Tag Archives: road trip

Walt Disney’s Hometown

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After two weeks of slowing drawing out the recounting of our trip across the country to drop Miss Molly off at school, I write the final installment. It has been crazy busy at Patchwork Farm…as you can well imagine…and the task of finding stolen moments to blog has been especially challenging. We find ourselves neck-deep in wedding preparations, back to school busyness, and the craziness of large-family living, but I wanted to share our last road trip adventure before flakes of snow begin to fall and another month or two escapes me…

Back in 2016, as part of our epic six week bus trip around the country we made a special stop for Rusty’s 15th birthday. Per his request, we stopped in Marceline, Missouri to pay homage to Rusty’s personal hero, Walt Disney, and it was the highlight of the trip for Rusty!

 

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Three years later, as we worked our way back across the country, passing through Missouri on our way home, Rusty asked if we could visit Walt Disney’s hometown once again. So we did…

This time with Braden!

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The United States has three permanent museums devoted to Walt Disney. Each is terrific in a different way. In San Francisco, the Walt Disney Family Museum is the most spectacular—a real “E” ticket. In Central Florida, Walt Disney, One Man’s Dream, a “must see” attraction for Disney fans at Disney’s Hollywood Studios, is the most convenient to visit—at least if you’re a Walt Disney World guest. And somewhere near the center of the continental United States, the Walt Disney Hometown Museum is the most personal.

We drove into Marceline, Missouri (pop. 2230) on Tuesday morning, reacquainting ourselves with this small Midwestern town that seems trapped in time, looking much as it might have when Walt was a young boy walking down Main Street with his mother.

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While there we drove over to Walt Disney’s childhood home.

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Walt’s family came to Marceline when Walt was only 4 years old. They moved from Chicago in an attempt to keep Walt’s older teenage brothers out of trouble and live a simpler life on the family farm.

Walt’s father purchased a plot of land from his brother who owned land in Marceline and they proceeded to build a home and establish themselves in this small, Missouri town.

Walt lived here from age 5 to age 9. While not a long period of time, it was a time that greatly affected his life.

Behind this home sits another important part of Walt’s time in Marceline. This area is opened to the public. Just past Walt’s childhood home sits a small parking area with this sign:

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It was down a grassy path that we found Walt’s Dreaming Tree.

. Daydreaming under this tree, a young Walt would observe the nature surrounding him. He later called these adventures “belly botany” and drew from these moments in his early works. He apparently never outgrew his need for inspiration from his favorite spot. On trips back to Marceline, Walt always put aside time for reflection beneath it, spending hours alone with his thoughts, back under his Dreaming Tree.

The Original Dreaming Tree, the place where Walt sat as a boy and let his imagination take him on incredible adventures, was hit by lightning a few years ago.

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Instead we visited the Son of the Dreaming Tree, a sapling planted from a seedling of the original Dreaming Tree with soil brought from Disneyland and water from Disney World.

As we walked along the grassy path to Walt’s barn, we passed signs that gave us even more insight into Walt’s childhood there and the significance it had in his later life.

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In the barn, also known as Walt’s Happy Place, visitors are encouraged to sign the walls and leave messages of love and hope.

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By his own account, Walt’s happiest childhood memories were of his time in Marceline and the family farm there. Walt and his sister Ruth spent many happy hours playing in the Barn. Visitors from all over the world have come to Marceline to spend time at “Walt’s Happy Place”, located in its original place on the Disney family’s old farm in Marceline.
Visit this very special Barn, which was rebuilt by volunteers in 2001, and leave your mark among the thousands of signatures, messages and memories already there to share with the rest of the world. There’s no doubt about it, when you come to this Barn, you’ll feel a special heart connection to Walt.

When we visited the barn during our first trip, we found it incredibly moving to read the words of previous visitors, and witness the profound effect this humble, inspiring man has had on so many lives.

What a joy it was to add our own names to the thousands of admirers that had been there before us…

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Rusty adding a new signature to the mark he left in 2016.

And what a joy it was to reflect on that experience as we sought out our previous signatures from three years prior.

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And then Braden added his name to the barn beams.

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From there we headed to the Walt Disney Hometown Museum.

The visit to the museum began with a guided tour of the first floor, where the volunteer (who was a personal friend of Walt Disney) walked us through the story of Walt’s life in Marceline, beginning with his childhood in Marceline and ending with his visits back when he was an adult.

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The museum is housed in the town’s old train depot…

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A fitting location for Walt’s museum since he was an avid fan of trains his entire life. In fact one associate said, “Walt got more joy from hearing the sound of a train whistle than he did from an arm full of Oscars.”

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In the museum there are 3,000 artifacts from Walt’s life,

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Including…

The elementary school desk where he carved his initials “WD”:

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A car from the Autopia ride he had built in Marceline for the children of the town:

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The audio recording he made from the interview he did with his parents at their 50th anniversary party:

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The Mickey Mouse dolls that were a gift to his parents on that anniversary:

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And the TV he bought for his sister, Ruth.

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When he invited Ruth to the opening of Disneyland she informed him that she didn’t like crowds, so he purchased a TV for her so that she could watch the opening ceremonies from the comfort of her own home:

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The first floor of the museum is filled with Disney movie memorabilia, hand written letters by Walt, receipts, and other family heirlooms. It really is a treasure for Disney fans!

The second floor of the museum contains:

A replica of Walt’s front porch and the story of him convincing his younger sister to paint the house with tar,

 

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A piece of the original Dreaming Tree,

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And a miniature model of Disneyland.

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Marceline, Missouri…the birthplace of Disney Magic.

I’m so glad we could visit again!

