We’ve Survived the Plague

Well, that was an interesting spring.  We took a family trip to the Mall of America for homeschool days at perhaps the worst possible time, just as Covid-19 was quietly invading the country.  We stayed in a hotel, went to IKEA and Trader Joe’s, took in all the sights at the MOA (Sea Life, mini golf, laser games!)…. and brought home more than the souvenirs we’d planned.

Jack got sick first, with a terrible cough, fever, fatigue, etc.  Coronavirus was barely on our radar at that point even though I had joked about “going to the biggest international tourist destination in the midwest at the start of a plague.”  Yeah, perhaps I shouldn’t have thumbed my nose quite so much at fate?  😉

Corona gives you very rosy cheeks

In any case, Alex got sick for about a minute and was better.  Fiona developed a high fever, stomach ache, sore throat, cough, etc. and was sick for about a week but never dangerously so.  Jack got better but had lingering fatigue and muscle weakness (especially in one leg) for literally months.  Rhia and Daryl didn’t really get sick at all, even though I was very worried about Daryl since he’s older and disabled.

And I… good grief did I get sick.  Wowza.  It pretty much leveled every system in my body.  I had so many weird side effects that it felt like it was gaslighting me, since the news certainly wasn’t reporting things like numb toes, bursting blood vessels in your legs, phantom heart attacks, tingling limbs, hypothermia (my body temp dropped to 93.7 twice) or your body inexplicably forgetting to breathe when you fall asleep, just to name a few of the weirder manifestations.

 

I spent over two months doing breathing exercises (I cannot recommend those enough to protect your lungs, prevent pneumonia, calm anxiety, decrease blood pressure, increase lung capacity and raise your oxygen levels), drinking massive amounts of water (ditto, cannot stress this one enough), taking hot steamy baths and medicating round-the-clock with kitchen/nature remedies that I used to manage and conquer the whack-a-mole of symptoms that is coronavirus.  Daryl foraged me nettles every morning for weeks to make me strong nettle tea and I also relied on fresh garlic (you must finely mince it and let it sit for 5-10 minutes before taking it to activate the alicin, and then remember to take it 2-3 times a day just as you would meds), elderberry, ginger (a very potent antiviral that is also excellent for many of the parts of the body this attacks), apple cider vinegar, fermented foods and drinks like kombucha, etc.

Two months into my illness I finally was able to see my doctor and she told me to keep doing “exactly what you’re doing” because all of my levels were so high for things like iron and white blood cell counts.  Now three months from our initial sickness, Jack and I are still recovering (he is still weak and tires easily, I still have some numb toes and muscle/joint pain) but we’re firmly in the post-viral phase of recovery and long past the terrifying actual illness.

I have found a lot of ways to find the blessings this gave me.  I learned a lot about the honestly impressive power of affirmations, meditation and deep breathing, and the importance of finally prioritizing sleep, stress relief and real self care.  I spent time every day on our roof balcony doing light yoga and stretching and getting sunshine for vitamin D.  I went for walks and bike rides with the kids to make sure I got light exercise every day that I could (there’s about a month that’s pretty much a blur though). I’ve lost weight and toned my body.  I gave up coffee and lost my hot flashes in the process.  I gave up wine for a month or two but Daryl and Tiffany convinced me that it would be okay if I wanted to imbibe again and boy, did I want to after all that.  🙂  I spent my time doing things I enjoyed like reading and reviewing books, working in the garden, watching Netflix and Hulu with the kids, and spending quality time with Daryl.  And we all made it.

It was intense and there were some really terrifying times (I’m intentionally skipping over the scariest stuff).  Don’t underestimate this thing.  But boy do you appreciate the little things (like being alive) when life reminds you how lucky you are.

If you or someone you love is sick with Covid-19 and you want more detailed information on the best resources I’ve found, let me know.  I found that the media and most websites were really worthless for the most part, but there are a few helpful sites out there and I can round them all up if it’s helpful.

Stay well and hang in there.

