I can't imagine getting serenaded by my son on the Wyoming prairie for my birthday. But my husband can. Happy birthday, love!
Jacob will be hunting antelope and mule deer in Wyoming in the fall, so two days of our vacation were devoted to scouting the area in which he will be hunting. We drove an hour or so to his designated unit and began to search for an adequate place to camp off of the windy dirt road. We found a place about 30 minutes from Kaycee, through red rock valleys, rocky hillsides, and meadows with incredible views and patchy cell service.
It only took us an hour or so to set up camp and we were good to go- we are getting faster! We geared up and went for a short hike to explore the area before dinner.
"I want a BIG walking stick!" -TLO
After the hike, we made some hot dogs and got ready for bed. Jacob "glassed" for antelope and deer (looked through binoculars) while I read a book to Reed- a neat collection of Winnie the Pooh stories I picked up at a yard sale last week (for $1- oh yeah!). No staying up around the campfire- thankfully the altitude changes don't seem to mess with TLO, but I can feel myself tire pretty easily.
The next morning, revived, I discovered that there is absolutely nothing to do while back country camping except sit by the campfire, read, hike, or talk. So that's how we spent most of the day. It was truly one of the most relaxing and peaceful days I've had in a while. The weather was beautiful, the views were amazing, but my favorite was the silence. Just the sound of nothing but wind. Not something we ever get in Cincy, for sure!
While in Kaycee, we discovered that we were a mere 30 miles from Hole-in-the-Wall, a pass that used to be home to the likes of Jesse James, Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, The Hole in the Wall Gang, and other unruly characters from the Old West. The history of Hole-in-the-Wall is a little cloudy but interesting. We decided to venture out on the rocky, dirt roads to find the pass.
The roads are really windy and bumpy, so I took a Dramamine to help with the carsickness. It helped, but it also knocked me out! I slept through a good part of the 3 hour round-trip drive (30 miles is a loooooong way on those roads), but I managed to get it together long enough to see the pass and some pretty amazing landscapes along the way.
Back at camp in the afternoon, we made campfire potatoes, played with TLO, went on a little hike, and chatted while taking in the scenery. I felt so blessed to have that time to connect with my little family. It was a simple day but also a fulfilling one.
Can't you just stay two forever? I want to capture every precious piece of this stage. His tiny fingers, his little voice, the sound of his laugh, how his belly gets big when he's full...
We wrapped up the night watching Michael Scott order an "awesome blossom- extra awesome" on Netflix, hearing the mule deer stomp outside the tent, and planning the days ahead.
So back country camping was hard, but also one of the best times I've had with my family. I feel pretty good after making it 2 days out in "the wild!" You all should be very proud of me.
We packed up camp early to see the mountain reservoir one last time before we left the Bighorn National Forest and drove about an hour south to Buffalo, Wyoming. We arrived around 11:00 AM and check-in at our hotel wasn't until 2:30, so we had some time to burn. First two items on the agenda in my book: find a laundromat and get some warm food. Because stinky and hungry is not a recipe for a good day.
Lo and behold- a laundromat next to a Pizza Hut buffet! Hallelujah and Amen! We started a giant load of clothes and settled into a booth. We watched in awe as TLO ate salad, pasta, pizza, bread sticks, pudding, and dessert pizza before declaring he was full. Camping is hard work.
After picking up our laundry, we toured Historic Buffalo. There was a stream running through the center of the town with big trout that you could feed from a bridge, arts, sports, antiques, and tourist shops, and an ice cream stand. After a few hours, we were tired and decided to check into our hotel room early and get some rest.
The lobby of the Historic Occidental Hotel was absolutely stunning. It looked like an Old Western parlor with golden, embossed ceilings, animal mounts on the walls, a huge fireplace, a giant piano, and even a newspaper from the 1920s. Plants, flowers, and antiques were everywhere; pictures of famous visitors and beautiful paintings hung on the walls.
The hotel opened in the late 1800's, and much of the furniture and antiques in the hotel were original to the time period. It was incredible to stay in the same hotel that many famous people had visited in the past- like Teddy Roosevelt, Butch Cassidy, Calamity Jane, and Buffalo Bill.
We stayed in the Rose Room- easily the girliest room in the hotel. It was lovely- and Jacob didn't mind because it had ESPN. Ha! We lounged around and explored the antiques, furniture, and decorations in the room and got our first hot shower in days. Just saying that makes me cringe!