 

Fun in Cheyenne, Wyoming

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Our first overnight stop on our journey back home after dropping off Miss Molly (who is doing fabulous, by the way! More on that in a future post) was Cheyenne, Wyoming. This was a perfect place to hang our hats for the night…

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Our cowboy hats!

 We were in the heart of cowboy country and everything around us reflected that. Including the hotel we called home for the night.

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When booking our hotel I simply went online looking for the best deal available in the area. This tactic sometimes fails me, but more often than not we are pleasantly surprised at how great the hotel is given the inexpensive pricetag.

This hotel was one of those experiences.

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We stayed the night at The Historic Plains Hotel in the heart of downtown Cheyenne, Wyoming.

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“Few hotels capture the history, heritage and traditions of the American West like The Historic Plains Hotel. Steeped in the frontier legends and charm of turn-of-the-century Cheyenne, WY, our beautifully restored hotel offers every travel comfort while preserving every detail of our original grandeur.

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Since 1911, we’ve been a vital part of Cheyenne’s culture and character like no other hotel. Today, we exude an authentic, local style worlds apart from the cookie-cutter branded hotels all too common these days. To stay here is to rediscover an era when travel meant something special and unexpected. Stepping into our opulent Grand Lobby, with its beautiful bisque tiling, stained glass skylight and impressive pillars, is only the beginning of a stay that will provide interest, intrigue and uniquely personal experiences at every moment.”

It was a stunning hotel…

A true feast for the eyes,

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With beautiful and historic gems hidden around every corner.

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The age of the building was especially evident in its original elevators. The woodwork and brass fixtures were stunning but the elevator itself was tiny, requiring the boys and I to take two separate trips up to our room.

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As we stood waiting for the elevator to return we saw this sign and found out the reason for the tiny elevator…

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What a hoot!

After dropping off our luggage at our home for the night, we headed over to Terry Bison Ranch…an unknown excursion I planned for the boys to be enjoyed on our trip home.

After a week of seeing thousands of Bison from the safely recommended distance posted around the national parks we visited, I thought it would be fun to get a little closer. When I read the reviews of this ranch online I knew it had to be one of our final stops on our road trip.

There were many activities offered at the ranch but I chose to sign us up for the Bison Train Tour.

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This experience takes guests on a narrated tour through the ranch, and in among the herd, on a custom built train car.

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We boarded the train and were off, learning much about Bison as we chugged along toward where the herd of Bison were grazing.

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Along the way we crossed over into Colorado, a fact that delighted Braden who was on a mission to “collect” as many visited states as he could on this trip.

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As we got closer to the herd we received the unexpected and exciting news that a baby had just been born 30 minutes earlier and we would get to see the brand new baby Bison in among the herd.

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This cinnamon colored beauty was the first thing I spotted as we drove into the heart of the Bison herd. I couldn’t take my eyes off momma and baby.

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It was a beautiful sight to behold!

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The train came to a stop in the middle of hundreds of Bison. It was a bit disarming to see them come ambling over to the train with such eager enthusiasm.

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It was clear they knew exactly what a stopped train meant…

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It was snack time!

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In the aisles of the train were five gallon buckets filled with Bison pellets and we were allowed to hang out the windows of the train car and feed these magnificent beasts.

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After two weeks of enjoying these incredible animals from a distance, we were now able to interact with them face to face, feeding them from our hands and petting their furry faces.

It was pretty incredible.

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Especially when the larger bulls came right up to our window in search of hand-outs.

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The train remained stationary for 30 minutes, giving us plenty of time to get our fill of Bison love and plenty of time for the beasts to fill their bellies…

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Then we were off. The herd hated to see us go and followed alongside the train until we exited the paddock.

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When the train returned to the station we exited and were able to walk around the ranch and enjoy some of the other animals that call Terry Bison Ranch, home.

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There was an elevated observation platform that extended above the various animal enclosures allowing us to check out the farm animals from a birds eye view.

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Then we went down to love on them face to face before heading out.

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It was such a fun experience to share with my oldest sons on our journey back home.

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Thanks. Cheyenne!

It’s been an adventure!

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Wild horses couldn’t keep me away from home!

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After leaving Jackson Hole, Wyoming, we began our long trek back to Pennsylvania. The trip home was accelerated due to Rusty needing to be back on Wednesday afternoon for his college classes. So, while we took six days to make the 2000 mile trip west, we were making that same journey home in three days. This meant most of our time was spent driving, and since I lost my one licensed driver when we dropped Molly off at school (the boys permits don’t allow driving outside the state,) I was the one putting in 12 hours of driving each day.

Book tapes and impromptu stops to see local treasures along the way made the drive manageable.

On Monday we worked our way across Wyoming, with plans to spend the night in Cheyanne. Along the way we saw signs posted about wild horses that call that area of Wyoming home. Our curiosity was peeked, so when we saw the turn off for the wild horse coral overlook, we pulled in to check it out and stretch our legs.

It was an unassuming pavilion sitting atop a hill,

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Overlooking corrals of horses in the valley below. Inside the corrals were horses of every color, young and grown, frolicking under the summer sun.

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Situated around the pavilion were information boards about the wild horses and the work that is done to manage the population, thus ensuring a healthy, thriving herd.

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Because the horses have no natural predators the herd can easily grow bigger than the environment can naturally support. So, to keep the wild horse herd at a size sustainable to the resources available to them in the area, there are yearly round-ups.

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Some of the wild horses are collected and held at the corrals as they wait to be rehomed.

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They are put up for adoption, and for a small fee, anyone who passes the vetting process can adopt one of these Wyoming wild horses.

