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July 2 - 21 updates

Because I don't know when I'll get a chance to fill all of you in ( or if I will remember much longer) I've got to put it all down now, while I have access to the internet. Wireless connections have been difficult to say the least lately. Bryce is able to work by escaping to internet cafes and coffee shops, but the other boys, for some reason, do not prioritize my blog time. Its now or never. Don't worry, I'll try to include more photos soon too. Here goes. (BTW you may want to read this in short doses.)

Friday, July 2

Lucky us. Bryce took most the day off, so we headed to the Toe River for a relaxing day in the canoe. A 6 mile trip down the river from a nearby campground. What a day for the Oateskis. The boys in the middle of the canoe, Bryce steering, Jenny as the powerhouse (ha) at the helm. Okay, so it was my job to look out for rocks, rapids, sticks, and wildlife. I did okay, but this was not home territory. This was no Current River. We saw herons, ducks, a newborn fawn and plenty of other fish and aquatic life thanks to my keen eye on the (mostly) calm water. What I did not see well, were rocks and rapids. Ooops. A few bumps, scrapes and spins of the canoe and we were having a great time. This river was exciting. It offered a few whitewater sections, some drops, nothing huge but a couple feet or so and even a few bail outs. We never did swamp the boat but did have a close call.
We were coming up on some rough water when the bow hit a big rock, swinging the boat around. To save the boat from capsizing, I flew out of the boat and into the rapids, pushing the canoe away from the rock. I did it. I saved the boat from flipping, but looked down the river to see the boat riding the rapids with out me (which I had to catch up to.) Only, strangely, the boat was now missing Bryce. Hmm. The boys were in charge. Laughing their heads off as I paddled to catch up and Bryce hung onto the canoe, his body in the water and his paddle charging ahead without him. It was the highlight of our day. We finally got it all together and had a well deserved picnic on the bank of a deserted river. It was nice to have the river to ourselves. Easily, one of our most memorable moments.

Saturday, July 3

Headed to Burnsville for the Farmers Market. Wow, were we ever surprised by a street festival taking place along with it. We filled our cooler with market goodies, then enjoyed the festivities for a few hours. The boys began to wilt, which meant it was time to get back to the cabin for a dip in the creek. Followed all this with an amazing supper of local brats on the grill, tomato salad, cukes and onions, potatoes and squash grilled and fresh lemonade. Finished with homemade ice cream sandwiches. Almost everything came from those fine farmers in North Carolina. Mmmm. Who needs fireworks after all this?

Sunday, July 4

Time for some hiking. We wound around and up and over the mountains to the Roan Mountain Gardens to check out the interesting ecosystem at the mountain top known as a mountaintop bald or glade. Dry, crumbly rock, pine forest, and cool temps made us feel like we were hiking in Canada. Fun enough for us to drive to the Roan Mountain State Park in Tennessee. Here, we hiked another, similar trail and enjoyed the numbered checkpoints with a brochure highlighting the finer points of the state park system, ecology and preserving the world for future generations. On the old iron mine trail we even got to watch an old water wheel working.

Monday, July 5

A relaxing day spent creekside, mostly. Ran races up the steep gravel drive, listened to the kids whine and played games. Found a Craft Alliance offering pottery classes in town, so I picked up a block of clay. We made clay creations on the deck for the remainder of the afternoon/evening. Ahh...finally my hands were in clay again. I didn't realize how much I missed it until I found this fine mud.

Tuesday, July 6

After 3 trips down the mountain and back up again, all to take calls or send and receive emails, Bryce was officially finished with this cabin. No wireless or phone was really wearing on him (and the car.) We spent most of the day searching for alternative shelters.

Wednesday, July 7

Much of the same. Bryce drives up and down the mountain several times, wanders the woods in search of cell signal, shakes his head in frustration and we both continue to pursue other housing options to no avail. It is officially high season in the Smokey Mountain region. Cabins are a hot commodity.
I did take the boys on a jaunt to Celo (a fun commune sort of area) for some blueberry picking. Together, we picked a gallon until our faces and hands were blue with juice. Delicious! After all that we drove around enjoying the various farms, gardens, art galleries (which we saved them the trouble and saw from afar) until we found a good 'ol ice cream stand for a bit of an ice cold cone in this thousand degree heat.
Back at the house we swam ourselves silly then put some of those berries to good use in a homemade blueberry pie. What a treat! I think that was dinner and dessert that night.

Thursday, July 8

Bryce worked worked worked. We played played played. In the creek, board games, pottery fun, and baking with blueberries. Discovered a new favorite cake recipe. Blueberry buckle. This is like a vanilla cake with zillions of blueberries to hold it all together. Again, dinner paled in comparison to dessert.

Friday, July 9

Mostly stuck at the cabin as Bryce drives up and down the mountain to try and work. Ridiculous. Found a cool skull and fur and tiny bones strewn all about at the creek along with some bear scat. Exciting find. Now we know the bears are near (or were), but decide on a creek walk upstream anyway. We walk all the way up and over boulders, up waterfalls and through lovely cool pools to an old board bridge covered with moss. We climbed the log cabin style posts up as a ladder to the bridge, then walked back down the road to the cabin. Adventures abound out here. So many hidden treasures. We also saw three different types of little "sallies" (salamanders) as the boys call them.

