Home, Sweet Home…

August 7, 2015

No, it’s not what you think…we are still nomads, traveling the country. We have been gone 6 weeks now, but after a couple of nights at a hotel both Lance and I felt like getting back to our camper was coming home. It was a good feeling!!

On Wednesday, July 22nd we set up camp at a Jellystone Park in Caledonia, Wisconsin. We had been on the go for quite a few days in a row so we decided to spend a few nights in one place. If you ever need a place to camp with lots of fun activities right there without having to drive anywhere this place is it!! Water slides, water balloon fights, basketball, mini golf, pools, outdoor movies at night and lots of activities planned for kids. Lance worked for a couple of days while the kids and I enjoyed being busy having fun!!

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Rose the Bathing Beauty

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Sam with a bucket full of ammo…this kid loved the water balloon wars!

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Elise and Rose poolside in their polka dot suits

One thing I have always loved about our neighborhood in Zeeland is the ability to say “Go out and play!” to our kids and knowing that they are busy playing with each other and neighbor kids, getting energy out, enjoying the great outdoors and most importantly (well, it’s up there anyway!!) they are NOT by me!! That might sound mean, but this momma needs a break every now and then and I’m not going to apologize for that! That’s what it was like at the Caledonia Jellystone. They were having so much fun playing basketball, swimming, having water balloon fights and making friends with fellow camping kids that I felt like it was a throwback to when we lived in a house, in a neighborhood. It was pretty fabulous!

Living in West Michigan, we are pretty spoiled with being 20 minutes to the Lake Michigan beach. During a “normal” summer we like to squeeze in as many evenings out at the beach as we can… swimming and playing in the sand….usually followed by a stop for ice cream at Captain Sundae. The sunsets over the lake can be so beautiful to watch and I have often thought “wouldn’t it be nice to see a sunrise over Lake Michigan”. Well, I got my wish! One morning Lance and I got up just before 5:00 to drive a couple of miles from the campground to a park on the Wisconsin shore. We enjoyed a little date with just the two of us, watching the sunrise over Lake Michigan. It was a lovely beginning to our day. We were almost directly across the lake from home, which I found made me a little homesick.

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The beautiful sunrise over Lake Michigan

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The blue dot on the map shows where we were watching the sunrise, almost due west of Holland, Michigan

Since we were staying less than two hours away from Chicago we decided to make a stop there. Our family has enjoyed a few great weekends in Chicago over the years and one place that the kids love to eat at is Ed Debevic’s. Well, they are closing (possibly moving) by the end of the year so it seemed like a good idea to have one more special meal there. My parents were able to meet us in Chicago and so we all spent a couple of nights in a hotel near the city. We have missed our dear families and friends the last six weeks so it felt pretty good to see my mom and dad, to talk and laugh face to face with lots of hugs thrown in for good measure! Sunday, July 26th we all went to Moody Church together. We had never been there before, but enjoyed it greatly. After church we had dinner at Ed Debevic’s. If you’ve never been there, it’s a 50’s style diner where the servers are intentionally rude to you. The first time Lance and I took our kids there we didn’t tell them ahead of time about the rudeness, we were curious how they would respond. Well, when Abby started crying because they were so rude to her we right away let them in on the secret! Now, they (especially Sam) like to prepare their material sometimes days in advance.   Although, what 8 year olds consider hilarious sometimes can come across as just kind of corny (like telling our waiter he looks like a pretty girl, where are your hairbands girl?, you smell, you’re smelly, hey…bring me my food now!). Our waiter could take it just as well as he could give it. The kids laughed while being called little brats, brace-face (to Abby) and you bunch of little babies! After lunch we headed to the Shedd Aquarium. We watched the dolphin show, petted the sting rays, watched the penguins swim and saw lots and lots of “nish” (Ben’s word for fish). Then we headed back to the hotel for some swimming in the pool and pizza for supper. It was a great day.

