, adding new exhibits such as MonstroCity in 2002, Enchanted Caves and Shoe Shaft in 2003, and World Aquarium in 2004.

Cassily remained the museum’s artistic director until his death in 2011.

A circus ring on the third floor offers daily live acts. The City Museum also houses The Shoelace Factory, whose antique braiding machines makes colorful shoelaces for sale.”

Although we had viewed photos online they did little justice to the place. It was AWESOME!

The entire building is one magnificent piece of art, all intended to be touched, climbed on, explored and experienced. In a world of helicopter parenting and “Do not touch” signs this “Mr. Magorium’s Wonder Emporium” encourages exploration and imagination.

They make a point of not giving out maps to the museum and instead encourage you to simply explore.

Behind every corner was a tunnel entrance or the start of another adventure. For Tyler it was heaven on earth, although  ALL enjoyed it!

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The museum, which is housed in an old shoe factory, is comprised of multiple floors of adventures, each with its own theme:

First Floor:

“The original part of the museum, the first floor is home to a life-size Bowhead Whale that guests can walk through and view a large fish tank from the mezzanine or the always popular “Puking Pig.” Also on the first floor, are a number of tunnels that run across the ceiling, hiding above a sea of fiberglass insulation cut to give the impression of icicles. To get into these, one can climb up a Slinky, which is an old refrigerating coil (donated by Anheuser-Busch), or through a tree house which leads into a giant hollowed out tree that leads to a cabin on the other side of the floor. The floor itself is covered with the largest continuous mosaic piece in the US, which then morph their way up columns, consuming every section of this floor. In one area is a tunnel known as the “Underground Whaleway” which runs beneath the floor and into the “Original Caves.”

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Enchanted Caves and Shoe Shaft

One of the museum’s most popular attractions, the Enchanted Caves and Shoe Shafts run through the center of the Museum, and go all the way to the 10th floor. Opened in 2003, the Caves are an elaborate cave system hand-sculpted by Bob Cassilly and his crew. From every direction, a different creature is staring back. Since 2007, the Caves have also held a 1924 Wurlitzer Pipe Organ from the Rivoli Theater in New York City.

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The Shoe Shafts were developed from structures built for the International Shoe distribution operation. To get the shoes from various floors to the loading dock, staff would place the shoes on spiral shafts. The Shafts opened in 2003 with one three-story spiral slide, and five years later added a ten-story slide that starts at the roof and goes down to the Caves’ entrance. There is also a five-story slide.”


Rusty riding the 5 story slide.


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Look how magical! The combination of the Wurlitzer organ playing and the Hogwarts-like scenery of the old shoe factory gave me chills:

(Sorry about the video being sideways!)

Second Floor:

“The Vault Room contains two 3,000-pound vault doors built in mid-19th-century St. Louis and installed in a bank in Chicago, Illinois.”


The middle of the room highlights the “hamster wheel.”

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Shoelace Factory

The Shoelace Factory has shoelace machines from the 1890s. Visitors can order custom-made laces”


The shoe lace machine at work.


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Gracie purchased a handmade pair of shoelaces as a souvenir.


3rd floor

“The 3rd Floor is home to a number of attractions. In one area is Skate Park. There are ramps you can run up and pull your self over like the Warped Wall from the TV show Ninja Warrior, except this wall is only 12 feet tall. There is also the Everyday Circus, a circus school with students from 6 to 80+. The Everyday Circus performs daily at the museum and does private parties. Just around the corner from the Circus, is Art City where guests can try their hand at a number of different art techniques, as well as Toddler Town, a section dedicated only to those 6 and under. Beatnik Bob’s is directly across from the Circus, which features the “World’s Largest Underwear”, a collection of vintage video/pinball games, and a concessions stand. Right outside Beatnik’s is a 1/8 scale model of an Alco Train that children who are 48 inches high and under can ride around the tracks. Past Architectural Hall, the Museum’s largest rental space, is the Architectural Museum. Located here is the cross from the “Exorcist,” a collection of antique door knobs, and the Museum’s current exhibit of Elmslie and Sullivan. Off Architectural Hall, the Museum recently started to add a Natural History Section. On display are a number of insects and taxidermy items. Finally, on the 3rd Floor, the entrance to the three story slide that leads back to the first floor.”