Saturday, July 10

Ahh. Saturday. Hooray! We get Bryce to ourselves. We were off on an adventure to Linville Caverns and Linville Gorge. Linville Gorge rivals the Grand Canyon in the distance from top to gorge or canyon floor. It was beautiful. Wynne was on a roll, engaging everyone he could with his stories of rockets and space race cars. It made for tired ears for the rest of us, but at least he was hiking miles and miles without complaining in the 90 degree heat. Waterfalls with enormous drops and a canyon filled with trees could be seen from several astounding overlooks. Green all around. Then underground.
The caverns were also a hit. Henry has been known to get a bit freaked out when going into caves, but this was quite a tour. The stalactites and mites were streaked with blues, greens and oranges from the various minerals in the dripping water forming these interesting cave creations. There were even fish swimming in the underground stream. No bats could be seen then, but we did see some fascinating cavern rooms and deep water pools. This region is truly blessed with natural wonders. Exhausted and happy, we headed back to the cabin to clean up and prepare to leave this great little home on top of the mountain.

Sunday, July 11

I woke to a welcome bit of solitude. All the boys headed down the mountain for a boys morning out. They dined at at the all boys diner, then hit the Burnsville Skatepark and later returned while I was at the creek enjoying a swim. The boys joined me, then we concocted various dishes from the remaining foodstuffs in the cabin. A few peanut butter oatmeal chocolate chip cookies later and I was feeling ill. We planned to leave that night to head toward Cherokee, where Bryce had meetings in the morning. Instead, we watched the longest World Cup Championship game ever, followed by rest and lots of packing and repacking of the car.

Monday, July 12

Out of the cabin early so why not to the Early Girl Eatery in Asheville? Local food and fare is their fix and we found them true to this mission. Grit cakes (polenta or mush cakes to some of you) with eggs, sausage, tomato salsa sauce, goat cheese and avacado. Yum! Oh, also multigrain pancakes and blackberry french toast if you like that sort of thing. No one was disappointed.
Rain on the way to Cherokee. Rain. Rain. Rain. All the stuff we own is in the car, we have nowhere to go, but we do have friends to meet up with. Friends? Its been so long since we've seen anyone, we're giddy with the thought. We meet the Muchow family all the way from Chicago. (Molly, who Bryce and Jenny went to college with, Brett, her ever so accomodating and fun loving husband and their two great kids, Beckett (3) and Russell (18mos.)) The sun arrived with the Muchows. After spending all morning trying to dry off, the kids were in the splashpark/sprayground together having a blast while the rest of us caught up on the sidelines.
On to the matter of shelter. The Muchow's tent was soaked and we were homeless. A dinner of Indian tacos inspired us to just drive down the road looking for available cabins. A quick stop and phone call at a roadside sign about a small cabin and we were in our new short-term home. So it was a one room cabin with one bed and a teeny bathroom and kitchenette for all 8 of us, but we're all about togetherness, right?
It worked out fine. We had a small hot tub, just big enough for 4 little boys to splash the evening away until campfire and s'mores time, followed by storytelling and a very late night for all of us.

Tuesday, July 13

Bryce was already in town and working for hours by the time the rest of us got up and around. After Chef Molly's delicious breakfast of potatoes, eggs, and blueberry pancakes, we headed out for a little hiking.
Mingo Falls in Cherokee is one place not to be missed when visiting the region. A pretty easy hike up the many, many stairs to lovely falls. It was a great time climbing on the rocks and getting shots of the falls and the kids playing together. We followed this with lunch and a few trips tubing down the Oconoluftee River at the Oconoluftee Islands Park and it was a great day. Molly and Brett offered Bryce and myself the kindest gift ever of time to ourselves, by taking all 4 little guys to see Despicable Me. Great timing. It poured down rain and Bryce ended up on a conference call the entire time. I desperately searched for a more long term housing arrangement. This was really beginning to be a pain. I did find a deal at a small hotel on the river with a pool, so that would have to work for a week or so.
That night we dined on something resembling food at a Pizza buffet and spent the evening back at the campfire ring and snoozing in the cabin.

Wednesday July 14

We checked into our new home for the remainder of the week, up until Monday. Perhaps I should've seen the warning signs beginning with the deal we worked out. The room was dubbed the "practice hotel room" by the boys due to the various nail holes in the walls from misaligned mirrors and fixtures then moved to even weirder locations. The shower head was at my eye level. MY eye level people. I am barely above 5 feet tall. The bathroom door didn't close and the beds were merely box springs. Interesting. Also, a fridge the size of my rear end and no microwave. This surely made life interesting. On a positive note, they had a pool and were right next to the Islands Park and the fairgrounds.
To burn off some steam, we went back into the Great Smokey Mountain park for a little hiking. About a 1/2 mile into the trail, I had to duck out to empty my guts for other wildlife to discover later. Back to the car. Barely made it back to the hotel where I disappeared into a dizzy ickiness. Luckily, it was in the afternoon, and Bryce saved me by taking the boys swimming.

Thursday July 15

I was feeling marginally better and the boys were ready to blow off some steam, so it was back to the Smokies again. The boys were halfway to Junior Ranger status and we noticed some fun programs going on in the park, so we learned a bit about blacksmithing and then what life was like for a kid on an Appalachian farm in the 1800s, made a craft, helped out the rangers with some clean up. The Ranger helped the boys through the Junior Ranger pledge at the visitors center and announced them official Jr. Rangers. They even got certificates and badges. Yeah Oates boys! A little picnic in the park to celebrate. We started out hiking, when Henry complained of feeling dizzy, so back to the room with us. We all slept off the heat the best we could under the circumstances as Bryce wandered the streets chatting away.