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Joe, Sam and Ben sporting their Ed Debevic’s hats

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Petting Sting Rays at the aquarium

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Ben with “Bapa” and “Mama”

The next morning we left the hotel and that’s when Lance and I both thought “it feels good to be home!” We hugged my parents good bye and took off for Des Moines, Iowa.  On the way we needed to stop for gas and to feed Rosemary at just the right time for a visit to The World’s Largest Truckstop. It was a good place to stretch our legs and we had a lot of fun looking around.

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Ben loved exploring the Big Rigs!

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Rosemary trying on the fur caps

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Sam with this guy behind him…you can’t see him because he’s camouflaged!!

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This was Abby and Sam’s idea….can you spot the Rosemary??

We got to the campground mid-afternoon and set up camp, then headed into town to see the capital building. Up until this point, Kansas had been my favorite capital with the pretty grassy park all around it, but now my favorite is Iowa! The building was so interesting and beautiful to look at and the grounds around it were just as beautiful. There was a grassy slope in front of the capital peppered with various statues and perennial garden beds. If you faced away from the capital building you looked down the hill to the city of Des Moines. It was a pleasant evening and the sun was just starting to set. The stars also seemed to align with the kids playing so sweetly with each other…rolling down the hill and playing hide and seek. It felt like a moment to just soak it all up…family times like this are why we are doing this trip!

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The gorgeous capital building

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The city of Des Moines looking down from the capital.

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The flag of this great nation with a beautiful sunset behind it.  God bless the USA.

We stayed in Des Moines for the one night and then drove on to Kansas City. We stayed there a few nights while Lance worked at a customer there. Our site was in the perfect location in the campground…right between the basketball court/playground and swimming pool/jumping pillow. I loved being able to watch the kids play on the playground out the kitchen window, it seemed like we had the best backyard around!

Well, that’s all for this post…our next stop is Colorado!

Kansas, Nebraska, Minnesota and just a touuuuuuch of Iowa

July 23, 2015

We spent a night in Kansas before Oklahoma and a few more afterwards. I really enjoyed the ride through Kansas, the land was so pretty with all of the sloping green fields.  The Flint Hills in the north along with the prairie make for a beautiful drive.

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Kansas Farmland

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Beautiful Prairie

We went to an Amish restaurant (Carriage Crossings) in Yoder, Kansas for lunch one day. The lunch was delicious, but we were really there for the famous cinnamon rolls which we got for dessert. They were very tasty!

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This is the look of sheer joy and disbelief at his good fortune!!

Lance took everyone except Rose to Old Cowtown Museum one morning and they had a lot of fun there exploring original (relocated) buildings from old western towns and they even got to watch a gun fight!

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Cowtown Museum in Kansas

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Doing some time!

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Drinks in the saloon…..What???  See what happens when Lance takes the kids sightseeing?? 

We also stopped at the Tall Grass Prairie Preserve in northern Kansas. The nature center part had just closed for the day when we got there, but we could still look out over the prairie. Since it was still so hot and everyone was hungry for supper we didn’t go hiking, but it would probably be a great place to check out more if we are ever back in the area.

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Lance, Joe, Ben & Rose at the Tall Grass Prairie Nature Preserve

Nebraska was our next state to tackle. We ended up only staying there for one night and didn’t really stop to see anything except the capitol in Lincoln. I’m sure there’s some pretty neat things to see in Nebraska, but we are starting to feel the time crunch of finishing up a few last states before heading to Colorado for the wedding so we decided to rush through a little bit. We did see A LOT of cornfields though and did a lot of swimming in the campground pool!

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Ben loves being tossed up.  He keeps asking for more!

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Joe saw how much fun Ben was having and wanted to give it a try….

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same toss, different results!!

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Joe, Abby, Sam and Elise all running and jumping in

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Rose was just happy to be at the pool, cooling off!

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Oh no….What if Dad tosses ME that high??????

We just stayed a couple of nights near Minneapolis, Minnesota and had a very nice time here. The campground had a great pool that the kids really enjoyed. I was having some issues with a tooth, so Lance set up an appointment for me at a local dental office. A big thank you goes out to Dr. Lisa Cepek at Park Dental in Edan Prairie for seeing me last minute and for fixing my tooth!! She was great, and so friendly.   Here’s to hoping the tooth cooperates and doesn’t give me any more problems! We’ve been to the Minneapolis area and to the Mall of America before, so this trip we just stopped at the state capitol building in Saint Paul.