The hotel is connected to the Occidental Saloon (also historic with authentic bullet holes preserved in the walls). We planned to eat at the saloon around 6 to have a seat for the live bluegrass band that would begin playing at 7. Apparently, the saloon has live music once a week, and it's a big deal. Reed was super excited for the "banjo show," of course. We got all dressed up and couldn't find a seat in the house! It was a little bit of a bummer, but we found a nearby cafe and walked around town some more. We did manage to sneak into the saloon to let Reed see "the banjo show" for a few minutes, though, before going to sleep for the night. Inside. In a bed. It's the little things.
Reed and I snuck out of the hotel room early the next morning to let Jacob sleep in, the only birthday present he requested. We were in a seat at the Busy Bee Cafe by 7:30 and had a gigantic breakfast.
After breakfast, we walked a few blocks down and visited a nearby museum.
My favorite part of the museum was the memorial of Nate Champion, a hero who held off 50 armed invaders for 7 hours before getting shot and killed, buying the people of Buffalo enough time to form a posse to defend against and overcome the invaders.
His story of courage was incredible, and I teared up as I read it.
The memorial also included a log cabin, a tee-pee, and above all, in Reed's opinion, an old tractor.
TLO would've explored that old tractor for hours, but I made him move along after about 15 minutes of trying to explain parts of the tractor I knew nothing about. I'm becoming quite a tractor and bulldozer expert lately.
We walked back to the hotel and met up with Jacob, checked out, picked up a few supplies, and drove the two hours to our next camping site. We are supposed to spend the next two nights camping on the prairie on public land- that means no furnished campsite, no bathrooms, no water, no electricity. And probably no cell service unless we get really lucky. This is going to be the real challenge of the trip- especially for me. These boys could live out of a tent forever. I can't say the same for myself, so wish me luck!
After spending an early morning in the Badlands, we drove through fields of prairie dogs and antelope and headed West to the Bighorn National Forest. The landscape changed to golden hills and I fell asleep. Silly me! An hour later, I woke up with no cell service (gone for the next two days) and a huge mountain right in front of us. A winding dirt and gravel road snaked up the side of the mountain. It didn't take me long to snap wide awake!
I gripped the car door as we drove up, up, up. The road was really bumpy at first, but after a while it smoothed out. The bottom of the mountain was made up of vast, golden meadows. Antelope, deer, and beautiful log cabins dotted the landscape. After a while, the meadows faded into evergreens and big rocks. Jacob took that opportunity to give me instructions on what to do if I see a bear. Awesome.
We kept going up though, and the big bear-cave rocks went away and all that was left were tall, skinny pine trees, green meadows, and mountain streams. The only strange part of the landscape was all of the cattle! Black Angus cows were everywhere! In the road, in the trees, around the streams. No matter where we were on the mountain, we could hear them moo-ing!
Get outta the road!
We found East Fork Campground and set up camp. We expected wild, ungroomed, vaguely marked campsites. Instead, we found this amazing campground five minutes from a ranger station with clean sites equipped with soft dirt for the tent, a grill, a fire pit, and beautiful views. The campground had a bathroom (yay!) and clean water from a pump, which I thought was
pioneer-y and totally up my alley.
We stayed around camp the first day, set up our tent, and met some of the other people in the campground. There were four other families staying around us, along with the "camp host", Tanna. Tanna was kind of like the camp mom. She brought us firewood for our first night, stopped by and talked a few times a day, and told us the best places to explore. Reed had her wrapped around his finger before too long, and they zoomed around on her ATV to check out the campground by the end of the second day.
We made a yummy dinner over the campfire of steak tips and baked potatoes. It was easy and super satisfying! I've posted the recipe here. As TLO says, "Deeeee-licious, Mommy!"
We sat by the campfire and watched Reed dig and play in the dirt and trees with his bulldozer toys, a gardening shovel, and his new favorite toys- "clampers". For those of you who are not informed "clampers" is TLO's term for any type of tool or toy he can squeeze to pick up something. His current clamper collection includes 2 pairs of tongs and a plastic pair of tweezers from our first aid kit. He plays with them for hours. Whatever! Maybe he will be a doctor someday?
So anyway, Reed's clamping away when, behind our campsite, Jacob spots a moose. Yes, a MOOSE! Just hanging out! Jacob went crazy and took a bunch of pictures while I asked Tanna what to do if the moose came close to the tent. She just laughed and said that he hangs around the camp with another moose and they are friendly. Oh, geez. I am SO not in Cincinnati. So I got Reed ready for bed with one eye on the moose. Sheesh.
