Sunday, April 21, 2013

Westward Expansion - Days 5 and 6

We are settled in our hotel room on a cold, blustery April evening here in Sioux Falls, South Dakota.  We had a simple travel day today of about 6 1/2 hours, broken up with a couple of stops which helped the seat time feel easy to handle.  We are overloading on TV in the evenings, as we don't watch much network fare these days.  Kenny and Dominick bragged over breakfast at staying up well past midnight last night to watch "Storage Wars", and I was stuck watching a pathetic Disney show about a Dog that Blogs...which I eventually forced to be changed.  Mindless is one thing, idiotic is another.  And yea, I know, there was little point to Wile E. Coyote chasing the Roadrunner for all eternity and never catching him, but that is somehow different :-)

We have also entertained everybody in the evenings with swimming pools, which are always a treat, Matthew's blossoming card trick repertoire (Totally surprising us with an interest in this, and really getting quite good!), and playing thermostat wars.

Yesterday we spent the day in Independence, Missouri, which is where the wagon trains started their journey westward.  We visited a very small National Trails Museum that still had interesting exhibits such as a real buffalo bladder used to carry things in, and real, intact covered wagons along with their various accessories used for travel.

Kenny with his cool new shades ($5 special bug eye lenses! HAHA!) and Angela 
with Jim Bridger behind them.

At the museum, I was super pleased to have two of the kids turn to me upon seeing a large wall mural as a backdrop and ask if it was that "famous artist that did pictures of Yosemite".  Upon close inspection, it was indeed an image from Albert Bierstadt, and it provided a beatiful backdrop.  I asked how they knew it was his work, and Matt said he could tell by the lighting and Angela agreed, saying, "It just looked familiar...every artist has a familiar style once you've seen it enough."

Once finished with the museum, we traveled a short distance to see the Harry S. Truman Library and Museum.  There, before we even entered the exhibit, we saw an even more impressive mural:

I personally loved this style, and wish I had discovered the teaching resource earlier that I just found online regarding this mural!  It was stunning in person.

I must confess here, I am probably the last person who ought to be homeschooling her kids.  While I am passable at reading and writing, I have an abysmal California late 70's/early 80's social studies and science education.  I was never exposed to modern US History much, we never touched geography in school, and dinosaurs and the evolutionary process were covered far too many times.  I am learning SO much right along with the kids as we hit topics I never covered in my younger years.  Of course, as an adult, my education has expanded somewhat, but I never had the chance to learn much about some of our modern presidents or what events they presided over.  As many people find as they grow older, the relevance of history grows as we see how it connects to our future in more tangible ways, and I am not immune to that either.  The museum, while long on written documents and a bit short on physical displays, led us all to begin to understand what a really challenging period of time Truman presided over.  We took the time to read some of the materials that related to his "out of the frying pan and into the fire" entrance into the Presidency:

These newspaper headlines and front pages were SO interesting to read!  I came away with great compassion for Truman and what he faced.

This was Joshie's favorite display, depicting a whistle stop tour while campaigning.

We watched a 20 minute film which was a brief biography of Truman's early life, and it was so interesting to see someone become president who really wasn't dynamic, overly camera-ready, or even all that successful in his pre-political life.  I found it refreshing to hear about the foibles of a very American, very real human being who was thrust into circumstances that never could have been predicted by his earlier life.  He made many mistakes and miscalculations, and there was an honest portrayal of that at his museum...and it sort of endeared him to me.

We had to explain the meaning of this to the kids...and I thought it was very cool to see the actual desk plate that had been on Truman's desk all those years.

We left with each of the kids talking animatedly about how they didn't understand everything they saw, but learned enough about President Truman to want to learn a lot more.  Angela, in particular, asked if we could find a biography to watch as she thought he was fascinating, and Josh said he felt sorry for President Truman because he knew how hard his decisions had to be to drop the bombs.  We talked for a few minutes about our need to explore that entire era and the ethics of it in the near future.  Kenny brought up Kim Jong Un's recent threats, and what it meant for the world.  We always have such interesting conversations with the kids, and they test my abilities daily to keep up with them.