The “touch of Iowa” was definitely a highlight of the trip so far! Thanks to the referral and connections of Judy Steenwyk back home in Michigan we were able to stop in Sioux Center, Iowa at Casey’s Bakery which is owned by Judy’s sister, Kathy, and her husband. Kathy welcomed us right into the inner workings of the bakery and introduced us to her husband, Ron and son Ryan who gave us the grand tour! How fun to see the process of bread, hamburger buns, cookies and doughnuts from beginning to sweet, sweet end. Sampling piping hot doughnuts, practicing writing our names with icing and decorating cookies with colorful frosting were just a few examples of Kathy and Ryan’s generosity with their time and delicious products. After the tour we took quite a while to browse the bakery/gift shop area and purchased a few more treats to enjoy later. What a fun afternoon! The kids have already been talking about how we could make it work to stop again on our way west when we head to Colorado! Thank you Don & Judy!! Thank you Ron, Kathy and Ryan and everyone at Casey’s Bakery!! We aren’t finished with Iowa yet, we will be staying the night and seeing the capitol sometime next week, but I’m guessing nothing in Iowa is going to beat that afternoon spent in Sioux Center!

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Casey’s Bakery in Sioux Center, Iowa

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Ryan showing us where the dough rises

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This hot, fresh donut is just heavenly!!

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Practicing writing their names with frosting

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Kathy making a frosting rose on Sam’s finger…..

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that rose didn’t last long!!

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Thanks again to Kathy and Ryan for their hospitality!!

Well, now you’re caught up on our travels!! We are camping in Wisconsin right now and are really enjoying our time here because we are going to stay for four or five days in the same campground while Lance gets some work done. It will be nice to stay put for a bit!

Oklahoma…The Sooner State

Or in our case…”The Sooner We Get Out Of This Heat The Better State”!!

Now, don’t get upset if you’re from Oklahoma, or have wonderful friends or family in Oklahoma. I’m sure it can be a great place to live and visit. I’m sure that if we spent time there during a different time of year it would have been much more pleasant, but we didn’t. We went in the middle of July, during a heat wave.  Obviously the heat and the flooding were not anyone’s fault, or even would have been their choice, but it was what it was and that made it a state we looked forward to crossing off our list and leaving for cooler pastures.

We got down to Tulsa, Oklahoma on Tuesday, July 14th. We had called ahead to a Jellystone Campground and made reservations. They informed us that they had just reopened the week before after all of the flooding in the area in the last couple of months. They said that you could go swimming in the lake again at the beach area. Well, when we got there we saw that the beach area was actually still underwater by about 30 feet. There were giant trees out in the water. Campsites were still underwater. The ones that weren’t underwater had been until recently and were still drying out. There were little gnats and bugs that swarmed up from the ground when you walked. There were also lots of spiders (I imagine because of the Thanksgiving dinner in bugs available to them!!!). We were one of only four campers there.   We decided to stay anyway since we were hoping to be gone seeing things most of the time, but it was definitely our least favorite campground yet.

005 - Copy                                                   The beach and some campsites at the campground are under that water

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On Wednesday we went to a children’s discovery center that was a lot of fun. Our whole family enjoyed the team activities they had to offer. Human foosball, making big foam bridges and racing on multiple-people, wooden skis. They also had tunnels and slides made out of packing tape that you could climb and slide on. That evening was the highlight of our Oklahoma adventure for me…we got to meet up with my brother, Ben, for dinner. He happened to be in Tulsa for work for a few days. It was great to catch up with him and introduce him to Rosemary. We are very excited to see him again in Colorado when we will be there for his wedding to Kelsey!   We love you guys and are looking forward to your special day!