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It is a neat conservation program and I found it fascinating to learn about as we sat and watched the horses in the valley below us.

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This was one of those unexpected, impromptu stops that make road trips such a fun adventure…

You never know what unexpected site is around the next bend!

 

Grand Tetons

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Our Saturday at Yellowstone was cut short as we hurried south in hopes of fitting in a visit to Grand Teton National Park before the sun set.

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Grand Teton sits just south of Yellowstone National Park by only a few miles. I have always found it astounding  how different the terrain is between these two National Parks that in are such close proximity.

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“The areas around the Grand Teton mountain range and its lakes were established as a national park in 1929 in order to protect the land from commercial exploitation. The protected area was extended into the surrounding valley in 1950. Grand Teton National Park currently covers more than 310,000 acres and is located only 10 miles from Yellowstone National Park.

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Located high above sea level at elevations from elevations from 6,320 to 13,770 feet, Grand Teton National Park is a diverse ecosystem with terrain ranging from summertime wildflower meadows to rushing whitewater streams. There are also numerous serene lakes with deep blue pools, echoing the stillness and color of the glaciers that shaped them. The wild and winding Snake River descends through the park in a rush of water and the dense forests blanketing the mountainsides provide habitat for a vast array of fauna and flora, with some species dating back to the prehistoric era.

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Opportunities for viewing wildlife abound inside the park. It is often possible to see both grizzly and black bears, gray wolves, coyotes, bison and bald eagles. Other common sightings include pronghorns, elk and a variety of smaller mammals such as the Uinta ground squirrel.”

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We arrived in the park just as the sun was sinking behind the mountains.

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It left us with little time to enjoy the park, but we did fit in a quick hike to String Lake and captured some photos of this stunning National Park before the sky grew dark…

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Devil’s Tower

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On Thursday, after leaving the Black Hills of South Dakota, we traveled two hours west, crossing into Wyoming, for our visit to Devils Tower National Monument.

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This was another stop I was looking forward to with eager anticipation, as it is a place that holds so many fond childhood memories for me.

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I remember camping at the Devils Tower KOA and sleeping under the silhouette of that mighty monument, both in childhood and then with my family three years ago.

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I couldn’t wait to return and share the experience with Braden as well.

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As we approached,  we could see Devils Tower looming in the distance, growing larger with every mile as we approached.

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As we drove into the park we passed a prairie dog town on our way up the winding road.

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At the top of the road sat a small visitor’s center at the base of Devil’s Tower. This was our first stop.

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Stamping Ozzie’s postcard. He requested postcards from each of our stops as we traveled west to take Molly to school.

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Devils Tower:

“Devils Tower National Monument, a unique and striking geologic wonder steeped in Indian legend, is a modern day national park and climbers’ challenge. Devils Tower sits across the state line in northeast Wyoming. The Tower is a solitary, stump-shaped granite formation that looms 1,267 feet above the tree-lined Belle Fourche River Valley, like a skyscraper in the country. Once hidden below the earth’s surface, erosion has stripped away the softer rock layers revealing the Tower.

The two-square-mile park surrounding the tower was proclaimed the nation’s first national monument by President Theodore Roosevelt in 1906. The park is covered with pine forests, woodlands and grasslands. While visiting the park you are bound to see deer, prairie dogs and other wildlife. The mountain’s markings are the basis for Native American legend. One legend has it that a giant bear clawed the grooves into the mountainside while chasing several young Indian maidens. Known by several northern plains tribes as Bears Lodge, it is a sacred site of worship for many American Indians. Devils Tower is also remembered as the movie location for “Close Encounters of the Third Kind.”

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The stone pillar is about 1,000 feet in diameter at the bottom and 275 feet at the top and that makes it the premier rock climbing challenge in the Black Hills.”

Then we headed out on the Tower Trail, a 1.25-mile trail that winds its way around the base of this mammoth rock.

The trail was beautiful…

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And the views were breathtaking,

Despite the cold rain that fell down upon us as we walked the trail. 

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It was a short visit of 1 1/2 hours, because of the drive that lay before us.

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10 more hours of driving until we arrive in Molly’s new college town, but I’m glad we stopped.

It is an awe-inspiring site that should be enjoyed by every traveler passing through Wyoming.

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We are getting close!

Wish this momma luck…

Friday is the big day!

On the Road Again!

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We are on the road!

Last post I spoke to the emotional minefield we had to navigate to get to this point, without even touching on the practical logistics involved in getting to this point. Our schedules are packed to the brim with school schedules, foster care appointments, therapy sessions, lessons, tutoring, work schedules and church commitments. Clearing our schedule to allow us to escape for two weeks is no small feat. It required a whole lot of rearranging and planning to make it happen, and we have come to realize how much more challenging the great schedule shuffle becomes as the kids get older. It was nothing short of miraculous that the stars all aligned, allowing us to take this special vacation.

Once the scheduling challenges were addressed, we then moved onto the task of packing for eight people…

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And then fitting all that gear, along with the owners of that gear, into our newer, more compact vehicle. It truly was the miracle of the loaves and fishes in reverse as we managed to squeeze 4 adults, 4 teens, 8 suitcases, 6 “toy bags,” 3 bookbags, 5 school laptops (for school on the road), various blankets and pillows, and surprise travel treats in our GMC Arcadia.

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I think we have officially obtained “clown car” status.

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The original plan was to leave on Friday morning, but the weather worked in our favor when a polar vortex swept in, dropping temperatures to negative digits. With wind chills of -25, local schools were cancelled, including college classes for Grace and I.