The night got pretty chilly, but Reed slept a full 10 hours without waking and was snug as a bug in his sleeping bag. I wasn't so snug, so Jacob got up early and made me a big fire to warm up. He's so awesome. After the sleepyhead woke up, we decided to explore the mountain reservoir before lunch, and that's how I found my new happy place.
Words and pictures don't do it justice. It was at the very top of the mountain and was flat and clear and beautiful. Truly breathtaking.
We stayed for quite a while, throwing rocks, taking pictures, and just looking around.
After a couple of hours, we made our way back to camp for lunch and Reed's mid-day nap. Jacob went fishing, I took a nap in the hammock, and a storm rolled in really fast! After nap we all cuddled warm and dry in the tent for an hour, watching Bob the Builder on the portable DVD player as the rain pattered on the tent.
So here's the thing. We bought Bob the Builder at Walmart before we headed up the mountain on the first day, and Reed watched it all the way up the mountain. We thought it sounded strange but didn't really think much of it. We realized in the tent that the DVD was playing in French. And it had bothered TLO not at all. I'm not sure what to make of it, but I'm sure he will have the theme song memorized in French before too long. Why would French be the default language on Bob the Builder?? Just wondering.
After the storm, we spent the remaining few hours of daylight working hard- drying wood, building a fire, drying our clothes, and making dinner. Maybe not the most glamorous night, but we enjoyed the time together just working around the campsite. Reed and Jacob spotted the moose again before bed, Reed rode on the ATV with Tanna, and we hit the sack early. Camping is hard work!
I've enjoyed our stay in the mountains. The air was refreshing, the sights were breathtaking, and the time with my family is really special to me. But I would be lying if I said I wasn't looking forward to that stay in the hotel on day 4. But I also want to go camping in the mountains again very, very soon. It's all so confusing! For now, I'm happy to be back in WiFi in time to remember all of the details of our days in the Bighorn National Forest.
Off to new adventures!
Our big trip out West is finally here! We left at The Little Outdoorsman's bedtime and drove 18 hours to Badlands National Park. Jacob and I switched off driving and sleeping, and I packed plenty of games and DVDs for Reed to play when he wasn't sleeping. He loves car trips, so although the trip was long, it was fun!
In the weeks prior to leaving, I did a ton of shopping and planning for the long drive. Here are the top 3 items in my road trip toolbox:
We set up camp right away and then explored the Badlands. We drove to the nearest set of trails and started hiking. I "stopped to take pictures" a lot- AKA catch my breath. Whew! Out of shape! Good thing I have a strong, handsome hubby to help TLO along because I was just trying to put one foot in front of the other.
"I think I need to stop and take a picture."
"I think I need to stop and take a picture."
They caught on to my tricks after a while. In my defense, I actually did want to take pictures of everything!
We hiked for a couple hours, until TLO found out the hard way what a cactus is. Just a little prick on the hand but still not fun! Poor guy. We got him a Sprite, the ultimate comfort right now, and he was ready to go back out. We decided to take a break from the grassy areas to check out the caves.
That one's a framer!
"Mommy- I'm so tall!"
After another hour or so of exploring, we headed back to camp. On the way, we took a side road and saw this beautiful Bighorn sheep! Jacob went bananas and chased it down with a camera for about 20 minutes. Reed was SO excited and whispered, "what is Daddy doing?" for about 10 of the 20 minutes. It was super cool, and a first for all of us!
Back at camp, we took showers and ate a picnic dinner of sandwiches and pretzels. TLO watched a show in the tent with his daddy while I snatched a precious few moments of quiet me-time. I just sat in a camp chair and looked at the Badland formations and the rising moon. It was a really special time for me to pray and reflect on the day. I am so thankful to have the opportunity to take a trip like this with my family, so blessed to live in a country with such beautiful landscapes!
After a full 8 hours of sleep for everybody, we are off to the Bighorn Mountains for a couple more days of camping. I asked to stay in a hotel every few days- a reasonable request, right? A know people say "a little dirt never hurt anybody" but I'm not fully convinced. Ha. Send me happy, healthy, fitness-filled thoughts, friends! I know you have my back!
Our adventures began on Friday at the dentist, of all places. The Little Outdoorsman's first dentist appointment was a success, to my relief. The pediatric dentist we chose made him feel so comfortable. I mean, the hygienist made a balloon animal at the end of the appointment. Oh how times have changed!