A Week in Nebraska

I’m just going to jump in like I’ve been yapping regularly all this time and not bother to try to catch up at the moment.  🙂

We’re back from a week at Tiffany’s in Nebraska, and it was just what we needed.  I took Alex and Fiona in my new(ish) Nebraska car that I got last summer.  (I jokingly call my cars Nebraska cars since I rarely drive other than going to visit Tiffany, and it’s been a few years now since I had a “Nebraska car” or vehicle of my own.)

We escaped the snow and bitter cold of Minnesota for far less snow and more bearable cold of Nebraska.

Fiona and Millie were inseparable, as always.  When we’re all home in our separate states, the girls spend much of every day video chatting and playing “side by side” that way, so it didn’t seem to them as if they’d been away from each other at all (they are video chatting again right now as I type, as a matter of fact).

We didn’t do a whole lot, which is mostly the point when we go.  We sit around under cozy blankets and read books and do crossword puzzles, drink copious amounts of British tea, help Tiffany walk and play with the numerous dogs she cares for, and play cards and Pictionary into the night.  It’s wonderfully laid back and rejuvenating.

Tiffany’s Jack (now 17!) has been going to the local public school for the past couple of years since they have really fantastic programs for kids with Downs Syndrome, so he was gone during the weekdays.  Once he was home, he and Alex had great times playing Wii and Minecraft,, practicing basketball and hanging out, too.

We did some crafts to use up some of Tiffany’s craft supplies and had fun painting (this was my sign to remind myself to say yes to more, in all kinds of ways).Jessie even did a couple of fantastic tarot readings for me to practice her craft (she’s started a tarot business that is going really well).

Escaping to Nebraska is always just what we need.  I’m now ready to face reality for at least another month.  🙂

Five Things That Are Making Us Happy Right Now

 

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I’m trying once again to get back to regular blogging after so many false starts, so I thought I’d just dive in with a quick post for anybody who’s still out there.

Here are 5 things making us happy right now, thanks to the convenience of Instagram.  🙂

1.  Our rescue kitten, Oscar.  Long time readers know that we’ve found homes for many feral kittens and cats over the years but we decided we were down to a manageable enough number of pets again (3 cats) that we could adopt one ourselves.

View this post on Instagram

Oscar and Fiona 💕

A post shared by Alicia Bayer (@magicandmayhem) on

2.  Silly car games on car rides.  This one that Rhia made up to occupy Fiona and Alex had us all in stitches.

3.  Easy nature studies projects.  We grew grass in CD cases a couple of weeks ago and have also been doing all kinds of other seasonal nature study activities.  (Obligatory affiliate link to my nature studies book if you want lots of other simple nature study ideas arranged by season.)

4.  Foraging as a family.  As always, we’re gathering loads of wild edible foods so far this season.  It always makes me smile to think that this all started as a fun summer homeschool project and it’s evolved into something that provides hundreds of pounds of free, healthy food for our family (and two books!).  So far this year, we’ve gathered over 60 pounds of wild asparagus and various quantities of morel mushrooms, lambsquarters, pheasant back mushrooms, nettles, ramps, violets, wild onions, and more.

5.  Membership to the science museum.  We’ve been getting lots of use out of our annual membership, even though it’s an hour and a half away in Sioux Falls.  We do much of our shopping in Sioux Falls and Rhia’s boyfriend lives there, so we have lots of excuses to go lately.  I always try to combine educational benefits and fun for the kids in our travels even to nearby cities, so we tend to go as a family and make an adventure of the day.

There is a lot of other stuff going on (mostly good, some less so) and I hope to start catching up on all of it.

What are you and your kiddos up to this month?

A Little Women’s Studies Field Trip

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Victoria and Rhiannon each took a bit of a field trip yesterday.  They participated in the #WomensMarch in St. Paul (Minnesota), along with roughly 100,000 others (and several million around the world).  🙂

Victoria went with a charter bus from New Ulm, a city about an hour from us, and Rhiannon went with a friend and some of her friends and their children in a van that left from Mankato.  Poor Daryl had to leave at 5:30 a.m. with them to get them to their respective drop-off points so they could get up to the march in time.