Except for when the conversation takes the usual turn to asking who farted in the van.  :-)  Yea, classy bunch. HAHA!  Aren't you glad you aren't along with us??!!??

We then took an afternoon break and surprised the kids with a little treat at Clinton's Soda Fountain, an old cafe that still exists and was the first employer of President Truman when he was young.  We had an ice cream, and then headed on to our last stop for the day, which was The Vaile Mansion, a lovely residence built in the late 1880's which has been featured on A&E's American Castles, and other prominent publications and TV shows.  At a cost of $150,000 to build in 1881, you can imagine the grandeur the Vaile family lived in for their time.  Running water with real flushing toilets and copper bathtubs, 31 rooms of luxurious furnishings, and 9 marble fireplaces, the home was stunning in its day.  The ceiling murals were fabulous, and we enjoyed seeing how a very wealthy person lived during this time period. The Vaile's made their money in a variety of ways, including owning all the Star Mail Routes west of the Mississippi.  Take a look:

The kids are all taking a lot of photos for their slide show at the end ofthe trip.

These are photos taken in the parlors...yes, that is plural, as there were THREE of them...his, hers and ours.

Murals on the ceiling above the dining room...lovely, isn't it?

The formal dining room.

The thing that made life bearable :-)

Racy mural above the master bed...hmmm....

My favorite thing in the house was this killer cool desk!  It swings on a hinge, closes up  and becomes a podium you can speak at standing in the back of it, and it has its own filing boxes, pull our writing surface, mail slot, you name it!  Mr. Vaile used to travel with this, and have his servants lug it up and downstairs to load in the wagon.

You know, seeing things just makes it real in a way nothing else can.  The kids all agreed this was very neat, but that life was STILL more difficult than they imagined as they saw how even the rich folks had to haul ice and replace it often, had challenges heating their homes so they needed so many fireplaces...and coal hauled to heat it, and due to poor medical care Mrs. Vaile died in her 40's of a morphine overdose, possibly needed due to cancer.  Angela commented several times that the house was beautiful, but she'd rather be poorer now in our era than rich in theirs, because life was still much easier now. 

Due to a scheduling glitch, we ended up leaving Independence this morning instead of tomorrow, and headed to Sioux Falls.  Along the way we stopped at Lewis and Clark State Park to see a full sized replica of the keelboat they traveled up the Mississippi and Missouri in:

Further down the highway, we stopped to see the memorial to Sgt. Floyde, the only member of the Lewis and Clark Expedition to have died during the two year journey:

We were all freezing, as it is really, really cold right now with winds and snow ocassionally.  Regardless, this was a moving little experience to have as we stood looking out over the bluff at the river below, and realized that Lewis and Clark along with their men all stood right where we were standing.  We have developed a deep respect for Meriweather Lewis, in particular, but all of the Corps of Discovery.  Learning of how they succeeded against all odds, reading about their resiliency and commitment in doing something so extraordinary, it is hard not to come away feeling humbled by what the human spirit can accomplish.

Our most unusual site for the day was this interesting piece of architecture, which upon Googling we learned was the Temple for the Church of Christ, which was formerly known as the Reorganized Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints.  It was so attractive and creative, we just had to get a photo of it.

Because we are on a well defined budget as dictated by our pre-approved school funding, we are being very careful with our food costs.  We have eaten in our hotel room groceries purchased at Walmart the past couple of nights, hit the Dollar Menu at McDonald's a couple of times, and skipped lunches if we could while eating a hearty breakfast at every hotel.  That is our Golden Rule of Larger Family Travel -  You must book a hotel which serves a decent breakfast, which might serve as brunch and cut food spending.  You also must book a hotel room with a fridge and microwave for eating in and storing food.  Additionally, you book the cheapest rooms possible with no bed bug complaints on Trip Advisor! Haha!