Friday July 16

With Bryce on a jaunt to Virginia for official business, we were on our own in Cherokee for the day. First to the skatepark to get the energy out before the melting temps got to us. Lucky for us, the Cherokee Farmers Market is in the parking lot of the Skatepark. However, the market, advertised all over town as 10-2 on Fridays, was nonexistent. Bummer for us, because we needed some veggies and fruit. About 11 a beat up truck pulled into the lot. An older man with out a shirt sat in the truck in the heat. His truck was full of watermelons, peaches, tomatoes, corn, beans, squash, cukes, and more. I couldn't stand it any longer. About 11:15 I approached the truck and asked if he was the farmers market. He affirmed that he was, but that he'd get going in a few minutes. Finally, at nearly noon, he stepped out, put on a shirt (didn't button it) and set up a card table and a scale. Really? How hard was this? In the end we did get a few pounds of juicy peaches, some peppers, yellow cherry tomatoes, and cucumbers. It was all I could carry. All for $6. Are you kidding? No wonder no one wants to farm out there. That was nothing.

The boys took a break from skating and Wynne even tried a tomato. If you know Wynne you know that he likes COOKED tomatoes, not raw ones, as he will remind anyone repeatedly. Lately, though he's claimed he'll like tomatoes when he's four. With his fourth birthday only 2 days away, he decided to try his luck. He popped a cherry tomato in his mouth and announced,"Hey! I like tomatoes! I am still three and I like them! I don't believe it! These are really good, mom! Call Grandma and tell her I like them now."
What a day! Go Wynne!

We scootered back to the hotel with our booty and enjoyed a cool dip in the pool, followed by a walk across to the fairgrounds where the Festival of Native Cultures was just getting started. We saw drumming and dancing and of course, found sno-cones. It was fun until the sun got to us and we went back to the room for a little rest. Just as we were planning on heading back out, the clouds moved in and emptied out. We watched the flocks evacuating the fairgrounds from our own door. Finally, Bryce was back, after a day of 500 miles or more and meetings galore.

Saturday, July 17

It amazes me that Bryce even goes near the car on the day after a long trip, but he did. We enjoyed a morning of hiking in the Deep Creek section of the Smokey Mountain National Park, home to many waterfalls and great tubing spots. We hiked the Juney Whank Falls trail and stopped at the bridges to watch the tubers floating along and flipping over in the rapids. This, we had to try sometime. This inspired us to get back to Cherokee for a little tubing of our own. We walked up the trail along the river a mile or so and put in to float down to the park bridge. It was so much fun, we did it again and again. Henry and I held a rope between our two tubes and had great fun spinning each other and bumping each other over the rocks. Good thing I have extra padding to absorb the shock. When we decided we were waterlogged enough, we walked over to the Festival of Native Cultures where we saw some amazing dancing, drumming, native costumes, and even Pole flyers from Mexico. These guys climb a pole (like a telephone pole, only taller) with One man in the middle, standing on the top playing the flute and drum. The four remaining men have wound themselves up to the top with ropes tied to their feet. At the exact moment all four dive head-first off the pole and begin spinning around the pole all the way to the ground all the while the man on top continues to play flute and drum. It was quite a site to see. There were also other amazing acts, but that one takes the cake. When our eyes could remain open no longer, we headed to bed.

Sunday July 18

Happy Birthday to Wynne!!! We had lots to do today. For Wynne's big day we were off to the Smokey Mountain Railway for a train trip to the NOC (Nantahala Outdoor Center.) Bryce upgraded us to the cushy seats, air conditioned car and special train lunch, so we were effectively spoiled rotten. The band at the station even sang "Happy Birthday" to Wynne before our departure.
The train ride itself was informative and scenic, all along the river, where we could watch kayaking and white water rafting. We even crossed a 100 year old trestle bridge that would make Aunt Shelly squeamish. At our stopover at the Outdoor Center, the Junior Olympic whitewater kayaking team was practicing. This is when we lost Wynne. Well, we didn't lose him, but we wished we had. Seeing this, he announced that all he wanted for his birthday was his own, brand new whitewater kayak (the pyranah, specifically.) He even went so far as to try (several times) to throw himself into the rapids, as if this would automatically earn him a spot on the "kid olympic" team. Not exactly as we planned it to go. One thing to know about Wynne is his passion for extremely dangerous outdoor sports. The higher the risk, the more enticing. Oh goody. The trip back on the train seemed quick and we were back in Bryson City before we knew it. Here, we enjoyed a lovely pasta dinner and headed back to the hotel happy and ready for an evening swim.

Monday and Today

Out of the Cherokee motel and onto Sylva, NC. Found a great meal at the Guadalupe Cafe in Sylva, but still having difficulty finding shelter, so we may have to head back to the MO without Bryce. I will try to update when I can. Thanks for all the attention. We may stop to see you soon!


Out of Range

Wilderness Family

Now folks, I know its been a while since I checked in with all of you, but I've been out of range - really out of range. If you ever want to get away to a remote locale, ask Bryce to hook you up. He has the knack for these sort of things. No phone, no wireless, no cell coverage. We are, however, lucky enough to have running water (the plumbing and outdoor kind) and electricity.