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These “spinning top” chairs were a lot of fun.


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And outside you will find: MonstroCity!!!

Located in front of the building, MonstroCity features two Sabreliner 40 aircraft fuselages suspended high in the air, a fire engine, a castle turret, a 25-foot (7.6 m) cupola, four-foot-wide Slinkies that can be crawled through, one very high that leads to a slide, and two ball pits, one for young children and one for older ones, each pit being filled with large, rubber dodge balls.

The Cabin Inn is an early-19th-century log cabin located beneath MonstroCity. Originally the home of the son of Daniel Boone, it was owned by the Hezel family for more than a century and is now a bar and entertainment venue.

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Yes, that is a school bus hanging off the roof!


One of the MANY slides at the City Museum.


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Toby climbing through the tubes 6 stories up.

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Toby and Molly…the view from below!

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That is Molly crawling below the walkway where people are walking.

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The big kids were thrilled to find out that they weren’t too tall for this ball pit. They have missed the fun of playing in a ball pit. This ball pit was especially fun since the balls were all dodge ball sized.IMG_8075 (2)IMG_8078 (2)

The entire experience was mind-blowing…a feast for the eyes and for all the senses. The attention to detail, the creativity and artistic detail made for incredible photo opportunities, although the grandeur simply can’t be captured by a lens.

The little details made it an photographic treasure hunt as all of us stumbled across one cool shot after another.

For example, one wall was “wallpapered” with old printing press plates.

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Rusty, who is taking photography this semester, made sure he took advantage of all the abstract photo opportunities for an upcoming assignment.

We stayed until closing. We were there 7 hours and could have stayed another 7. It was definitely one of the coolest places we have EVER been. For $12.00/ person we felt we got our money’s worth 100 times over! If you ever find yourself in the St. Louis area make sure you stop by the City Museum.

You’ll be so glad you did!!

Next Stop: The St. Louis Arch.

The First Day of School



Today officially marks the first day of school for my older three kids. (The little boys begin next Monday). I now have a freshman, sophomore, and senior…Yes, this is Gracie’s LAST first day of school. *SOB*

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 It was the most unique first day of school they have ever experienced. Through the course of their school day they crossed through five states and completed first day orientation from the comfort of a bouncing bus seat.

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Today marks the first day of an epic road trip around the United States. We are in the unique position of being able to take this road trip in September because we home school our children, as well as the fact that Toby is self-employeed and can set his own vacation days.

We love being able to vacation in September and it has been our choice vacation month for years. We find the cooler temperatures and smaller crowds, due to kids being back in school, make for a less crowded, more enjoyable vacation. We have also found September a more affordable time to vacation since places often offer “off season” rates after Labor Day.

The downside of vacationing in September, however, is that when we are traveling from place to place that our “free time” isn’t actually free time since there is daily school to be done…

Although it is my belief that anything to be learned in their textbook pales in comparison to what will be learned through the hands-on experiences of touring the very places they read about in those books.

As we traveled through Ohio on our way to Missouri we decided to make a stop in Columbus to visit the Columbus Zoo. This stop has been on my “wish list” of destinations for decades after falling in love with Jack Hanna, who served as director of the Columbus Zoo from 1978-1992 and is still heavily involved there today.

I had never had the opportunity to visit the Columbus Zoo so when our travel route took us right by there we decided it was a perfect first stop on our trip.

The zoo was stunning! Far more impressive than any we have visited before. The attention to detail and the staging of different “areas of the world” were Disneyesque in their grandeur and in its ability to take you on a magical journey, reminding us a lot of Animal Kingdom.

The zoo was huge and we didn’t even make it through the entire park.

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We were so impressed with the Columbus Zoo and found out first hand  why the Columbus Zoo consistently makes the list of top 10 zoos in the USA. Here is a look into our fun, memory making stop at the Columbus Zoo and Aquarium:

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Arriving at the Columbus Zoo!

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The gorilla play area was amazing. Tyler was quite jealous of the gorillas’ playground and desperately wanted to join them.

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What hauntingly beautiful creatures!!


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Toby and Ozzie

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The kids all got a kick out of the touch pool…especially after seeing the movie “Finding Dory.”

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The manatee aquarium was so neat. The room was filled with mangroves and decorated to look like a bayou fishing dock.