They both had phenomenal times, to say the least.

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Rhia stayed up late the night before embroidering feminist statements on her jacket.  I’ll have to get a picture of some!

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(I gave Toria that hat for Christmas.  Wasn’t it perfect for the day?)

It was a profoundly empowering experience for both girls, and Toria called it one of the coolest experiences of her life.

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I’m very proud of my girls (and all who marched around the world!).

10 Things We’ve Been Up To Lately

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I’ve gone and disappeared for too long again!  I really want to get back to writing and connecting here regularly.  I have to figure out a way to make it work again!

I have a massive to-do poster on my bedroom door right now, with quadrants for the house (we have a huge remodeling project starting this month), the kids, school, work and miscellaneous.  I think I’ll add blogging to the list even though it isn’t a “must” — simply because it hangs over me like one and I do feel so much better when I am keeping track of our little life here.  🙂

So in an effort to quickly catch up in a tiny way, here are 10 random things we’ve been up to lately!

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  1. We all went to the Maple Syrup sugarbush boil-off at a local nature camp, as always.  There was a huge breakfast buffet with a free-will donation, and Daryl once again worked one of the tables selling maple syrup and teaching people how to tap maple trees.  (If you want to know how to tap maple trees, check here, and learn about tapping black walnut trees here.)
  2. Toria is currently in Oregon, visiting friends.
  3. The youngest three kids, Daryl and I went looking for morels at a nearby nature area today.  We figured it was too early (it is) but we wanted to check.  One good rain and they should pop!
  4. Fiona, Alex and I went to Tiffany’s for a getaway.  They had the flu and we came back the very next day.  It was a very long drive for a very short trip!
  5. We made easy gluten free playdough.  Easy recipe: 2 cups baking soda, 1 cup corn starch, 1 1/4 cups cold water. Stir over medium heat until thick, turn onto a surface until cool enough to handle (covered with a damp cloth so it doesn’t dry out), divide into balls and color. I may add a touch of oil next time, but it’s a very nice dough. Keep it in the fridge to last longer (in a baggie).
  6. Toria now has a longboard and has been riding it quite a bit.
  7. Alex was bit by the neighbor’s dog, which caused the neighbor to feel understandably bad for him and ask what sorts of things he liked.  I said he liked anything, even rocks, but that he is particularly fond of Snap Circuits since he loves science and building kits so much.  She surprised him a few days later with this massive motion exploration kit.  He literally jumped up and down and shrieked quite a bit, and has spent many hours building movable creations (ones suggested in the kit and ones he’s created himself with it).  He recovered quite well, incidentally.
  8. We have been doing lots of work on the yard and gardens now that spring is here.  It’s so nice to be around green and dirt again!
  9. The younger kids have been doing online educational games for some homeschool fun.  Fiona and Daddy play on Teach Your Monster to Read and the boys play on Prodigy for math, both of which are free.
  10. We’ve been playing lots of board games, card games, dart games and other real-life games, too.  We got an electronic dart board at a thrift store and we’ve all had a blast playing it, but it’s also been good for math.  We play 301 most of the time and you have to end up exactly on 0 to win, which means that the kids frequently have to figure out which combinations of doubles and triples would help win (like triple 17 if you’re down to 51 and have only one toss left, for instance).

Unfortunately, the flu has also invaded (we brought it home from Tiffany’s), so I have to go back to snuggling a little four year old who is not fond of being sick.  She announced today that she doesn’t remember ever being sick before and she is quite over it!  I’m dosing her up with elderberry syrup to kick it fast.

I swear I’ll be back soon!

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Snow Days

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We’ve been snowed in for two days with a winter blizzard that’s led to closed highways and canceled plans.  While I’ll be awfully tired of this business in a month or two, I kind of like this part of Minnesota winters for now.