We are now in the lovely Black Mountain section of the Blue Ridge or Smokey Mountain Range. Not far from Mt. Mitchell (the highest known elevation in North Carolina) and nestled (really cozy-like) in the Pisgah National Forest land in the sweetest little cabin on the creek you've ever seen. I write you now from a deck over looking a series of waterfalls and crystal clear pools along the north fork of Cattail Creek.

We arrived after a brief visit to Cherokee, NC and the Smoky Mountain National Park where we hiked the up, up, up-est trail we could find and even discovered Aconista stone cliffs. It was here I was sure I was coming back down with one family member fewer, thanks to the treacherous climb to the top of Chimney Tops trail. Great trail for aspiring athletes and families alike. (Just make sure your children are older than 8 or so, so they can make the trek up this steep and slippery rock at the trail's end. )

On to Cherokee. The town of Cherokee has seen some great changes recently. We were lucky to enjoy most of them. The Cherokee people have put their casino money to good use by building an amazing new school, walking trails throughout town, new shopping areas complete with visitor's center and splash park right in the heart of it. Smart move there. Kids play in the fountains, dads relax in the shade, while moms shop for moccasins - maybe this idea will catch on in more locations.

The Oconoluftee River runs throughout town, where the Cherokee have also created a park all along its banks with picnic shelters, paths, bridges and benches along its banks. This is a popular tubing spot as the the water is shallow, the stones are smooth and the water moves gently. We enjoyed wading, skipping stones and racing boats here. This river is also known in the region as quite the trout fishing paradise.

The new Cherokee Heritage Museum and Gallery is award winning and a hit with everyone in the family (our family anyway.) The grandslam with the boys (besides the water) was really the Cherokee Indian Village. Here, a tour guide took us through the village where we saw demonstrations of beading, weaving, basketry, trap making (for various fish and animals), blowgun and arrow making as well as demonstrations of dugout canoe building (or burning as it were), tool making, pottery, story telling, dancing and explanation of tribal life and rules. I realize I just wrote a commercial for Cherokee, NC, but really, it is an amazing place for families who want a cultural, historical and outdoor adventure sort of vacation. Also, its all affordable. A play about the Cherokee people plays nightly in a newly built amphitheater, but I'll get to that later.

Unfortunately, Bryce did not get to join in all of our fun here, because, alas he had to work - again (sigh - for Bryceee.) We loved it though and hope he finds more work in this great place.

To the cabin! Oh to the cabin. My dear sweet husband decided that a "short cut" was in order so we could make it to the cabin by nightfall. This shortcut was about 250 ziggity zagity roads going up, up, up, over the mountain and then down, down down only to turn another few hairpin turns ON GRAVEL to go up up up again. I was not pleased when we arrived in the center of the earth. It was then that I made the mistake of walking into the cabin and then out the back door onto the deck. I might not ever leave now. Not only because I can not find my way out of this Gilligans Island paradise, but because it is, indeed a paradise. If you have ever been to Johnson's Shut-Ins state park in Missouri, it is an apt picture of what we see when sitting here on the deck.

I invite you all to get on out here and enjoy it with us while we are here. Really. Truly. Please come visit. We have lots of extra beds and space. We have found a less ridiculous route of getting here than that first night and will gladly meet you at the bottom of the mountain to guide you up here.

Bryce enjoyed the cabin for a full 5 hours before leaving on a work trip for 5 days. The boys and I stayed here at the cabin for two days without getting in the car at all. We explored the creek, hiked the roads (trails and roads are quite similar around here) painted, told stories, played games, swam and practiced archery with our new bows and arrows.

*Note to parents of small children. Do not get into this bow and arrow business unless you are prepared to hunt for lost arrows in the woods for hours at a time or feel them whiz by you no matter how out of range you think you may be - all this regardless of how many times you've gone over the "rules" of archery. All in all, it was fun. Thank goodness these arrows did not have sharp points.

Thursday morning. This deserves a post all its own.

Grandma visits

Ahhh…Thursday morning we woke to a lovely day. Today we pick up Grandma Nancy (my mom) at the Asheville Airport. Other than knowing the airport resides somewhere outside the city of Asheville on I-26, I am clueless, but confident that I can find it. The question is, how much time do I need to make the trip? I conclude about 2 hours to be safe. We've got snacks, water, bags for farmer's market shopping and plenty of time. We load up. The key goes in, the key is turned…nothing. We're ready to go, only to find that a light has been on in the backseat for a few days…the car doesn't make a sound. "Awesome!" I screech (along with a few other words followed by "stay here, I will be right back." I run up the 78 degree hill to the next cabin, climb the 200 steps to the front door only to find no one home. Okay, back down the hill, up the hill, next cabin. No one home. Son of a *&^%h! People and their privacy in the woods, for pete's sake! I am feeling desperate. I finally run up another hill, farther away from our cabin, up 300 steps or so and approach the 3rd cabin. I arrive in front of an open screen door, with two nice retired folks seated at breakfast, nothing less than shocked to see a red faced, frizzy haired lady panting and asking for help to jump her car, which happens to be half a mile down the road. Confused, the nice man obliges, gets back to our car and saves the day. Thank goodness I remembered how to use the jumper cables and that I actually had some. And we were only about 20 minutes late to pick up Grandma. Miraculous! What a morning!

