It was only two months ago,
but it felt like a hundred years
(well, to be more specific, more like 173 years).
It was Sutter's Fort time! Again! The amazing school Environmental Learning Program that lets you live the life of a pioneer for a day.
Once again, we stepped back in time. But this year wasn't just a repeat of last year. First of all, there was this really sexy frontiersman working in the bakery this year...
I wanted to say, "Hey there, Hottie, those are nice buns!"
but I held my prairie tongue. The children, you know. Plus, they were technically cinnamon rolls, but more on that later.
As the morning broke, we waited for the newest wagon train to roll in...
...to cheer on the new arrivals from Back East!
Tessa was so excited to be on the wagon train!
Another thing that was different this year was a rugged little trapper we brought along.
He did pretty well most of the time, and kept track of 'lil sis very well.
And this little prairie pumpkin was far more mobile and adventuresome this time around.
It was nice to have the extra hands of Jonah, Ellie and Tessa.
My most favorite change this year was this one... Francine came!!!!
It was SOOO wonderful to have her with us. I don't think Natalie even knows that this dear woman isn't related to us, but that doesn't mean Francine isn't family! Francine came with the intention of being with us as a guide for the group of youngin's all day, but at the last minute the event coordinator asked her to help in the kitchen because some parents had cancelled. Francine, ever helpful and kind, didn't even bat an eye, but jumped right in to help and cheer every one of those lucky pioneers on kitchen duty!
Another great change was that this year I got to be a group guide, so I spent the entire day with my cute kiddos (and the cute kiddos of a few other families. I really had an amazing, respectful and sweet group).
First Stop: The Trading Post
The kids worked so hard this year to make bartering items to trade at the Trading Post, and were so excited to trade, but unlike last year when they could make several trades, surprisingly this year they were only allowed to make one.
Well, if you dig a hole, a child will fill it. In no time at all the children realized they could trade with each other, and soon they were flocking. Flocking is what I call it when kids begin to socialize by running back and forth in a large clump, getting to know one another while in motion. They gathered and traded most happily with no grown-ups to interfere, and then they were off again. The best part for me came later, when the kids were showing me their trade items. Ellie showed me a little bauble that had been clumsily made by some very small child. "I didn't really want it but nobody wanted to trade with him and he really wanted to trade." I was so in awe of her. That sweet moment would never have transpired if the Trading Post had done things the old way.
Second stop: The Blacksmith Shop
Last year I was hog tied to a doll making station, but this time around as guide, I was thrilled to have a front seat view of my spring-offs living this adventure as we went from station to station.
There were some truly magical moments that I am so glad I didn't miss. The sights and sounds were other-worldly; well, other timely, anyway.
Jonah was just listening at first, and because our homeschool philosophy is child led,
I didn't push him at all.
But before I knew it, that little guy, who can barely write his name,
was taking notes like the big kids!
(it says: ANVIL, FORGE, BELLOWS, TONGS, HAMMER)
The children helped the blacksmith, Biscuts, file the burs from horseshoes,
...overseen by Biscuts' horse, Lucky (I just made that up. The name. I'm pretty sure it was a horse, though. Or a cow, maybe. Either way, not too lucky.)
Tessa and Jonah pumped the bellows to stoke the fire.
Jonah doesn't usually want to participate in anything that would put him up in front of people, but I think the fire was a little too irresistible. You know, boys and fire... I think it's biblical.
"And behold, God created fire, and Adam's sons said it was good."
The smokey air and the streaming natural light were so painterly and lovely that at certain moments I really forgot there was a world out there where my laundry and unreturned Netflix movie waited.
Next Stop: Oh, I don't know,
I think I missed a few, but Weaving was one!
I think I missed a few, but Weaving was one!
There were a few new stations this year, including weaving and spinning, which the girls loved. There will be more weaving at our house in the future, for sure! The girls loved it so much we have ordered a loom for each of them through the school.
And near by at The Bakery...
It was The Hottie!!!! What a man.
Making 16 loaves of bread, 8 dozen cinnamon rolls
and 6 dozen ginger snap cookies in an outdoor wood oven,
and not even breaking a sweat!
It was enough to make a lil' ol' pioneer like me swoon!
(he's not warm, he's blushing because a foxy prairie chicky-poo was flirting with him)
What a dough-ver achiever!