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Tyler was thrilled when the Momma manatee swam up to the surface for air and he could see the baby manatee that was laying behind it.

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Manatee kisses for Molly

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Near the aquarium there was a splash pad to cool off  in. The boys loved the spitting sea creatures!

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The girls!

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Ozzie loved the kangaroos.

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“Paint me like one of your French girls.”


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And then we headed to Asia…

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Look at the reach on these two!!

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Because the zoo is so large they offer complimentary shuttle service to the far sections of the zoo.

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A napping lion🙂

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In “Africa” there was a plane the kids could climb in and pretend to fly. This was Tyler’s favorite thing at the zoo and it took forever and a day to get him out of it!

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My favorite experience of the day: Watching these two Grizzly bears. They kept “kissing” and drew quite the crowd with their PDA!

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The Africa section of the zoo was my favorite part. The attention to detail was magnificent. It truly felt as though we had been transported to the savannah.

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While the airplane was Tyler’s favorite part of the zoo, this safari truck was Ozzie’s. He LOVED pretending he was driving his way across Africa. .

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A beautiful shot by Gracie!

It was an amazing start to our trip!





“You’re off to Great Places”



We have had many family and friends ask what our finalized itinerary is. Last fall we posted our planned route but since then we have made some adjustments and added some stops along the way.

So here it is, our final draft, recognizing that this is an idealistic, best-case scenario plan. Things will be adjusted as needs arise but for those who are traveling along with us “virtually” we thought you might want to see where you are headed in the next 48 days.

Day 1: Travel to St. Louis, Missouri with a stop at the Columbus Zoo.


Day 2: Tyler’s 10th birthday! Explore the City Museum in St. Louis, Missouri


Day 3: St. Louis Arch


Day 4: Tour Hannibal, Missouri. Home of Mark Twain.


Day 5: Drive to De Smet, South Dakota

Day 6: Tour Laura Ingalls Wilder’s homestead and then on to Mitchell, South Dakota to see the Corn Palace.


Day 7: Visit 1800’s town, South Dakota.


Day 8: A stop at Wall Drug and a visit to Badlands National Park.


Day 9: Day 1 in Rapid City, South Dakota: Bear Country USA, Storybook Island, the Dinosaur Park, and a chuck wagon dinner.


Day 10: Wildlife Loop at Custer State Park to see the world’s largest free roaming buffalo herd in the morning and then a visit to a mammoth fossil dig site in the afternoon.


Day 11: Mt. Rushmore and Crazy Horse monuments.

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Day 12: Check out Devil’s Tower.


Day 13: Day 1 in Yellowstone National Park


Day 14: Day 2 in Yellowstone National Park.


Day 15: Visit Grand Tetons and go swimming at Granite Hot Springs.


Day 16: College tour of BYU Idaho.

Day 17: Visit temple square in Salt Lake City, Utah and see the Great Salt Lake.

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Day 18: College tour of BYU in Provo, Utah.


Day 19:  Travel to Yosemite National Park.

Day 20: Visit Yosemite National Park in California.


Day 21: Visit Sequoia National Park, California.


Day 22: A day swimming in the Pacific Ocean at Newport Beach, CA.


Day 23-27: Disneyland, California. This was the big surprise of the trip. The kids just found out the day before we left.🙂

Walt Disney and Mickey Mouse statue at Disneyland California. Image shot 2009. Exact date unknown.

Day 28: Las Vegas. Tour Hoover Dam.


Day 29: See the sites of Las Vegas.

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Day 30: Visit the Grand Canyon.


Day 31: Tour Zion National Park, Utah with my aunt and uncle.


Day 32: Bryce Canyon National Park, Utah.


Day 33: Arches National Park, Utah.


Day 34: Visit Mesa Verde National Park to see the cliff dwellings and stop at Four Corners monument.



Day 35: Visit Petrified Forest National Park.


Day 36: A stop in Roswell, NM while driving past on our way to Carlsbad Caverns.


Day 37: A cave tour of Carlsbad Caverns with my brother, Travis.


Day 38: Drive all day to Branson, Missouri.

Day 39: Silver Dollar City in Branson, Missouri.


Day 40: Second day in Silver Dollar City.