And we were off! First to the Moose Cafe at the Farmers Market where we stocked up on fresh veggies and fruit of all kinds. Wynne picked out a whopper of a Canteloupe that he barely shared with the rest of us later. Then to the North Carolina Nature Center, next to the Southern Highland Craft Guild Folk Art Center off the Blue Ridge Parkway. There, at the museum, my eldest son decided it might be a great idea to try out the drawers on some of the desks on display. Confused, he explained that the drawer was open so he was closing it for them. Things went better while watching the silkscreen painting demonstration. This was enough for one day, so it was back to the boonies with us. Mom thought perhaps we were never going to make it.

Friday we enjoyed a cabin day. Well, we enjoyed it mostly. Until a certain young 6 year old decided to get uppity and slam all the doors in the house, we were having a fine day. One of these doors was a bedroom door. This bedroom door was locked from the inside. There was no way to open it. Well, there was one way. Find the big ladder, yell at son, climb tall creaky, scary, shaky ladder up to second story above garage, glare at child, ask mom if the ladder will hold me. Mom was not so reassuring. After climbing the ladder, I realized I needed a tool to remove the screen to dive into the window. Down the ladder, up the ladder, screen off, down the ladder, up the ladder, through the window and OUT. Hooray! Problem solved. Too bad we didn't take pictures. Word to the wise kids, don't slam doors.

This didn't hamper our day much. We still enjoyed swimming and floating in the creek pool, playing in the creek, cooking together and playing games.

Bryce finally made it home just as we all settled down. Wynne was so happy to see him, he fell out of bed.


Busy. Busy. So busy in fact, that when Bryce finally got home, he went to brush his teeth, then passed out, standing up, while brushing his teeth. I thought he was being funny bumping into me, so I moved out of his way, when SPLAT he was flat on his back on the bathroom floor. Guess we should've given him a bit of a break after such a long trip.

Here's the speed tour. Burnsville Farmers Market, drive to Mt. Mitchell, hike to overlook, hike an easy (oops, make that very strenuous) trail with mom, lunch at the Mt. Mitchell cafe. Yum mountain trout! Stop on some of the family farms on the Family Farm tour sponsored by the Local foodies of Asheville. Check out farms, honeybees, gardens, orchards, animals, cool Montessori Mountain School, Wynne milks a goat and finally, back home again. Whew!


Visitors!! About 2 a.m. mom, bryce and I awoke to a child screaming. Sounded like it was coming from outside, on the back deck. That's weird. We checked on Wynne, then Henry. They were fine. We looked out on the deck. There in the moonlight were two bear cubs jumping on the picnic table, grabbing and swinging on the hummingbird feeder, attempting to get a sweet mouthful of nectar. They were working pretty hard on this task, barking or screeching really, each time they missed. While it was hilarious to watch, it was time for them to go. Mama climbed the stairs and swatted at them only after Bryce bopped a baby on the nose through the screen door it was then trying to enter. The bears were probably born not all that long ago. They certainly weren't to wary of us. I'd say they were about the size of an average 2-3 year old child. Mama bear and Jenny would've made a pretty even match (in size, people, not looks. Thank you.)

After all that evening excitement, it was time for a relaxing day around the creek. The boys took a long creek expedition while mom and I went to town looking for arts, crafts and other junk.

Bad idea. Sundays in the south are not big days for commerce. We did find one fun junk shop, but not too much to crow about.

Monday and Tuesday

Take your Grandma to Cherokee, NC field trip.

Well, we did it again. Back to the museum.

I think Henry will be applying for a job there soon. If we go longer than a week without entering a museum he starts to get a little edgy. He gave Grandma the official tour.

Back to the hotel, into the swimwear. We hit the pool, then Bryce joined us for some tubing in the river along park, behind the hotel. This was fun stuff. Ahhh. Indian tacos for dinner then the big treat. The "Unto these Hills" play in the newly constructed amphitheater. What a production! If you haven't heard, the Cherokees and all Native Peoples got a bum deal once whitey started occupying this land and running the show. Of course the actors did a better job filling in the details. Teary and bleary-eyed, we returned to the hotel and dreamed of a place that respected native people and learned from them.

Next morning it was to the local Pancake house for breakfast before Bryce set out on his path and the rest of us on into the Smoky Mountain National Park for some sightseeing, Ranger Programs, and Cherokee Pottery class. Wynne and Henry will be Junior Rangers before we know it. That afternoon, worn out and icing her knees, we sent Grandma on the plane back to St. Louis. What do you know? I had two sleepyheads in the back seat too. I think we were all finished for a while. How about all of you? Ready to get on out here? We're ready to see you.

Well, we've got a production of Annie to get to, so its off to the theater with us tonight. Enjoy your summer and your 4th of July, wherever you are!! Maybe even pay some respects to your native roots with a 4 directions prayer or kind thoughts for all those who have gone before us without recognition while you're blasting those explosives in your patriotic fervor.