(insert bad-joke-moan here)
After helping other children to make bread all day,
it was sweet to see Guy help Jonah cornmeal the peel (wooden paddle)
so the loaves would slide off into the clay oven.
Next on our trek: The Wagon
This was a very cool stop. We got to see how amazingly resourceful pioneers were. They not only wasted NOTHING, but they managed to cram the maximum amount of provisions into the most minute spaces. They created ways to do jobs that were back breaking with the most conservative effort, and to use and reuse and reuse again, anything and everything.
Each child took on the name and story of a pioneer. Our kids took roles of ancestors from our own family, whose names and stories have been collected by my Aunt June (thank you, Aunt June!). There was one task in their genuine pioneer experience the kids were spared; cow dung collecting. But now I have something to threaten them with if they complain about chores at home.
Some of my favorite moments were in watching the kids playing simple pioneer games. They laughed so hard and got along so well. There was no need to tan their hides or horse-whip them and send them to bed with out any gruel or anything.
I must take a moment here to talk about the preparations for this adventure in the form of: 3 aprons, 5 bonnets 3 skirts, 6 tote bags, 3 petticoats, 1 wrap, 2 altered shirts and one altered dress that Kathy and I tackled. We were much cuter pioneers than last year, when we borrowed most everything, and there was a certain Fraulein Maria vibe put off by the clothes that we made out of thrifted curtains and bed linens. Also, I can now make day cap-style bonnets in my sleep. But if you need one, you can just borrow one from me. I am now retired from bonnet making.
Darling Francine would steal away from the kitchen from time to time
to see the kidlets enjoying their activities.
It was so joyful to see her with them.
It was, in fact during one of these stolen moments
that she turned Jonah's little day around.
He was hot, and tired, and worn out from being so good, and had just begun to completely shut down (as anyone who knows him well would recognize). He was not wanting to participate in the cool goings-on anymore, and things were heading in a bad direction (usually ending with some well meaning adult trying to intervene, causing him embarrassment, resulting in him dashing away to hide and cry).
Francine gathered him up in her arms and loved on him, whispered secrets to him that made him giggle, and soon released a happy little boy all ready to dip candles!
Stop Number I-lost-count: The Kitchen!
The food we ate during our stay at the fort was all made by the children (and, if you were wondering if their hands were well washed, the answer is an unequivocal NO! Frighteningly, no. Washed, yes. But well? Oh, my nelly, no. We should be dead of ptomaine poisoning, but we are quite alive, so read on and try not to think about where their grimy little hands may have been).
Lunch... Bean burritos with veggies and sliced fruit
Dinner... Beef, potato and veggie stew
with fresh baked bread (See; Hottie: above)
and hand churned butter
Dessert: Dutch Oven Apple Cobbler
Night Watch snack: Cocoa and ginger snaps
Breakfast next morning: Cinnamon Rolls, cocoa and fruit
Attention: No fingers were amputated in the making of this stew.
(That's a green bean in the bowl, silly!
it kind'a does look like a pinky!)
(Repeat after me...
their hands were relatively clean,
their hands were relatively clean...)
A late afternoon visit from Francine kept Nano
from flopping down in the dust and just giving up!
Oh, wait, It stopped me from flopping down in the dust!
She must have roomy pockets,
because she's carrying all of our hearts.
Next, a favorite of the day:
Ziggy and Pioneer Games
All the games that Ziggy taught could be played with stones
or sticks or just your hands, and made the kids just laugh hysterically.
We interrupt this post to bring you a quick game of peekaboo.
(oh, my, isn't she just edible?)
We interrupt this game of peekaboo
to ring the school bell REALLY LOUD and frighten small children
who only moments ago were smiling and happy.
This is Loana, the event coordinator. She began coming to Sutter's Fort when her children were small, and now is the person who plans the whole kit-and-kabootle. She supplies all of the food and materials, and orchestrates the planning, training and execution (ha, no, not that kind! You are feisty today, aren't you? We no longer execute children for poor behavior. It's not really the 1800's! No, we give time-outs and avoid prison sentences). When the kids learned who she was, they spontaneously started hugging her. You have to know she is special if Jonah the Hug Miser was willing to pony up.