We’re forced to slow down, stay home and do cozy things like read, play games and bake.  I take long baths and browse seed catalogs to plan my spring and summer gardens.  I use up apples, pears, berries and pumpkin puree that we put up last summer and fall in homemade muffins and gluten free mix and match snack cakes.  We watch silly British math shows.  The kids have tickle fights and show each other funny videos.

We picked up this geography game for 99 cents at a thrift store and finally got around to playing it yesterday. It was quite old and exceptionally well made, and luckily every piece was still there. It led to quite a lot of great learning about geography and history for Jack,  Victoria and even me.

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This morning, I set the little ones up with a giant bin of snow and ice cube trays of colored water.  They had so much fun mixing colors and experimenting with making tunnels with water.

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Later, Victoria did marshmallow homeschool with Jack, Fiona and Alex while they warmed up with hot cocoa after shoveling the driveway.  She asked them questions related to math, social studies and spelling for them to earn marshmallows (examples for Jack: What’s the difference between a slave and an indentured servant?  If 4x + 4 = 20, what is x?).  She googled questions for various grades in order to come up with good questions.  My kids always love doing marshmallow or chocolate chip homeschool.  Afterwards, Jack asked me to do more algebra with him (no treats involved).

marshmallow

Hopefully, we’ll be able to dig our way out in the next day or so.  If not, I can live with a longer break from the outside world.  We have plenty of groceries, a warm house and a nearly endless supply of games, books, shows, Pinterest crafts and other goodies that I’ve been meaning to get to for far too long now (which led to last February’s Use it Up challenge).  🙂

Stay warm!

Yesterday and Today, In Pictures

Boy, if these photos don’t show what our homeschool is like, I don’t know what does.

Yesterday, we went hiking at Red Rock Dells, a park about 20 minutes from us.

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It was so much fun.  It was nature study, history, science, PE and more.  And it’s just beautiful and good for the soul.

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Today, Daryl took Toria and Alex and some homeschooling friends two hours away to take part in a movie shoot.

As extras.  In a zombie movie.  🙂

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Isn’t my boy darling?!

This is the movie they’re shooting.

Daryl just called to check in.  They didn’t wrap up shooting until after seven so they’ll be back late.  They’re excited about going back tomorrow and Saturday, even though it involves an awful lot of sitting around (they’re bringing iPod chargers and more books tomorrow!).

They’re learning lots about the movie business and I have no idea what else (can I somehow make this count for social studies?), but what an experience!

And in contrast, this is what Jack and I were doing while they were filming….

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He stayed home and helped me with Fiona (no zombies under five allowed).  He’s not sure if he wants to have anything to do with this zombie business, though he’s signed up so he can take part if he chooses to.

And we had a pretty fun time on our own.

It’s an odd life, but a fun one!  🙂

History Fest Recap

I’m finally suitably recovered from History Fest, which took place this year October 6-10.  It was even more fun and amazing than usual, and that’s saying a lot.

This was the 20th anniversary of History Fest, which is amazing in itself.

Keep in mind that this is an annual event that was created just because a wonderful local man (Jack McGowan) went to the Renaissance Festival and said that the Mankato area kids ought to have something like that to learn history in a fun way — and then made it happen (with the help of a whole lot of other people).

For twenty years now.  For no profit.

(Admission is only $5 to help cover the costs. Teachers, chaperones, children under 5 and volunteers get in free.)

And it also has become one of the most magical, educational, fantastic things I have ever experienced.

Jack McGowan didn’t just get some people together to reenact some historic events.  He used his own land and an adjacent sheep farm that was later donated to the cause, and built a historic playland.

There’s a saloon, a jail, a lodge, a troll tunnel that goes underground and comes up at a grate far away, a massive sandbox stocked with treasure to dig for, a house front rigged with a gas line to stay on fire with a fire hose attached to a working pump going into the river, stilts, carts, an enormous trebuchet that takes teams of kids to wind to launch pumpkins into the river….  And so much more.

All built by Jack and volunteers over the years for the love of the kids and “playfully preserving history.”