After all this zipping, zigging and zagging, it was nice to visit with the Read Family for a couple of days. We rang in Bryce's birthday with cold drinks in hand, seated in lawn chairs, listening to goats bleating and kids splashing in the pool as fireflies and stars lit up the night. Just the way it needed to be.
Didn't last too long. Up and ready in the morning, the kids were running, Carrie was working on teaching the world math equations from the computer, then loading up her CSA shares for folks in town. Bryce was off to the far reaches of the state for meetings and Andy was back to work offering folks ideas and solutions to their Ag. questions as extension agent extraordinaire. As for me, it was easy street. Kid duty. Luckily, the kids were all so wrapped up in their imaginations and underwater world, I only managed from afar. It was nice and a little unnerving to not have so much going on. I know most of you are thinking ,"What the heck? What else does this broad do but hang out all the livelong day with her kids anyhow?" Believe it or not, there is always something to do. Though, I admit, I do occasionally long for an address and all the trappings (well, most of the trappings.) For whatever reason, on this day, hanging out with these four kids (my own and the Read angels; Izzy and Hollis) out in the sun, playing games and hopping in and out of the pool, with only the occasional skirmish, I felt really lucky to have such great friends (here, there and everywhere) and to have this experience overall. There are few people out there who can, in a matter of only a few weeks, camp with friends in the Rockies, pick strawberries with old pals in Iowa, celebrate a birthday with new friends in Lake Superior, drink beers back in our home state with old friends, and only days later be on a hike in The Smoky Mountains. Sure, the packing gets old (you'd think I'd have a system by now, right?,) and not having stuff can be no fun sometimes, but really, it is nice to get to see the friends we love and spend this time as a family enjoying each other while we can, and before the kids are so grown they have their own lives and activities to attend to without us getting in their way. Bryce, unfortunately, doesn't always get to join in all of this fun, but he is the reason we do this. He works tirelessly to provide us with the opportunities to see all these wondrous places and never ever, ever complains that he misses hikes to waterfalls, camp outs, craft times and all the museums and such we get to enjoy without him. It is always more fun when he joins us, but it isn't always possible. Instead, he drives for hours to meetings, gets the car stuck and unstuck in gravel bars, negotiates contracts, wakes up way too early to revise documents and finish computer work, walks miles with a cell to his ear, and does it all without a shred of resentment or bitterness. (At least I hope, or he's quite good at hiding it.) Without him though, this would have never happened. So is the plight of the father (and often both parents.) Always working for the enjoyment of others. So, to Bryce and all fathers out there, Happy Father's Day! We appreciate all of you and love you for what you do and what you are to our families; amazing examples of humility, love, understanding and generosity. Thank You!


Birthday boys

Trying to get back on track. I can't quite seem to keep up with myself these days. I thought summer days were lazy and relaxing, where's all that? We've been everywhere lately and we're on the move...again.
Left Colorado last Monday, drove all the way across Nebraska with the boys to meet up with Bryce in Omaha, who was to be arriving via bus from Columbia, MO. Instead, he was rear-ended while waiting at a stop sign in st. louis and spent the day being checked out and dealing with the rental car agency. He met us in Omaha after all, where we connected at Keith and Julie's house. (Keith is Jenny's mom's cousin, I suppose that makes him Jenny's second cousin.) Here, we enjoyed lots of entertainment ala Henry and Wynne from dinner to dawn the next day. Wynne and Julie were good friends by the end of the night, for there was pie for dessert and pac man on the t.v. It was great to catch up with relatives, and be treated like royalty for the stay.
From here, we couldn't leave Omaha without visiting the Omaha Zoo. Whoa! What a place! When in Omaha, visit the zoo! This place was incredible, with an aquarium, rainforest (complete with monkeys flying right over you while exploring,) desert dome, skyrail ride over the African savannah (so cool to see rhinos, cheetahs, and giraffes while dangling your feet from above,) and so much more. Could easily spend the weekend here. But, alas, we were on the go.

Next stop, North English Iowa (just outside Iowa City, IA) to visit our good friends the Wedemeyer family. Zac went to MU with Bryce and they've been buds ever since. Zac is now married to Elesa who is busy incubating their 3rd bambino. The two girls Iris (5) and Ani (3) were perfect matches for our two, who got straight to work, running the chickens crazy, jumping on the trampoline, exploring the beautiful and recently completed, gigantic restored (as in taken apart, moved to new location and put back together again) ancient Iowan Barn turned amazing barn castle. So much to explore! It was great fun to see these folks again. The next morning it continued when we were invited to attend the summer camp program that Zac and Elesa developed called Taproot. This program takes kids into the outdoors to explore the world around them from all angles. On this day, we were lucky enough to get to visit Scattergood School's Farm, where we enjoyed a tour, picked strawberries until our bellies ached, tried lots of kohlrabi, kale and broccoli straight from the field. It all ended with some haybale jumping and laughter from all. What a great program. So lucky we got to be a part of it all.
Back on the road and up to Eau Claire, WI for the night. Great dinner and rest and back to the pavement in the morning.
By midday, we finally arrived at our destination, Washburn, Wisconsin (any further north and we'd be paddling in the cold waters of Lake Superior.) Here, we met Charly and Julie and their kids Caroline (7) and Jackson (4.) Charly and Julie have so many projects and things happening up here, I could spend all day listing, but just a few include raising and running a team of 9 sled dogs, a forest cooperative, writing a book about overwintering near the arctic circle and managing their own property that includes 3 cabins, a sauna and a really neat artesian well.
Despite the drought the state seems to be experiencing, it was cold and soaking rainy on Henry's birthday. We did get to enjoy the town and library of Bayfield, Wisconsin, possibly the cutest town in Wisconsin ever. Henry somehow managed to top off this lovely day by slipping into the pond while trying to catch a fat frog. Whoops! I think the frog won. He (Henry) got out, quite surprised and shivering, seeing as it was cool up in these parts. We found some dry clothes and played until it was time to for birthday tacos (made with delish local whitefish, still happily swimming only a few hours before) and cake! It even had a skateboard on it! Henry's birthday wasn't so bad after all.