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Our schedule was suddenly wide open. A quick call to our house sitter and to the kennel confirmed that we were clear to leave a day early. This was great news as it allowed us the flexibility of more frequent stops along the way to get the wiggles out.

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On Thursday morning we packed up the car, with half the suitcases going into cargo bag that straps to the back of the car and half the suitcases going in the car, along with all the computers and carry-ons.

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Knowing this trip would prove to be a challenge for any sane person, not to mention children with diagnoses of ADHD and trauma-driven behaviors like instigating, anxious fidgeting, and irritability, we planned accordingly with noise canceling headphones, fidget toys, frequent stops, emotion journals, and a reward system that allowed the kids to open a shared gift hourly for an hour of good choices.

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Each bag was filled with little things like card games, new fidget toys, mad libs, snacks and a couple new DVDs,

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The anticipation of an unknown surprise coming every hour helped pass the time and made the trip more manageable.

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Everyone did an amazing job! It certainly wasn’t the most comfortable travel arrangements for anyone, but all remained positive through the experience.

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Brandon was especially giddy with delight over the adventure of traveling so far from home. As we crossed into each new state, he delighted in the chance to say he has now traveled to states outside of Pennsylvania, something that had never happened until he moved in with us and traveled to my parents’ home in Ohio. He will now be able to add 6 more states to his list.

Because of everyone’s positive attitudes and good choices, we made it much further than we anticipated, driving all the way to the bottom of South Carolina before we stopped for the night.

We are now within 4 hours of our destination, but have a few fun stops planned before we arrive in Orlando.

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Stay tuned!

Tyler’s Gotcha Day

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Today we celebrated our 4 year anniversary of being Tyler’s parents. Today was his “Gotcha Day,” which means four years ago on this day we stood before a judge and committed our hearts, home, and life to Tyler. That was the day he became Tyler McCleery. It was one of the happiest days of my life. My heart grew 10 sizes that day.

Every year on the anniversary of our boys’ adoption days we celebrate the blessing of joining our lives with an activity of their choosing. The activities vary from year to year and from boy to boy. There have been “Gotcha Days” that involved going out for ice cream, playing at the park, seeing a movie and even playing tennis as a family. The only constants are:

1. The “Gotcha Day” boy does the choosing.

2. The activity is a whole family, bonding experience.

This year we were on the road for Tyler’s “Gotcha Day.” We are on our way to Texas for my brother’s wedding and this was our first long driving stretch as we made our way from western Pennsylvania to St. Louis, Missouri.

We got on the road early.

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The kids each received their travel treat bag filled with snacks, games, activity books and bottled water. Everyone settled in and off we went.

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As we drove we had fun playing travel games like “Bingo,” “The Alphabet Game,” and Mad Libs.

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Tyler elected himself navigator thanks to the free maps that are handed out at rest stops along the way.

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As we traveled west we drove through many rain showers.

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Although we had a nine hour drive ahead of us we wanted to do something special to celebrate Tyler’s “Gotcha Day,” so we planned an impromptu stop in  Terre Haute, Indiana after reading some reviews online of the awesome children’s museum found in this smaller Indiana city.

The impressive reviews were the first draw. The second draw for this children’s museum was the price, which was a third of the cost of the large children’s museum found in Indianapolis. At a cost of only $8.00 a person this place was a steal!

My only concern was that perhaps it would be geared too young for the teenagers to enjoy it, but I knew they were such good sports that they would happily tag along so their little brother could enjoy this neat experience on his special day.

I didn’t need to worry. This children’s museum had something for everyone, from 9 month olds to 90 year olds…this place was incredible!

What an awesome hidden gem is tucked away in Terre Haute!

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We walked in and the fun began at the door with a cloud maker.

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We paid and began exploring.

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There was a little of everything, from interactive science exhibits to creative play areas.

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If we lived in Terre Haute when my kids were little this would have been our playground.

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The first big exhibit we encountered was a vacuum powered tube maze that hung on the wall. The kids  placed bath loofahs in the ends of the tubes, press the air button, and watched the loofah balls fly through the maze of tubes then shoot out the various ends. We all had a blast playing with this interactive toy. It set the tone for the rest of the day and gave us a preview of the fun we would have.

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One of the displays the Terre Haute Children’s Museum is best known for is their giant tree house…and rightfully so. It is epic! Tyler ran for it right away, quickly followed by his older siblings. The tree house can be accessed by a walkway on the second floor or could be entered from the base of the tree through a vertical climbing maze. At the top of the tree house there were ball shooters that could be used to launch foam balls across the room into the hanging flowers on the opposite wall. As the balls fell back to the ground they could be gathered and sent back up to the kids at the top of the tree house via a hanging basket that could be loaded with balls and be pulled up pulley style. A lot of our day was spent here.

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Tyler’s second favorite exhibit was the animal race track. Here the kids could pick an animal to race. They would pick a continent, and then pick an animal from that continent that they wanted to try racing. Then they would stand at the end of the race track and begin running down the track. As they raced red squares appeared below their feet, representing the footsteps of the animal they were racing. They had to outrun the red squares to win the race. Then at the end of the track both speeds were posted so they could see how close the race was and who the winner was.

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It was fun to see how fast or slow various animals were. We were shocked by many of them. For instance we had no idea a porcupine was such a slow poke. It only runs 2 miles an hour. Who knew?

On the first floor they also had a cool Dino Dig site,

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a pump piano that Rusty enjoyed,

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and a “Build and Race your own Bottle Car” experience:

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On the second floor there was an agricultural area, which is fitting, I suppose, since we were in Indiana. Here the kids learned more about farming and got to milk a cow, drive a combine, and play with a mommy pig and her piglets. It was so cute!