That’s Jack in one of the whimsical creations he’s constructed.  🙂

(photo by Jennifer McLaughlin Ware)

(photo by Jennifer McLaughlin Ware)

There are just no words for how incredible it is to take part in History Fest, and how proud I am of all of the people who come together to do this incredible thing.

This year, I took part as Lucrezia Borgia (Lucrecia for the Americans).  Our friend Dané , a local homeschool graduate whose mom helps run History Fest, made my gown — in under two weeks!

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Daryl even got me a compartment ring that we filled with pop rock candy (I mean poison!) so I could drop it into drinks to fizz mysteriously for the kids.  🙂

Of course I told them that I was an innocent and it was all nasty rumors.  The little girls especially were always on my side by the end of my story, with big eyes and outrage at all of the things my father the pope and my awful brother Cesare had done to me (and to my poor husband #2).  I told them that historians now say that Lucrezia was probably just a loyal victim of her family’s, and not involved at all in their corruption or killings.

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(photo by Jennifer McLaughlin Ware)

I didn’t mention her fondness for extramarital affairs or the illegitimate child born while she was “resting” in a convent at seventeen (in between arranged marriages #1 and #2), though.  I did tell them that her third husband greatly mourned her when she died, and the people of her land did, too.  I told them that she was a patron of the arts and loved poetry, and had eight children, and died at age 39 after having her last (stillborn) child.

Perhaps sometime they’ll hear the name Lucrecia Borgia and offer up a bit of “inside information” from when they chatted with that infamous lady one October at McGowan’s farm.  🙂

As for the rest of the family…

Daryl once again played the gambler in the saloon.

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Jack manned the Huck Finn raft and taught old fashioned games like rolling hoops and playing graces.

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He also helped out in the saloon.  He runs a mean chuck-a-luck game.

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Victoria was Joan of Arc but mostly helped out behind the scenes feeding the hordes of volunteers and reenactors.

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On the last day, she donned a gown we picked up at a thrift store for $3.

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Alex allegedly helped out at the Huck Finn raft, but mostly he just ran wild and played.  It’s hard not to run wild and play at History Fest.

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Rhia played the part of a fairy, doling out dragon tears and treasures to children (and hung out with her boyfriend, who was helping to park cars in the mornings).

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(photo by Mike Huerkamp)

(photo by Mike Huerkamp)

And Miss Fiona played one of my daughters, Leonora d’Este (who became a nun), and also turned four years old on the last day.  Four!

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It should be noted that Fiona is a History Fest baby.  Her birthday always takes place during or right around History Fest.  I actually scheduled her C-section for that date so our family (minus myself) could still volunteer at History Fest that year.  🙂

Here are a more pics of the magic.

(photo by Jennifer McLaughlin Ware)

(photo by Jennifer McLaughlin Ware)

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(photo by Jennifer McLaughlin Ware)

(photo by Jennifer McLaughlin Ware)

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(photo by Mike Huerkamp)

(photo by Mike Huerkamp)

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(photo by Mike Huerkamp)

(photo by Mike Huerkamp)

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(photo by Mike Huerkamp)

(photo by Mike Huerkamp)

(photo by Mike Huerkamp)

(photo by Mike Huerkamp)

(photo by Mike Huerkamp)

(photo by Mike Huerkamp)

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(photo by Mike Huerkamp)

(photo by Jennifer McLaughlin Ware)

(photo by Mike Huerkamp)

(photo by Mike Huerkamp)

(photo by Jennifer McLaughlin Ware)

(photo by Jennifer McLaughlin Ware)

(photo by Mike Huerkamp)

(photo by Jennifer McLaughlin Ware)

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(photo by Mike Huerkamp)

(photo by Mike Huerkamp)

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(photo by Jennifer McLaughlin Ware)

Sorry to deluge you with photos, and this is still only a fraction of the things to see and do at History Fest!