Saturday found us a bit sunnier so we tried to enjoy the cold waters of lake Superior and get some sandcastle building in before we were back on the road. This time to st. Louis.
Luckily, Grandma Nancy had a surprise couple of days off and we were able to go to the dinosaur exhibit at the Botanical Gardens and Bryce and I even went on a date while she babysat. Thanks Grandma Nancy!
Now, here we are in St. Louis on Bryce's birthday and heading to see friends in Owensville for the day before continuing on to North Carolina tomorrow. This packing and re-packing regime is not agreeing with me anymore. I keep getting rid of things, yet we still have so much stuff. How does this happen!!? I will do my best to keep you informed in a more timely manner, but all you folks out there enjoy your summer travels as well and maybe we'll see you on the road.


more colorado fun

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Rocky Mountain High

We had so much fun the Monello Family! Here are the highlights from our campout in the Rockies with the Monello Family (minus Ryan.) The slideshow should be featured below. To give a brief description of the trip, we did some hiking, slipping in the snow, campfire cooking, s'mores with homemade honey marshmallows, playing on the natural "playground" behind the campsite, storytelling, elk viewing (just over the hill from the tent), rock hopping and critter watching. Next time, we won't go without Ryan.

Other happenings in Colorado include riding the elaborate and well designed bike trails in the Ft. Collins area. This was made possible by funding from the Bryce Oates wallet fund. Lucky for the young ones, we purchased new bikes for both Henry and Wynne. These birthday bikes were necessary, as the boys continue to grow (despite my best efforts to keep them just the way they are.) The new wheels were lots of fun not only on the trail, but also in the neighborhood, riding and practicing tricks with Eli, Ezra, and neighbors Lila and Bryce. The BMX dirt track was too much fun to keep away from. Henry and Wynne took to the track like...well, boys to dirt. We all became quite fond of the town and getting to spend so much time with such good friends. We even scored some new helmets and bike bells when participating in a bike parade and fair. All of this and so much more made it difficult to even consider leaving.

Colorado and the Monellos were so good to us, we were practically ready to move in for good, but, alas, life (and Bryce) was calling and now here we are on our way in other directions. More on that soon enough...


On Colorado time

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Its been so long since I've posted, I hardly remember what to do. We arrived here in Ft. Collins a week ago yesterday and time has flown by,by and by. The boys were right back to their fun and games here in Colorado, like old times in Columbia. Lots of biking, scootering, skateboarding, pretending, building, crafting and so on. Tough to believe we even had time to do a little sightseeing. These shots are from the Swetsville Sculpture Zoo, where all animals and creations were welded from leftovers found in junkyards and scrap piles. New life for this old junk made for lots of smiles in our bunch and plenty of ideas of our own for future art projects. If you ever get the chance, check it out. Its free and worth the detour.
Our friends the Monellos are also worth the detour and we're happy to have them all to ourselves. Well, mostly to ourselves. Sadly, Ryan is not at home, but instead busy on a government mission to help solve some major, greasy problems elsewhere, and he is sorely missed. Bryce was here this weekend (over Memorial Day weekend) and there will be more on that epic later. For now this will have to suffice. We miss you all and hope that you have enjoyed your long weekend with friends and family!


Posted by PicasaSunday we did our best to run out to the hotel pool between thunderstorms, hoping for a better day Monday. Nourishment was necessary however, and after a batch of fish 'n chips we stumbled upon the Walter Anderson museum of Art and community center. This Walter Anderson was a hit. Most of the paintings and sculptures were candy colored, depicting scenes from children's stories and fables. Not too bad for a rainy day activity, even if a certain young one wanted to touch every sculpture in the place.
We did fare better Monday with fun in the sun. Walks on the beach in Biloxi, searching for anything, and cleaning up trash, led us to want to play in the water. Sandcastles and several sand holes later, we opted for the hotel pool again and a big treat for dinner at the Phoenician. Wynne quickly (and not so quietly) reminded me of why it is that I do not opt for fine dining with the youngsters in tow (and no husband to join in the festivities.) Wynne's manners eluded him when the server asked if the falafel and tabouli salad suited him. He responded with,"No, not so good. This stuff is too spicy and I don't like tomatoes. I would like a burger with a square cheddar cheese on top please." Lucky for me, the waiter arrived with a bowl of french onion soup that Wynne deemed "his favorite soup ever."
Monday also proved fruitful in securing a volunteer position with an organization based out of New Orleans, LA. The Gulf Restoration Network, an organization devoted to preserving and protecting the gulf shores from Louisiana to Florida. I was elated. This was the reason we headed down to the Gulf in the first place. All this other touristy stuff was entertaining and economically helpful to all these fine gulf towns, but I was, after all in search of helping others. (Even if they didn't want my help.) This all boiled down to making a trip to New Orleans the next morning.
Now, I love New Orleans. It is an amazing, colorful, interesting and active place. Bryce and I got married there, after all. I just didn't really want to go there with my kids and no one else to share the experience with. Driving the tiny streets with trolley cars and people zigzagging every which way was not at all enticing to me. I did, in fact, turn onto trolley tracks, heading straight for a trolley until I realized there was a lane right next to it just for cars. Well, how about that! Whew! The boys were quite taken with the idea of yard long snow cone slushy drinks and demanded that we go get one until I reminded them that this was a treat for grown ups and that if I did share one with them, we'd all be in the slammer.
Instead, we checked out the Aquarium, the IMAX, checked into a hotel that was not fond of the fact that I had two diminutive people accompanying me and rode the trolley all the way down St.Charles Ave. This I do not understand. We spend all day in the car and my kids get out of the car wanting to do nothing more than sit on a trolley car for the next hour. They were enthralled with the colorful homes and buildings all around, the carriages, the riverboats and all the music. It wasn't so bad.
The next morning we were serenaded with music in the French Quarter while we dined at Cafe Du Monde, sharing powdered sugar dust with all who came near our table. We left with Wynne resembling a snowman and Henry looking like the boy who built him. At least this way they were tough to lose. They were stuck to each other and moved slower thanks to that fine powdered sugar paste. One more trolley ride later we arrived at the Insectarium, a museum all about insects. This was interesting and interactive, complete with a bug cafe. Yes, that is chocolate covered crickets, ant dip, worm cheese spread. Enticing.