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On this floor they also had a race car the kids could climb in:

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AND a bubble wand so big that they could climb inside the bubble. It was awesome!

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One of the neatest parts of this children’s museum was the many areas set up for creative play. Here the kids could use their imagination and play pretend.

There was a kitchen:

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A Supermarket:

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A construction site:

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And a Vet’s office:

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All were set up with such wonderful attention to detail, making kids feel as though they had stepped into a mini version of  real world places. Even my big kids had fun playing pretend.

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We stayed until it closed at 5:00 and then continued on to St. Louis for our first night’s stay.

It was an amazing day,

one that will go down in the books…

a “Gotcha Day” that won’t soon be forgotten!

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Thanks for Terre Haute for a fun day.

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And thank you, God, for bringing Tyler into our lives four years ago.

We love you, Tyler!

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What a Trip it has Been!

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It was almost 10,000 miles.

We traveled through 22 states.

Over the period of 7 weeks.

We visited 13 National Parks,

and hiked miles and miles of this beautiful country.

Brand new shoes, purchased at the start of the trip,

were worn clean through by the end.

A walking testament to all that was seen and done.

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For those who have forgotten or our joining us more recently, here is a recap of where we have spent the last 50 days.

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

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

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Day 3: St. Louis Arch

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

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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.

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

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

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

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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.

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Day 11: Mt. Rushmore and Crazy Horse monuments.

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Day 12: Check out Devil’s Tower.

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Day 13: Day 1 in Yellowstone National Park

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Day 14: Day 2 in Yellowstone National Park.

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Day 15: Visit Grand Tetons and go swimming in hot springs.

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Day 16: College tour of BYU Idaho.

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

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

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Day 19:  Travel to Yosemite National Park.

Day 20: Visit Yosemite National Park in California.

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Day 21: Visit Sequoia National Park, California.

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

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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.

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Day 29: See the sites of Las Vegas.

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Day 30: Another (unexpected day) in Las Vegas.

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Day 31: Visit the Grand Canyon.

Day 32: Bryce Canyon National Park, Utah.

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Day 33: Arches National Park, Utah.

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

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Day 35: Visit Petroglyph National Monument.

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

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

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Day 38: Drive all day to Branson, Missouri. (See David and Jen along the way)

Day 39: Silver Dollar City in Branson, Missouri.

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Day 40: Second day in Silver Dollar City.

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

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Day 42: Branson, Missouri.

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

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

Day 46: Visit Nauvoo, Illinois.

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Day 47: Drive toward home.

Day 48: Home Sweet Home!

For 7 weeks our family 0f seven lived in our converted school bus which was lovingly named, “The Rolling Gnomes.”

We slept, ate, did school, and traveled together in 280 square feet.

For 7 of those days our 280 square feet felt like 20 square feet as we lived without the boys’ ADHD medication thanks to restrictive state laws regarding controlled medications.

Our little bus climbed mountains almost 10,000 feet high feet and at Carlsbad Caverns we explored 750 feet below the earth.

We crossed wind swept prairies, majestic mountains, mighty rivers, and desolate deserts.

We made it to the Pacific Ocean and then turned around and drove back home.

Along the way we gained a greater appreciation for our country, and a greater connection as a family.

As a family we grew and learned lessons about ourselves, about our nation, and about each other.

We learned:

About the incredible natural beauty found in the United States of America and gained a greater appreciation for the conservation efforts that have preserved this country’s natural beauty.

On the 100 year anniversary of the National Park Service we were able to explore some of the prettiest sites we have ever seen.

In the NPS’s “Find Your Park” campaign we each found “our park…

each of us falling in love with certain areas of the country and the beauty found there.find-your-park

Here are our “Find your Park” National Park choices:

Toby and Grace’s favorite national park was Grand Tetons National Park.

Rusty’s favorite was Arches National Park.

Molly’s favorite park was the Grand Canyon.

Ozzie loved Mt. Rushmore.

Tyler’s chosen park was Badlands National Park.

And my personal favorite was Devil’s Tower.

Some favorite stops included the City Museum of St. Louis, Silver Dollar City, the Laura Ingalls Wilder Homestead, Titanic Museum , 1880’s town,

and of course, Disneyland!

We fell in love with the Black Hills of South Dakota,

and were little impressed with Nevada and California.

But the greatest revelation that came from our travels was how good the people of this country are.

We met some of the kindest people in our travels, and in all our interactions with thousands of strangers we had only one negative experience.

It was reassuring and empowering to see the goodness that shone forth across this great nation. In an era of sickening news reports and political filth, it is easy to assume that the loudest voices, the ones highlighted on our evening news, represent the majority of American opinion.

But I have found that to not be the case.

The people of this country are good…no, great.

They are moral, and kind. They are friendly and helpful.

They are proud people who love their country and long for its leaders to raise their standards and be better.

On this trip we made many new friends and the experience lit a flame of hope in me that despite the immoral, disgusting, self serving faces seen clamoring to be the representative and voice of the American people,

the people of America are so much better than the faces that represent them.

As we traveled I fell in love with my country and came home with a renewed spirit of pride in our history, our culture, and our citizens.

Through this experience I discovered a buried gypsy within my soul that fell in love with the simplicity of tiny house living and the life of a nomad.

It is good to be home…

To see the people we love.

To soak in a bathtub rather than shower in camp showers.

We loved being reunited with our animals,

But I’m already missing life on the road and look forward to seeing where the Rolling Gnome bus takes us in the future!

Thanks for traveling with us.

It has been a grand adventure!