Now this is how to learn history.  🙂 

(photo by Jennifer McLaughlin Ware)

(photo by Jennifer McLaughlin Ware)

(photo by Mike Huerkamp)

(photo by Jennifer McLaughlin Ware)

(photo by Jennifer McLaughlin Ware)

(photo by Jennifer McLaughlin Ware)

(photo by Mike Huerkamp)

(photo by Mike Huerkamp)

When the “Not Back to School Party” Goes Into the Next Day…

You know it’s a good homeschool party when you have to pick up some of the kids in the morning!  🙂

We celebrated NBTS with some fun Mankato homeschoolers last week and had the best time.

It started at 8 but we got there about 10:30 a.m. and most of us didn’t get out of there for about 11 hours!

Rhia and Jack spent the night (it was at McGowan’s Farm of History Fest fame so they have all sorts of buildings) and our homeschool mama friend Julie watched over all the kiddos.  She has 12 kiddos and is used to such things.  😉

There was music making and all sorts of good fun.

One of the local homeschool mamas is a fantastic face painter, so all the kids had to be done up.  Don’t they look amazing?

Alex’s was done by an apprentice face painter! He loved it. 🙂

Since it was at the magical land of McGowan’s Farm, there was also unbelievably wonderful stuff all over, as always (think ziplines and massive sandboxes filled with dragon tears and chariots for the kids to haul us around on and troll tunnels and more….).

Some of the kids had a giant foam sword battle, complete with battle planning and standard battle rules (get hit in the arm, hold that arm behind your back, get hit in the leg, get down on one knee, get hit in the chest, lie dead in the grass!).  Luckily, they were revived to battle another day again and again.  🙂

And Rhia got to spend time with her sweetie, who’s also a homeschooler from the area.

The fun went into the night, with rock painting and roasted marshmallows and more.

It was a magical day!

New Beginnings and Old Traditions

medshowLots of things started in our family last week.

The foraging/gathering season really took off for elderberries, wild plums, pears, apples and acorns.

photo 2Daryl and Victoria even gathered wild plums from the banks of Plum Creek yesterday.  How cool is that?  🙂

plumcreekI’ve been drying trays of elderberries for a week and now I’m searching for ways to best use the plums quickly, too.  (Since starting this draft this afternoon, I’ve made one batch of Young Country Wine with them! I’ll report back on how that turns out.)

Daryl’s parents have more apples than they can use, so he headed out there and gathered four bushels of apples to process.  One bushel’s worth has already has been processed and two big pans of apple crisp are in the oven as I type.

I also traded some apples and dried elderberries to a friend who had extra backyard plums.  Aren’t they the most beautiful plums you’ve ever seen?

plumsVictoria also started her new job.  She did training on Thursday and she’s been working every weekday since.  It will go in spurts when her supervisor is in our part of the state, but he plans to do a lot of work around our area for a while.  Her first paycheck should be awesome.

firstdayIn other new beginnings, Rhia (Anna) has her first boyfriend.  Eek!  She’s fifteen  now.  He’s sixteen.  I am probably not allowed to say any more.  🙂

And then some old traditions were continued…

Daryl and the boys took part in the Old Time Medicine Show at the historic Hubbard House in Mankato.  Daryl played his riverboat gambler character and also taught the audience how to play the spoons.  Alex and Jack played old time pickpockets and helped our wonderful friend Susan run some old time medicine show swindles.  🙂

med3It was a wonderful day and we had such a good time with wonderful friends.  I love taking part in living history events, not just because of all the kids learn but also because it’s quite simply just fun.

I also love that one of my kids’ best friends is a 60-something year old lady who dresses up and plays in the past at so many of the same events with us.  One day she’s having my boys swindle her audience with her medicine show scams (they’ve been cured of worms more than once with her diabolically clever pills!) and the next day she’s a temperance lady dressed in black, hollering at my poor husband to take his gambling and boozing elsewhere.  🙂

med2Lots more has been going on — bowling and billiards at a birthday party, a new box of books… lots of things that start with B, I guess.  😉  And more.

I’m starting to do my fall planning and I hope to get a tentative schedule figured out.  It will be very loose and organic, as always.  I’m excited to get into some new topics with the kids, though, and see what the new season brings.

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