Day 41: Explore Branson, Missouri and tour the Titanic Museum.


Day 42: Lake of the Ozarks, Missouri and a visit to my childhood home in Waynesville, Missouri.


Day 43: Rusty’s 15th birthday. Spend the day in Marceline, Missouri, home of Rusty’s hero: Walt Disney.


Day 44and 45: Visit Mimi Joy who is serving a mission in the Independence Missouri mission.

Day 46: Visit Nauvoo, Illinois.


Day 47: Drive toward home.

Day 48: Home Sweet Home!

 We are so excited to take you along with us. If you have any pointers or suggestions about the stops we have planned we would love to hear them.

Now buckle your seat belts…

We’re off to great places!

Let the ADVENTURE begin!



Woo- hoo!!

After much dreaming, planning, working, and packing we are on the road for the trip of a lifetime.

This is a road trip that has been years in the making. It began as a seed of a dream early on in our marriage. We both have a love of travel and exploring new places and when we shared our favorite childhood vacations we both had fond memories of traveling out west.

Two of my most treasured childhood memories with my family involved two different cross country car trips to visit many of our beautiful National Parks. What made the trips magical was more than just the amazing places we visited, it was the concentrated, quality, family time. For those few weeks we were away from the distractions of friends, activities, work and household chores, and we were able to connect as a family in a way that is hard when at home.

We sang along to the radio, played travel games, told story rounds, and visited the coolest of places, creating family memories that have stuck with me for the last 20 years.

I knew someday I wanted to recreate that experience for my own kids. For the last 10 years we have talked and dreamed about what that cross country adventure would look like.

Around three years ago we started getting serious about making it happen. We knew we wanted to make this trip happen before Grace left for college and we began setting extra money aside and saving for this trip. Two years ago we started seriously planning and weighing our travel options, considering which means of travel would be most affordable and doable for our family of seven.

After considering the options of renting double hotel rooms, camping, or renting an RV, Toby came up with the crazy idea of building our own mobile home to take on the road. After researching school bus conversions we took the plunge and one year ago attended a school bus auction and purchased a 72 passenger school bus.

The next year was spent gutting and renovating the school bus into an RV. We were blessed that Toby was able to do the work himself using many materials we already had in the garage thus keeping the cost minimal.

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When the inside of the bus was complete we began work transforming the outside of the bus from a yellow school bus to the “Rolling Gnomes.” We worked as a family for a few days, with the help of our friend, Matt, and hand painted the outside of the bus into this:

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While we were going through the process of converting our school bus we were also putting hours of research into planning our road trip itinerary. We planned out our general route and then filled in stops along the way. We spent 100+ hours online reading reviews, pricing out various stops, and finding “must see sights” along the way.

Using travel guides, Pinterest, and recommendations of friends we worked and reworked our itinerary until it was just right.

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The past month was spent getting ready to go. Piles covered our dining room table as we added things needed for the trip. The menu for the trip was created along with the corresponding shopping list.

With the exception of a few special meals (like the two birthdays we will be celebrating while traveling) most of our meals will be cooked in the bus. We knew what a huge chunk of travel budget would be eaten up by meals out which was another reason we decided to convert a school bus rather than travel cross country by van and be reliant on meals out. Toby built me a beautiful kitchen with ample counter space, a stove top, ¾ size fridge/freezer and a microwave. By cooking our meals on the bus I will be able to use our current weekly grocery budget for feeding the family and use money that would have gone for meals out for amazing experiences instead.

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The plan is to use our crock pot daily. Dinner will be put in before we take off in the morning and then when we arrive in the evenings a hot meal will be ready.

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This past month was also spent getting outfits organized. We decided to grocery shop weekly and do laundry weekly. The space in the cabinets really doesn’t allow us to store much more than that.

To store the kids clothes they each received a container to hold their 6 outfits. (The 7th outfit was worn) We laid out a shirt, shorts, sock and undies and rolled them up to save space. This way all 6 outfits fit in a small container. These containers are stored in the hall closet. Then their PJs are kept under their pillows, the swim suits in a swimming bag, and jackets will be kept in the headboard of our bed.