One adventure conquered, we looked to the next- our camping trip out West. We've been preparing Reed (and me) by setting up the tent in the backyard and cooking over a campfire. Next step- some hiking clothes! He looks so darn cute!
I think we have him all ready for the trip! We let him test out his new boots at the county fair last night.
He takes the fair VERY seriously. One does not wear just any old shirt to the fair, of course.
We met up with his cousin, Matt, and looked at some goats and cows. I love watching these two together!
Summer is always better with a friend.
We looked at all the rides and chose to do the big slide. I loved that the height restrictions required me to ride with him! I'm trying not to think about how much longer he will need me to do stuff like this with him. He's just getting so big so quickly! Sniffle.
We ended the night by watching tractor pulls. It was my first time watching a tractor pull (Reed's, too), and it was INTENSE. Loud noise, smoke, and shouting from the crowd scared TLO a little. We stayed for a few pulls and headed home, where I complained about my aching feet to all who would listen (Oliver).
The adventures continue over the next few days! I'm so excited to soak up these last weeks of summer. I hope you do the same!
After researching, I decided to use the letter order suggested in How to Raise an Amazing Child the Montessori Way by Tim Seldin:
First set: c m a t
Second set: s r i p
Third set: b f o g
Fourth set: h j u l
Fifth set: d w e n
Sixth set: k q v x y z
This letter order, along with many other options and the teaching process is explained in great detail on one of my favorite blogs, Living Montessori Now. When introducing each set of sandpaper letters (that I made myself), I do the following:
1. I sit beside Reed, usually on the ground, with the new letters at my side.
2. I place one of the new letters in front of us. I slowly trace the letter with my finger (just as I would write it) and say the letter sound (for example, "a" as in "apple" or "b" as in "ball"). I try to make the letter sound as clear and natural as possible, no silly exaggerations or games. To review, if I was teaching the letter "s", I would : show the letter, trace the letter, make the letter sound (sssss).
3. Next, I have Reed stick out his pointer finger, and I hold his hand as I trace the letter with him, saying the letter sound clearly as we trace. I ask him to say the letter sound as well. I have also found that it works well if we talk about the shape of the letter. We talk through straight lines, curves, hooks, circles, and other shapes. He really likes doing this. Then, we are finished with that letter.
Frequent, no-pressure practice is the key after learning new letter sounds. After a few, or maybe several, introductions to the new letter, I rephrase my question to say "show me, 'sssss'" to see if he can identify the letter on his own. And then, after mastering that question, I should eventually be able to hold up the letter "S" and say, what is this? At that point, Reed has mastered the letter.
We have a couple of sandpaper letter games that have been helpful in mastering the letter sounds as well. If you have any questions about using sandpaper letters to teach letter sounds, please leave them in the comments!
Sandpaper letter games are our go-to for learning letter sounds right now. I want to make literacy as fun as possible for Reed, so we rarely drill or sit down and do "flashcards". The only practice we do with any regularity is a quick review of 3-5 letters each night before we read at bedtime.
Reed's favorite game is a letter "race". I scatter several, or sometimes all, of the letters on the carpet around his bedroom. Then I place a basket in the middle of the floor. Reed runs around the room and picks up each letter, traces it with his finger, says the sound, and places it in the basket. After he picks up all of the letters, I usually give him a small prize like a sticker or a sucker.
Reed really loves this "game"- the more he gets to move around, the better the game! Sometimes he will bring his letter box out into the living room and ask to "do his letters". That always makes me really happy!
The second game we've started to play is an idea I found on my literacy go-to site, Living Montessori Now (link). This site is a rich resource with tons of ideas about teaching pretty much anything in a hands-on, "fun" way. I can't say enough good things about this resource. For this game, I lay out several letters and we drag out a basket filled with little toys and random, everyday items. I usually just let Reed dig through the items until he finds one that interests him. He says the name of the item out loud, and then I say it again, emphasizing the first sound (g-g-g-gorilla). Then, he searches for the "g" and places the gorilla on top of the sandpaper letter. He usually makes it through 3-4 items until he gets sidetracked and just wants to play with all the little toys. Ha.
Our journey with literacy has been a fun one so far, and I hope to keep it that way. Our next step: writing! This blog post by White Bear Montessori School is my current food for thought. Know that I will keep you updated!