IMG_7571 - Copy                                         Human foosball at the discovery center in Tulsa

008 - Copy                                                                   Dinner with my brother, Ben

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Our camper has air conditioning, but when it’s 100 degrees outside it has a hard time keeping up.   When we left to have dinner with Ben, someone (who shall remain nameless, but felt very bad later!) switched the thermostat to furnace. As we drove back to the camper Lance and I were talking about how nice it would feel to escape the heat when we got back. And then we opened the door. It was warmer INSIDE than it was OUTSIDE!!! Not the best ten minutes of our trip so far as we both had a bit of a meltdown (both figuratively and literally). It was bedtime for the kids and it was SO hot in there.   Well, the good news is that at least it was cooler in there by morning.  After breakfast Ben was coloring and, well, I’ll let you look at the following pictures to see his artwork….

015 - Copy                                                                           He gave himself new eyebrows…

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Ok, so I realize I’ve been a little negative about Oklahoma, but I do need to say that the people were very friendly. When we went to the capitol building in Oklahoma City Lance went to find someone to take our picture. The person he asked happened to be the Chief of Staff to the governor. She was very nice and helpful. After she took a couple pictures for us she showed us where to go in the capitol building so we could explore some of that also. We saw the senate chamber, the dome and where the Oklahoma supreme court meets. It was pretty cool and we all really enjoyed that unexpected treat.

IMG_7636 - Copy                                                                                  The beautiful dome in the capitol building

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IMG_7588 - Copy                                                                                 Ben arguing with an Indian over which one of them should get to hold the spear….the Indian won

We stayed in Oklahoma for two nights and the whole family was happy to cross that state line back into Kansas. We have since killed MANY spiders that hitched a ride in our camper (I can only assume they also wanted to escape Oklahoma!).

Two Weeks In….

Tuesday, July 14th, 2015

Well, we have been gone about two weeks  and it still feels like we are just on a normal vacation…it hasn’t really hit me that we won’t be back for more than a year.  Sorry that it has taken me a while to get this first blog post out there.  I’m still figuring out this whole “writing a blog” thing.  We have packed a lot into the past 17 days, including three states and their capitols.    We’ve also been busy getting to know our new home.  Moving from our house in Zeeland to a 400 square foot house that moves is quite an adjustment!  Finding places for things and figuring out what we need and don’t need is still a process, but we are almost there and it is starting to feel like home.   So here’s what we’ve been up to so far…..

Our first state was Indiana.  We stopped in Indianapolis to see the capitol building and also explored the motor speedway (Indianapolis 500) the best we could from the outside.  Then we kept on moving to our first campground…a Jellystone Park near Bloomington.  We didn’t mean to, but we set the bar pretty high for our kids when it comes to any campground we stay at in the future.  This Jellystone had a great pool area with three separate pools including one with a great water playground.  The kind with spray things, buckets that tip over and fountains shooting up at random times.  If they were sick of swimming, there was also a giant jumping pillow to jump on, pedal go-karts and a different activity going on almost all of the time.  The kids had a ball!  Joe made a new friend pretty quickly and was soon off playing basketball with him whenever he could.  He also took Ben on the jumping pillow and soon had quite a fan club of 8 year old girls who loved it that he could jump so high that they bounced up off of the pillow from a sitting position!  Abby, Sam and Elise kept very busy alternating between riding their bikes and swimming.  Elise also loved the glow stick dance party one of the evenings and was out there boogying until we made her come home.  Ben never made it too far away from us in his exploring, we still know where the little bugger is!  He loved going to the pool, but was not impressed with all of the squirting, spraying, and  unpredictable water so he stayed in one of the calmer pools.  He did LOVE Yogi Bear and gave him a hug whenever he could.  We went to a small and very friendly church (Smithville Christian Church) on Sunday.  We really enjoyed it and were quite impressed that, for such a small church, they were very involved in their community and outreach projects.  After church we went to Big Bub’s Burgers and Elise tried the footlong hot dog.  We went to pick up a few groceries after lunch and were all surprised when four police cars came speeding to a stop in front of the store.  Turns out they were there to arrest a lady who was sitting on a bench outside the store flashing people driving by….that was our excitement for the day!

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200 - Copy                                                                        Even Rose went swimming!