Historic Old Nauvoo

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From Missouri we moved into Nauvoo, following the path of early church members as they moved to Nauvoo…

“As the Latter-day Saints fled Missouri during the winter of 1838–1839, having been threatened by the governor of that state with extermination, they crossed into Illinois and settled in a swampy area along the Mississippi River that they named Nauvoo. Over the next few years, an estimated 16,000 Latter-day Saints took up residence in the city and its surrounding communities. It became one of the largest cities in Illinois at the time and an important commercial center on the upper Mississippi.

Many in the surrounding communities continued to harass the Latter-day Saints, and on 27 June 1844, a painted mob shot to death  Joseph Smith and his brother Hyrum. Despite the rapidly escalating tension in the area, the Latter-day Saints continued at great sacrifice to complete a temple in the city, even while they prepared for a mass exodus to the West. Between February and September 1846, most of the Latter-day Saints took up their march to the West, leaving their homes, their city, and their temple to the hands of those who had not built and the hearts of those who did not care.

Today Nauvoo is a significant historic district, with many of the buildings in the original townsite rebuilt or restored and open for the public to visit.”

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This was our first time to Nauvoo and we fell in love with this quaint corner of Illinois. It had a feeling much like historic Williamsburg, as we moved from  building to building, through a town of historic and recreated buildings from the 1840’s. The senior missionaries were dressed in period clothing and demonstrated life from the 1840’s through activities in each shop.

Historic Nauvoo consists of 30 different historic buildings in the village, the visitor’s center and the Nauvoo temple.

What sets Nauvoo apart from other historical villages is the spirit felt there. I loved the education we acquired at each stop about what life would have been like in historic Nauvoo, but appreciated even more the spiritual messages and sweet testimonies born by our tour guides.

Here are some of the favorite stops we made as we discovered Historic Nauvoo:

Visit the Scovil Bakery to experience a baker’s lifestyle before the days of electric and gas ovens. See the baking equipment of the 1840s, original Temple Plates, and many other items used for baking during the Nauvoo period. The Scovil Bakery was one of several such establishments in Nauvoo in the 1840s

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Here we were able to taste the bakery’s homemade gingerbread cookies.

 

Chauncey Webb, along with his father and brothers, owned and operated this blacksmith and wagon shop.

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 This shop has been reconstructed on its original foundation. When you visit, you will learn how wagon wheels were constructed, and you will see a wagon, loaded with supplies, ready to cross the plains. Everyone who visits receives a “prairie diamond” ring, made from a horseshoe nail, to take home as a souvenir.

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We were given a souvenir horseshoe and each family member received a “prairie diamond” ring.

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Imagine setting type for a weekly newspaper by hand, carefully placing each tiny letter in a composing stick backwards. Here you can see a period printing press and learn about the time-consuming labors necessary to print documents in the 1840s. In this shop, you’ll learn various printing terms and see the process of printing a newspaper in Old Nauvoo.

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Discover the interior of a log schoolroom and cabin. Visitors have fun doing lessons on old-fashioned slates and learn fascinating facts about life in Old Nauvoo. Calvin and his family left Nauvoo in 1846. At Winter Quarters, he was asked to remain with Jonathan Browning to provide guns for the pioneers who were headed west.

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Tour the Jonathan Browning Home and Gun Shop and learn about the humble beginnings of the worldwide Browning Arms Corporation. See authentic rifles, handguns, and shotguns from the early 1800s and their present-day counterparts. In this shop, you’ll see a fine display of firearms made by Jonathan and his descendants.

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Brickyard: Many early settlers lived for years in log cabins while they built their brick homes, only to enjoy them for a few short months before they left to begin their trek westward. The brickmaker will demonstrate how bricks were formed, dried and baked here in Old Nauvoo. You may take home a souvenir Nauvoo brick to help you remember your visit

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Here we received one of the souvenir bricks made daily at the brickyard. I loved the spiritual message given here as the gentleman described the process of hardening the bricks in the oven and the affect additional heat has on the bricks and how that analogy compares to the heat or trials in our own lives. Those times can make us hard or they can make us strong.

In the evening we attended one of the many wonderful shows offered to the public in historic Nauvoo: “Rendezvous in Old Nauvoo.”

 

If you are coming to Nauvoo, you must see this show. This delightful musical comedy, performed by senior tour guides, tells the story of the Latter-day Saints who built Nauvoo in the 1840′s, and then had to leave the city they loved.

 Will George find the peace and quiet he needs?
Will Abigail ever get a pickle barrel?
Will horses with wings ever leave Nauvoo?

 Find out the answers and come and see the story, laugh, ponder and shed a tear for Old Nauvoo.

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The next morning we spent time at the Family Living Center, an area geared toward children, where crafts and trades of the 1840’s are demonstrated. This hands-on area was a hit with the kids.

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Guests can view demonstrations in a wide variety of 19th-century trades such as spinning,

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bread making,

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candle making,

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pottery, rope and barrel making.

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Tie everything together as you help the rope maker create another length.

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Finish it all off with the baker, and taste delicious bread from the brick oven. A must stop for the children!

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This homemade bread was incredible. Here is the recipe as shared on their website:

Family Living Center Wheat Bread
8 Loaves
 
In a large mixing bowl, add all the following ingredients in the order listed.
 
2 Tablespoons yeast 1 cup Sugar (if honey, add after water) 1 cup Powdered Milk ½ cup Potato Flakes 5 cups Warm Water  Stir mixture with wooden spoon to dissolve milk and potato flakes.
 
Then add: 5 cups Wheat Flour 6 cups Bread Flour Mix ingredients until gooey ball (shaggy mass) is formed.
 