In our bathroom we have containers on the wall that will hold daily toiletries like tooth brushes and deodorant, but because we opted not to use valuable bus space for a shower we will be showering at the campground showers, so shower supplies are stored in buckets that can be carried to the showers. There is a boys’ bucket and a girls’ bucket. To address the need for shampoos for separate shower stalls we packed a sleeves of medicine cups that we have had for years. Toby will be able to squirt shampoo from the big bottle into small individual cups for the boys to take in the showers with them.

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Packing the bus has been a lot of fun. I love organization and challenges in efficiency. I also love the adventure of small house living. It has been fun deciding what we need to bring and how to best organize it and fit it all in.

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A big part of that task was finding a solution for school. Because we will be doing school on the road for the next month and a half we had to create a school area with all the school books, computers, and supplies for doing school on the road each day.

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In addition to preparing the bus for our trip we have also been getting things ready at home. We have friends staying at the house while we are gone to care for the animals, so we needed to prepare the house for their visit. There was grocery shopping to do, runs to Tractor Supply to buy enough animal feed to last the duration of the trip, paying bills ahead, stopping mail, and getting the house in order.

And now after all that work, all the dreaming and planning and saving, we are on our way,

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And we can’t wait to take you along with us!

Curious where you are going??

Next post I’ll share our planned itinerary.

Ready or not…Here we go!

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Happy Little Trees



When God sent me Grace I feel like I won the parental lottery. From the time she was a wee little lass she has been a delight. Being very “first born” in her personality she is a little mother to her siblings and a shining example of goodness and diligence. When Toby let the three big kids know he was in need of some laborers for his time in Michigan Molly and Rusty quickly raised their hands as volunteers. I knew the opportunity to spend a month in Michigan with Kelly’s family was something they would all love! I could tell Grace felt an obligation to stay behind and help me with the two little boys so I encouraged her to go too. I told her that the littles and I would be just fine, but she said she’d like to stay home with me.

I considered this time with her a special gift. When else would I have so much one on one time with her (without Toby, Rusty, and Molly) before she leaves for college in a year. As much as I appreciated all the help she offered in the weeks leading up to our cross country trip (She was a huge help!), I wanted to make sure we fit in fun experiences too.

Our mornings were filled with trip preparations as we cleaned, packed, and organized. Then in the afternoons we would take the boys swimming with our pool pass. Grace and I were able to float and visit in the deep end while the boys swam and burned off energy. We soon discovered the deciding factor of good days vs hard days hinged on whether the weather cooperated and allowed us to swim. On days we could allow the boys to swim for a few hours our nights were much smoother and the boys settled down and fell asleep with ease. They both needed a physical outlet for the increased anxiety they were battling.

One Friday night we spent the evening at the pool for “Flick and Float.” This is an evening activity our pool offers once a month when they close the pool to the public and open it to members. They fill the pool with floats and toys not normally allowed and have a movie playing poolside. The kids can play or float and watch the show.

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This time they were playing “Annie.”


The boys were more interested in jumping on the giant inflated ice cream cones,

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while Grace and I spent our evening floating in the deep end singing along to all our favorite “Annie” songs.

Evenings have become my time with Grace. After tucking boys in for the night Grace and I enjoy adult time. We have been watching a couple episodes of “Call the Midwife” each night while we craft, do spa treatments/nails, and enjoy treats that we don’t share with the boys. It has been so much fun to have so much one on one time with my oldest.

One night while looking for “Call the Midwife” on Netflix we discovered that Bob Ross episodes are now on Netflix. We love Bob Ross! So Grace suggested that the following night we have a Bob Ross painting party after the boys go to bed.

That day she looked through the episodes to find one she liked and gathered canvases and paints from her box of supplies. After the boys were settled down for the night we settled in for a night of painting.


The episode she picked was for a seascape.

We followed along as Bob walked us through the steps of creating a sunset seascape.


It was so much fun.


It was neat to see the finished results. Our paintings turned out so different… Unique and beautiful in their own right.

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Toby is now home. It is such a blessing. We missed him and Molly and Rusty while they were away. Their presence at home brings a peace and security that was absent in their absence. I feel as though I can finally exhale and am looking forward to six weeks of traveling with just my little family…

We may never come home !😉

But I wouldn’t have changed this past month for anything. As challenging as this month has been it has given me the opportunity for some very special bonding with my first born baby. What a blessing she is!

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