A very rainy day was in the forecast for Monday so we decided to pack up a little early and start out towards St. Louis.  We had our first night of sleeping in a rest stop parking lot that night and survived just fine.   The next day we made it to another Jellystone park near Eureka, Missouri.  We ended up only staying there one night because it wasn’t nearly as nice as we had hoped.  Our next stop was to explore St. Louis.  We stayed a couple of nights at a casino RV park right across the Mississippi river from St. Louis.  We saw the Arch, the courthouse, drove around the city just to explore and had frozen custard at the famous Ted Drewes Frozen Custard.  We also took a day trip from St. Louis to Hannibal, MO to see where Mark Twain grew up and based much of Tom Sawyer on.  The kids really enjoyed the cave tour!  Then we went to Springfield, Illinois to see the capitol building there and to see Abraham Lincoln’s tomb.

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210 - Copy                                                                           All of the kids by the Arch…Rose is in there, she’s sleeping!

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IMG_7275 - Copy                                              Cave tour in Hannibal, Missouri

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Abraham Lincoln’s Tomb

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From St. Louis we drove across Missouri to Kansas City with a stop in Jefferson City to see the capitol building.  The friendly man who took our picture by the capitol recommended we try a locally famous pizza place….and we do love pizza….so we picked up a couple pizzas from Arri’s Pizza Palace to enjoy while driving and they were pretty good (not as good as Fricano’s though!)  We arrived at Lake Paradise Campground and Resort very late that night.  Lance has a customer here in Kansas City so we were hoping to find a place to “live” for the next week so that he could get some work done.  We didn’t know much about this resort, but in the morning realized that it was a big answer to prayer.  When we got here the camp office was closed, but Lance had spoken with the manager on the phone and he told us to just camp wherever we wanted to for the night.  (When a campground has plenty of availability on 4th of July weekend you get a little worried!)  What we woke up to the next morning (Friday) was a beautiful and peaceful setting.  We were camped right next to a small lake with woods all around it and Canadian geese floating across it.  We did end up moving to a different site that day just to be closer to the rest of the camp, but it was off to a good start!  Lance could work this week knowing that we were safe and had plenty to do to keep us busy!

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The kids have had a good week here and made friends who they love to catch frogs and go fishing with.  The pool here is pretty neat, it’s the largest pool in the whole state of Missouri!  On the 4th they had some fun activities planned like a water balloon toss, watermelon hunt (picture an Easter egg hunt, but with watermelons hidden around the entire campground!), bingo games and a great fireworks show that night.  On Sunday we found another church (First Baptist of Grain Valley) to go to and they were so friendly!  You know it’s a small church when your kids double the nursery population!  After church we went to a fun restaurant downtown Kansas City called Fritz’s Railroad Restaurant.  You order your meal by telephone from your table and then a train delivers the food.  Sam said he loved it there and Ben was pretty amazed at the trains and everyone had plenty to watch.  It was a fun day!

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IMG_7418 - Copy                                                 Joe, Sam and Elise enjoying the biggest swimming pool in Missouri!

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Brothers frog hunting together

IMG_4397 - Copy                                                                       Elise and Sam found this nice toad right in our campsite and Ben had to check him out!

IMG_4388 - Copy                                                  We all have our own journal for this trip and this was the first night of writing.  Some wrote pages and some wrote a few sentences (and even that was like pulling teeth!!)

246 - Copy                                                                       Elise loved picking flowers to decorate the camper and even to decorate us!


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Abby, Elise and I played some Bingo on the 4th of July at the campground

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Ordering lunch by telephone was fun at Fritz’s Railroad Restaurant and the hats were a pretty cool too!

Monday (the 6th) I took the kids to the Crown center which I had heard had a lot to do and they sure do!  Hallmark Cards has a place there called Kaleidescope which is great for kids.   It’s free and you get 40 minutes to create things at many different stations using leftover Hallmark card supplies.  You get a bag when you go in to put all of your creations in and the kids had a lot of fun there.  We left with crown headbands, crazy painted paper sunglasses and our very own drawings turned into puzzles just to name a few.  Lance joined us that afternoon for Sea Life Aquarium that is also in the Crown Center.  It was especially popular with Ben who loves the “shish” and “meemo” which means Nemo.