This was perhaps the funniest stop of the day. The One Room Schoolhouse. Jonah has never been to public school, but I swear to you this is EXACTLY how Ethan did school. Must be genetic. I don't know if he was bored or beat, but he just sat there.
I took Natalie out to the balcony where she promptly got the world's meanest splinter. Now, if this had happened in the 2000's we would have filed an accident report, called for a nurse, signed a consent and later filed a lawsuit. But this was 1843, baby! We just borrowed a straight pin outta a nearby pinafore apron, yanked that shard out and gave the lil' dumplin' a kiss.
The patient was reported to be recovering nicely,
though with slight angst toward all wood.
At the end of the day, it finally happened. Jonahboy lost it. It happened back at the trading post, when the kids were told that if there was time they could do one last trade. Jonah was hav'n a tur'ble time makin' up his five-year-old mind between the fake gold nuggets and the wooden snakes, because the only snake left was missing an eye. The post began to close. He thought he had done something wrong and they didn't want to let him trade. Remember the "dash, hide and cry" routine I mentioned earlier? Yah. We did that for a while.
In the end, he had a nice little pow-wow with the fella at the post, and traded a fine wooden top Jonah had made for a two-eyed snake they found in a box, and all was well.
Hallelujah! Finally, Dinner! I mean, Supper!
I mean... aw, heck...
I think the cooking killed all the grubby-hand germs.
Or maybe they just added flavor. It tasted delicious.
Time for a Ho Down!!!!!
These amazing musicians, who have been doing this and other events since perhaps the late 1800's (or for 20+ years) put on first, a wonderful dance, then....
A hilarious show!
They had us, as tired as we were, dancing and laughing our guts out.
Well, I was actually holding this:
So, sadly, I did not get to dance.
So while they did this...
She managed to somehow still do this...
Go figure. If she's asleep at home and my knee pops,
she's awake till midnight,
but do this...
(that's 20 children with instruments like washboards and banjos they don't know how to play. So pretty. Kind of like a restaurant kitchen mixed with a band tuning their instruments. Do ya hear it? like I said, soooo pretty.)
...and she sleeps right through it.
Somehow after all that we managed to set up beds and tuck Littles in, while Ellie and Tessa went out on the Night Watch to search the fort for bandits, which of course they found, arrested and threw into jail. The real jail, all dark and dank and musty (that part was really cool. It made me want to be 10 again, and not much in life would compel me to go back to that).
Finally, there was sleep. I have no picture of that, but if you close your eyes you will pretty much see how it was from my point of view.
Now pretend you have to pee at five AM and the bathroom is on the other side of the fort. It will be chilly with stars twinkling and dawn making the sky a strange green color, and city sounds having the audacity to climb over the wall. Try not to let your skirts dip in the toilet while your teeth chatter. Now hurry back to bed because if you are lucky, you will get a little more sleep before.....
Hurry now, pull on your socks and dusty shoes,
try to stand up, and listen to your joints scream.
Great. You're all caught up. Now back to our story...
Breakfast was simple, but most welcome.
I've gotta say, that Hottie baker makes one mighty fine cinnamon roll.
All too soon, it was time to pack up.
I can hear her thinking,
"My mom thinks you're really cute,
but I'm warnin' ya, she's a little loco ."
Natalie - bed head. Me - air mattress face!
(what? You thought we'd use bedrolls in the dirt?
I'm not that loco).
And this is what a family looks like after just ONE pioneer night.
Can you imagine 6 months or more?!
I began a tradition last year by slipping away into the gift shop and getting a little memento for each child. Last year it was tin cups. This time Middles got covered wagon pencil sharpeners, and the Littles each got a "ball".
(Or as the local folks call it, a "Hac-kee Saqu".)
It seemed a crime to just jump back into modern life simply because our time at the fort was done, so I taught the Littles to play marbles while Guy and the girls went to get the van.
And just like last year, I felt sad to step out of those high walls and back into the busy world. Alas, we had no choice. We did not bring spare undies, and though I'll walk a quarter mile to the john in the middle of the night, wear curtains for clothes. and even eat food prepared by the hands of nose miners, I will not do two days in the same pair of skivvies.
Goodbye, Sutter's Fort, until next year!
(but what was my souvenir, you ask?
Why, I brought home the baker!)