Add salt and oil on top. (do not mix in until after the dough rests) ½ cup oil 2 tablespoons salt Let the dough rest 10 minutes to allow time for flour to absorb moisture.
 
Lightly mix oil and salt into the dough then empty onto a floured surface. Knead until smooth and elastic – about 10 minutes.  Additional flour may be needed to produce a medium dough – but not too stiff.
 
Place dough back into the bowl (oil inside of bowl) and place in the proofer box to rise until double.  (bowl of hot water should be in the box prior to this point).  No need to cover dough with a towel. (at home you can warm oven to lowest temperature,  put in a pan of water and then turn off the oven and this will be like a proofing box)   After dough has doubled (about 1 hour) empty onto the floured surface and divide into 8 pieces (do not punch down).  Flatten (pinch and push) and round each piece and cover and let rest for 15 minutes – dough will start to rise again.
 
Flatten (pinch and push) and round dough again and place on baking sheets.  Cover for final rise.  When finger indention remains in dough it is ready to bake.  Score each round with a tic tack toe pattern (on the four outer edges) or score across the top — only ¼” deep.
 
Ideal oven temperature for the bread will be about 420 degrees. After baking 20 minutes insert the temperature probe into one of the loaves and close the oven door.  When the temperature reaches 195 to 200 degrees the bread is done.  The second batch of bread should take 10-15 minutes longer because of the lower temp at the start of the bake. At home you can bake at 350 degrees for 30 to 35 minutes.

We ended our visit to historic Nauvoo with a oxen ride. What a cool experience!

A yoke of real oxen will pull you in a covered wagon across the “Mormon Trail” – in the record time of fifteen minutes! Oxen were used by many migrating pioneers because of their great strength. However, they could take some time to train, as Abner Blackburn noted about his near-wild oxen:  ”I was in the trail part of the time, and that was when I was crossing it.” Oxen would also eat anything that was green, unlike a horse or mule who preferred grain. This is one of the best photo opportunities in Nauvoo.

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From there we drove to Carthage, Illinois, the location of Carthage Jail where the martyrdom of Joseph Smith and Hyrum Smith took place.

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“At the Carthage Jail on June 27, 1844, a mob murdered Joseph Smith and his brother Hyrum, who thus sealed their testimonies of Jesus Christ with their blood.

Several days earlier, Joseph Smith and others voluntarily went to Carthage, the county seat located about 20 miles southeast of Nauvoo, to answer charges of civil disturbance. Joseph and Hyrum were held in Carthage Jail pending trial and were guaranteed protection from mob violence by the governor of Illinois.

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Joseph, Hyrum, John Taylor, and Willard Richards were in the jailer’s upstairs bedroom when a mob stormed the jail shortly after five o’clock. Joseph and his brother were shot and killed, John Taylor was seriously wounded, and Willard Richards escaped unharmed. The mob fled, and the martyrs’ bodies were taken back to Nauvoo the next day.

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The jail was used for about 25 years and then became a private residence. The Church purchased the building and property in 1903. To commemorate the sesquicentennial of the Martyrdom in 1994, the jail was restored to its appearance at the time of Joseph and Hyrum’s death.”

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Witnesses

Willard Richards  1840–1854 

Willard Richards, an eyewitness of the assassination of the Smith brothers, wrote these words the same day: “A shower of musket balls were thrown up the stairway against the door of the prison in the second story, followed by many rapid footsteps. . . .

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“A ball was sent through the door which hit Hyrum on the side of his nose, when he fell backwards, extended at length, without moving his feet. . . .

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“Joseph attempted, as the last resort, to leap the . . . window, . . . when two balls pierced him from the door, and one entered his right breast from without, and he feel outward, exclaiming, ‘Oh Lord, my God!’

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As his feet went out of the window my head went in, the balls whistling all around. He fell on his left side a dead man.”

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What an incredible experience touring this place was.

From there we began driving east…almost home!

 

Walt Disney’s Hometown

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“A Dream is a Wish you Heart Makes”

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Rusty had dreamed of visiting the hometown of his hero, Walt Disney. This trip afforded us the opportunity to take him to Marceline, Missouri on his 15th birthday…

A  magical way to spend his special day!

The United States has three permanent museums devoted to Walt Disney. Each is terrific in a different way. In San Francisco, the Walt Disney Family Museum is the most spectacular—a real “E” ticket. In Central Florida, Walt Disney, One Man’s Dream, a “must see” attraction for Disney fans at Disney’s Hollywood Studios, is the most convenient to visit—at least if you’re a Walt Disney World guest. And somewhere near the center of the continental United States, the Walt Disney Hometown Museum is the most personal.

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We drove into Marceline, Missouri (pop. 2230) on Monday morning and discovered a small Midwestern town that seemed trapped in time, looking much as it might have when Walt was a young boy walking down Main Street with his mother.

We arrived at the museum to find a lovely, older woman watering the flowers in the beautiful garden that sits beside the old train depot where the museum resides.

She sadly informed us that the museum was closed on Mondays. What a disappointment! We were so looking forward to this special birthday experience for Rusty.

She encouraged us to return later in the week when we were passing back through, but told us that there were other Disney sites that we could see around town, despite the museum being closed.

We decided to do just that and then return on Thursday (as we headed to Nauvoo, Il.) and visit the museum.

This woman is one of many volunteers that run the Walt Disney Hometown Museum. She also happened to be one of the volunteers that personally knew Walt Disney and his family when they lived in Marceline.

It was thrilling to hear her share stories of Walt and his life when he called Marceline home. She graciously stood outside the museum and spoke with us for 30 minutes before she went inside to get a map of Marceline, marked with the various Disney sites, to guide us around the town.