IMG_4554 - Copy                                                 Ben loved the fish!

Wednesday (the 8th) we went to see Fort Osage and the National Frontier Trails Museum in Independence, Missouri.  It was a rainy day so we were the only ones at the Fort, but the kids had fun checking out the guard towers, barracks and trading post.  The museum was small, but had the perfect amount of exhibits for small children without a lot of patience left for the day.  Lance and I really enjoyed learning more about the Santa Fe and Oregon Trails that both began in Independence, Missouri.  What a difficult and dangerous journey those pioneers went on.   Abby and Elise got to pack and unpack a wagon with supplies and had to make hard choices with what they “needed” and what they “wanted” for the long trip.  Sam liked the gold miner’s section where they had a wheel to spin and see what section it landed on.  The pie shapes said things like “found gold and struck it rich” and “found gold, but spent it all on women and booze”.  Somehow Sam is often the one who brings up the hard questions!  “Mom?  What does it mean to buy women and booze?”  We had quite a conversation about that.  I told him that sometimes men pay money to have women kiss them.  He thinks kissing is gross so he’s pretty astounded that someone would pay for that, what a waste of money!!!

004 - Copy                                                Fort Osage

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017 - Copy                                                Sam and Elise exploring the fort.

188 - Copy                                                                Packing the “wagon” at the museum for the wagon train.

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059 - Copy                                                 The wheel that prompted an unexpected conversation with Sam.

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Thursday (the 9th) I took the kids to the Deanna Rose Children’s Farmstead.  It is also free and we would highly recommend it.  They had a milking barn where you could pet calves and practice milking water out of gallon buckets.  You could go in a teepee and also learn about the Indians who lived in this area.  There was a mining area (which did cost a little bit for the material they were sifting through) where the kids got to use sifters in some water to find “rare gems”.  This was Sam’s favorite, that boy loves rocks!  There were pony rides, fishing (I’m not thrilled with putting worms on the fishing hook, but I did it just for Sam…. much to the amusement of Joe), and many nice playgrounds along with all of the usual farm animals that you could pet.  It was a good day.

230 - Copy                                                                          Joe and Ben surrounded by goats

221 - Copy                                               Sam, Joe, Abby and Elise sifting for gems

214 - Copy                                                                         Ben and Sam practicing their milking skills

234 - Copy                                                                         Elise got to ride Lucy the pony

242 - Copy                                                                 Tractor rides for Ben and Elise

Sunday (the 12th), was Ben’s 2nd birthday.  We celebrated with lunch at the T-Rex Café in Kansas City.  He was both amazed and afraid of all the big dinosaurs.  When we got back home we went swimming and then had cupcakes and presents.  I think he had a pretty good birthday!

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112 - Copy                                               Elise and Ben playing with one of his birthday presents, a felt play mat for his cars and trains.

We left Lake Paradise Resort on Monday and headed into Kansas.  Our time at the resort was great, it felt good to stay in one place for so long and we all were a little sad to leave.

104 - Copy                                                 The sunset on our last night at Lake Paradise Resort

Well, that’s what our first 2 1/2 weeks have been like…very busy and lots of fun!  We are excited to see what’s next!

And we’re off…

Lance here – Left today a little after noon with some heart-felt goodbyes.  We chose a long trip for the first day!  A little too long. Made it to South Bend before Rose had to eat again, and then to Indianapolis.  Parked the trailer at Lowe’s and headed over to the state capital building to ask a stranger to take our picture.  One down, 47 capitals to go!  We then headed over to the Indianapolis Motor Speedway, where we went exploring while Rose ate again.  Hitched the trailer back up, and finally arrived at Yogi Bear Jellystone campground by Lake Monroe around 9:00 PM, and no dinner yet!  Susan did amazing at making mac & cheese / sandwiches under pressure from screaming babies.  Everyone pitched in setting up, especially since I parked too close to the electric post and we had to tear it down and move the trailer a couple feet over.  I should be getting better at this pretty quick….  Anyway, feels good to be on our way, although it is finally hitting home that we are not going to be at home for quite a while now….