When we do eat a real meal out, we are trying to hit local spots that are favorites, and we had a super nice treat in St. Louis when we ate at Mama Campisi's, a local authentic Italian restaurant located in the traditional Italian neighborhood known as "The Hill".  It was then I realized we really need to make an effort to get the kids to a nicer restaurant once in awhile, as it was a moderately priced dining establishment, but had "real cloth napkins", and prices that had the kids all aghast...but really weren't all that bad.  They are just not used to eating out like that, so it shocked them to see standard dinner prices.  We did, however, convince Kenny that there was no way he could ever eat their "Mama's Pasta Challenge"...which was 4 lbs of pasta with a 2 lb meatball, for $24.95...and gratis if you managed to eat the entire thing.  NO WAY could anyone do that, not even Kenny who is known for his ability to eat and never stop.  

Tonight, we found a little hole in the wall, a local favorite called Bob's Carry Out and Delivery.  They had homestyle cookin' and 13 seats all at a counter.  It has been around for over 60 years, and has been family owned the entire time.  We had the best time there!  We joked with the waitress, whose lip piercings matched her quirky sense of humor and who also really knew how to work a grill.  There was one other older couple there, and we started visiting a little after they asked where we were from and what we were doing in their neck of the woods.  I'll admit, we have been asked that a few times on this trip and people look at us like we are a little nuts.  Well, of COURSE we are nuts! HAHA!  Following Lewis and Clark?  Doing this for school?  ARE you a school group?  You're a family?  Oh...and that blank stare follows, which sort of cracks me up.  

Well, after we had finished our meal, Kenny asked "What's a Bob's Bar?" as he read a sign on the wall urging us to try it.  Kenny asked if he could try one if he paid for it, and we said sure he could, and he said he'd split it with all of us, because he was curious.  We all thought it was an ice cream bar of some sort, but out comes a plate with a piece of cake that was more brownie like in consistency, but tasted a little like ginger snaps with frosting.  Kenny passed the plate around and we all took a bite, and then...much to our surprise...two more plates came out!  Our counter companions had secretly ordered two extra cakes/bars for our family, and then they grinned after we offered our profuse thanks and were grilled by the manager to guess what was the main ingredient.  "Flour?" Matthew logically asked, and the manager said, "Well, other than flour." and we all took turns guessing cinnamin, nutmeg, sour cream, you name it.  You'll never, ever in a million years guess that that yummy little morsel contained as a main ingredient...

Baked Beans.  HAHAHA!!!  It tasted so good and our reaction was hilarious and we were in total disbelief when he told us.  The couple who treated our family had a good laugh over that one, and said, "Now you can go home and tell people what nice folks there are in Sioux Falls, South Dakota!"...and so I have done so before ever leaving this piece of Middle America.

Tomorrow we arise late (because Mom said so and I want to rest!!!), and head on over the Rapid City, South Dakota, where we will take in Mount Rushmore, Landstrom's factory tour, Jewel Cave and as much as we can cram into our two full days there.  I am freezing and need to find appropriate winter wear, as I never got a good winter coat this winter, so didn't have one for the trip.  I brought a lightweight jacket which is useless in this bitter wind, but can't find a jacket anywhere amongst the bikinis that are all out on the sales floors.  Hopefully, I can find something tomorrow as we travel.

Sorry for the really long posts, but as this is our Official Life Scrapbook and the only place I record anything, I want to make sure we can recall the little stories along the way. Hope we aren't boring you too much!


Anonymous said...

No Little House on the Prarie stops?
I love following your trip! What a great life experience. These are the stories told to grandkids.
Teresa F.

Anonymous said...

What a rich trip you are having. We are having a wonderful vicarious time in your traveling classroom, and now you have spent a night in the place of my birth, Souix Falls. I'm going to pick up phone and call you now. You have got to go to the drugstore in Wall and go through the Bad Lands. You will love the Black Hills. Missing you and loving your trip.


Lindsay said...

Thanks for sharing your amazing trip. I'm have so much fun taking it right along-side you all.

Hilary Marquis said...

I'm so in awe of the planning involved in this trip! I'm also jealous :-) Hmmm....MN could be your next stop. Just forget Mt. Rushmore!