Our first stop was the Zurcher building on Main Street. Behind this building was a huge Coca-Cola sign that was there when Walt was a child. This sign became the inspiration for Coke Corner in Disneyland. A few years ago this mural was uncovered when the building that was built around it was torn down. The paint was so worn and faded that the original Coca-Cola sign was barely visible.

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When Coca-Cola heard about this old sign painted on the brick wall of Walt’s hometown, and heard about its connection to Disney, they sent painters to Marceline to refurbish this historical sign for the city.

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The CEO of Coca-Cola then had it photographed and turned into a Christmas card which he sent to the Disney Company for Christmas that year.

As we walked along  the Main Street of Marceline we caught glimpses of what became the inspiration for Main Street USA in the Disney Parks.

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Main Street USA

Walt made the decision that every visitor to Disneyland would walk down Main Street USA, inspired by his hometown of Marceline, Missouri.

Today, you can shop at Murray’s Department store, at the same location for over 100 years (and also the store where Walt purchased his first pair of engineer overalls), and visit other quaint shops on the “original” Main Street USA.

Have lunch in the same building Elias Disney served an oyster dinner to local farmers in hopes of organizing them inot a union.

Stroll past the Zurcher building and see the original Coke mural that inspired Coke Corner at Disneyland.

See specially designed street signs that were personally dedicated by Mickey Mouse

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On Main Street we also discovered the Uptown Theatre. A very special place in the Disney Story:

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From there we drove over to Walt Disney’s childhood home.

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Walt’s family came to Marceline when Walt was only 5 years old. They moved from Chicago in an attempt to keep Walt’s older teenage brothers out of trouble and live a simpler life on the family farm.

Walt’s father purchased a plot of land from his brother who owned land in Marceline and they proceeded to build a home and establish themselves in this small, Missouri town.

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Walt lived here from age 5 to age 9. While not a long period of time, it was a time that greatly affected his life. In fact he has often said this about the town of Marceline:

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Walt Disney’s childhood home is now a private residence, closed to the public. And while visitors can’t go inside there is a sign marking the home from the outside.

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Behind this home sits another important part of Walt’s time in Marceline. This area is opened to the public. Just past Walt’s childhood home sits a small parking area with this sign:

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It was down a grassy path that we found Walt’s Dreaming Tree.

. Daydreaming under this tree, a young Walt would observe the nature surrounding him. He later called these adventures “belly botany” and drew from these moments in his early works. He apparently never outgrew his need for inspiration from his favorite spot. On trips back to Marceline, Walt always put aside time for reflection beneath it, spending hours alone with his thoughts, back under his Dreaming Tree.

The Original Dreaming Tree, the place where Walt sat as a boy and let his imagination take him on incredible adventures, was hit by lightening a few years ago.

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Instead we visited the Son of the Dreaming Tree, a sapling planted from a seedling of the original Dreaming Tree with soil brought from Disneyland and water from Disney World.

As we walked along the grassy path to Walt’s barn we passed signs that gave us even more insight into Walt’s childhood there and the significance it had in his later life.

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In the barn, also known as Walt’s Happy Place, visitors are encouraged to sign the walls and leave messages of love and hope.

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By his own account, Walt’s happiest childhood memories were of his time in Marceline and the family farm there. Walt and his sister Ruth spent many happy hours playing in the Barn. Visitors from all over the world have come to Marceline to spend time at “Walt’s Happy Place”, located in its original place on the Disney family’s old farm in Marceline.
Visit this very special Barn, which was rebuilt by volunteers in 2001, and leave your mark among the thousands of signatures, messages and memories already there to share with the rest of the world. There’s no doubt about it, when you come to this Barn, you’ll feel a special heart connection to Walt.

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It was incredibly moving to read the words of previous visitors and witness the profound effect this humble, inspiring man has had on so many lives.

On Thursday we returned. We arrived as the doors opened and told the volunteers about our attempt to visit on Monday for Rusty’s birthday. They kindly gave him this pin as a special memento.

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The visit to the museum began with a guided tour of the first floor, where the volunteer walked us through the story of Walt’s life in Marceline, beginning with his childhood in Marceline and ending with his visits back when he was an adult.

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The museum is housed in the town’s old train depot. A fitting location for Walt’s museum since he was an avid fan of trains his entire life. In fact one associate said, “Walt got more joy from hearing the sound of a train whistle than he did from an arm full of Oscars.”

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Later in life Walt even built a miniature train track around his California home for his daughters.

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In the museum there are 3,000 artifacts from Walt’s life,

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including…

His elementary school desk where he carved his initials WD:

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A car from the Autopia ride he had built in Marceline for the children of the town:

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The Mickey Mouse flag he donated to be flown on the flag pole of the local elementary school:

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The recording he made from the interview he did with his parents at their 50th anniversary party:

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The first Mickey Mouse dolls:

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and the TV he bought for his sister.

When he invited Ruth to the opening of Disneyland she informed him that she didn’t like crowds, so he purchased a TV for her so that she could watch the opening ceremonies from the comfort of her own home:

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The first floor is filled with Disney movie memorabilia, hand written letters by Walt, receipts, and other family heirlooms. It really is a treasure for Disney fans!

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Upstairs contains a replica of Walt’s front porch and the story of him convincing his younger sister to paint the house with tar,

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A replica of his childhood classroom,

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a piece of the original Dreaming Tree,

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and a miniature model of Disneyland.

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We fell in love with Marceline, Missouri and made some magical memories in this place that was the root of  so much Disney Magic.