Sandpaper letters are a lot of work to DIY, but it is totally worth it! Sandpaper letters have been very successful for my son- click here for the rationale behind my choice to teach him the letters in this way. My advice is to prep all of the wood and letters right away, and then sand just a few letters at a time, unless you have some sort of crafty sanding machine or an army of gullible teenagers at your disposal. My arms get tired after about 4 letters. Or 2. Or 1.
For this project, you will need:
- 1 sheet of 1/8 inch plywood cut into 26, 5x3.75 inch rectangles
- Plenty of sandpaper (enough to make letters and sand the edges of the rectangles)
- A hot glue gun
- Letter stencils or letter-cutting machine (like an Ellison machine)
After purchasing the materials you need, begin by cutting the board into 26, 5 x 3.75 inch rectangles. Use a stencil or Ellison machine to cut out the letters.
Then, carefully sand the edges and corners of each rectangle. Again, I only sand 3 or 4 at a time because it takes a few minutes to sand each one and my hand gets tired. Really, I'm a wimp. Just say it! But also, I only introduce 3 or 4 letters at a time to Reed, so there's no rush to get the whole set done in one day.
Because Reed only has 6 letters left, I decided to dig deep and knock out the six final letters in one day: v, k, y, x, z, and q (find out more about letter order here). I sanded the last 6 rectangles, warmed up my glue gun, and glued each letter in the center of a block. After a few minutes, they are finished and ready to use!
We are so happy with how Reed's letters turned out. We use them like flashcards sometimes, but our favorite thing to do is play letter games. They will last us forever, I think, or at least until we are finished having kids and they all know their letter sounds. It is definitely a worthwhile investment of time and money.
Feel free to leave questions in the comments!
I heard Reed moving around his room this morning and opened his door, expecting to see him sitting in his recliner, reading a book- the usual. Nope. He hovered anxiously near the door, eyes sleepy, covered in baby powder, and greeted me with, "I'm not playing in the baby powder." Note the firefly jar beside him. There was a firefly in there last night. Not anymore. Trust me, I looked really hard. I don't even want to know.
I struggled to keep a straight face and failed, therefore losing the opportunity to try to talk to Reed about the dangers of being dishonest. Oh, well. I cleaned him up, ate breakfast, and drove to my teaching writing class. I didn't have any trouble finding inspiration today! I decided to write a poetic-ish sequel to my post about muddy shoes I wrote a couple of months ago:
“Stay out of the mud!” Mothers shout in unity from porch swings and doorways. Stay out of the puddle, the garden, the weeds- the list goes on. “If you get your new shoes dirty, you’ll be in big trouble, mister!”
I believe a pair of tiny, muddy shoes is one of the most beautiful sights in the world. They speak of creativity, innocence, and adventure. They speak of plain, old fun. They are rule-breakers, out-of-the-box thinkers, innovators. They abhor scheduled screen time, starchy classrooms, and the popular crowd. They sneak a firefly into the house so it can fly around the bedroom at night. They gaze at it in wonder.
I have a new mantra for mothers:
“Roll in the mud. Bathe in puddles. Exfoliate your belly in the sand. But don’t bring it in the house, or muddy shoes start singing a different tune- one of responsibility and the value of hard work.” :)
Cute. Now let's see how that works out in real life...
In a few hours of free time this afternoon, Reed and I decided to drive to a local farm and get some stakes for Reed's tomato plants. We planted them about a month ago and they are super out of control because I keep forgetting to cage or stake them. I am totally not a gardener, by the way. I've tried over the past few years with gardens, I'm just not consistent. My goal this year is small: Reed's three tomato plants in a small plant box. I can do that, right? Apparently not- I should've staked them weeks ago!
They are coming along really well, surprisingly, and I keep having to convince Reed to wait to pick them until then turn red. I think he will be really excited once they turn red and he can eat them straight from the vine. Like a rabbit. Meanwhile, Oliver dug a hole (as usual), but I have to admit that this hole is exceptional.
Isn't that so impressive? On another note, look at these stakes they sold us! I was like, holy moley- I think those are big enough! Maybe a little too big for my little plant boxes, perhaps? Just call me Farmer Becky.
At the farm, Reed also asked me to buy him a peach from the trays of colorful, beautiful fruit tables. We bought one and I rinsed it off with water in my water bottle in the car (good enough for me) and asked him to eat it outside.
I thought the fuzzy skin would bother him.
I was wrong! I love it when that happens.
Boy, do I love summer!