A mere 5 hours later we were back in Cleveland, MS visiting our good friends, The Green Family once again. We were just in time to welcome the graduate, Tony Green, home from his final day of high school. Congrats to Tony and good luck next year at Mississippi State.
Before we left this time, the boys made sure they had Edye practicing daredevil tricks on the skateboard, broke branches climbing the Magnolia tree in the front yard and landed a frisbee on the neighbor's roof. Ahh.... So little time, so much to destruct. Perhaps its best we do not have a home of our own at the moment.
The next morning we were off on a mission to see dad! Hooray! Just 6 more hours of driving and we're there!
And here we are. Back in St. Louis, but not for long. It is always nice to get spoiled by Grandma Nancy and Grandpa Marian when we get the chance. Even Great Grandpa along with Frank and Jerry may get to spoil a bit as we visit for the next couple of days. As Bryce heads one direction, we'll go another. We will keep you in the know right here.
We are still keeping track of the oil spill thanks to all those great folks down there in the Gulf, so keep up with us at


oil and water

Our rescue efforts, it seemed were all awash. No one wanted us. Several organizations called (10 or so) some with connections to friends in the area, all with similar sentiments. "How nice of you to want to help, but with kids, there's really no way for you to help." Here we were a trio of misfits in the misfit town of Gulf towns. It was time to move on to other places, maybe other ideas.
After speaking with a kindly Mississippi tourism person (also recently HAZMAT and OSHA trained,) who ever so politely suggested we walk on beaches wearing only shoes and socks and avoid the surf, I decided to head toward the National Gulf Seashore in search of more information. Surely, the National Park Service would know what was going on and they wouldn't turn away some free help, right? Wrong. There, they only encouraged us to enjoy our time at the Gulf and put worries of the spill out of our heads. The water was fine, the sand was safe and there was nothing to worry about until it all washed ashore. Hmm??? Oddly enough, on the way back across the bridge, a Sierra Club representative called warning me of the dangers of the area, particularly the water, (and once again refusing my help) suggesting I not enter the coastal region south of New Orleans for fear of dangers associated with fumes from the oil mixed with the dispersants being added to the spill. Who am I to believe?
Driving along this beautiful stretch of white sand beaches on Hwy 90, watching families happily splashing in the water and building sandcastles was just too much for the boys. It was too much for me too. It was an eerie and icky feeling knowing this entire area is about to be obliterated thanks to this spill...and that's just the human aspect. Lest not even imagine the communities underwater. Signs for local seafood, oysterbars and charter fishing trips were just too much.
It was time to invest in the local economy...a hotel with a pool was our next priority. A few hours of swimming brought the smiles back to my little scouts, now to find some grub. Uh...finding local food or any food but chain food was difficult, but we did it. With some thai food in our bellies, the boys set their sights on snocones. On the way to the "snowball" stand, a carnival was spotted at the Our Lady of Fatima parking lot. This was it! Live zydeco music, a carnival ride, cotton candy and a prize winning game of balloon darts hit the spot. With blue, sugar coated boys, it was back to the hotel and planning for the days to come. Where to go? What to do? "What the ...?" as my kids say.

So, we decided to stay. We're still here in Biloxi, holing up for the next few days. Word is, there are some effects of the spill nearby. It was time for some mama-style investigation. A boat trip to Ship Island for a picnic and maybe some shore exploring. A sunny morning, lots of encouragements to enjoy the clean, uncontaminated beaches. We're sold.
As we board the boat, clouds roll in, thunder booms, lightning strikes. Second thoughts seep in. Henry turns to me as we leave the dock,"Mom, I don't think this is a good idea." Insightful little fellow. To boost spirits, I turn to food. How 'bout a little snack bar treat? As the little guys enjoy their food, I ponder what to do when we arrive, seeing as this is a nature preserve and there really isn't much to do but, nature. Did I bring an umbrella, raincoats and dry clothes? Of course not. Band-aids and beach towels, oh, and shovels - that, I have. This will build character, right? Just then, the entire trip takes an interesting turn. Tune into for the rest of the story folks.



We've covered alot of ground since that last post. There are many pictures to post, but my e-time is limited, so I'll get where I can now.
Our time in Adrian was lots of fun with grandparents, fishing and cousin time, it was bliss. Not to mention all the 4 - wheeler rides and chores around the farm to help out with. Bryce enjoyed his class reunion until he was seeing sideways, when I finally dragged him home, giving Mother's Day morning a bit of a rough start. After a few hours, we enjoyed plenty of family time and silly time with Liam and Raquel (Uncle Eric and Aunt Rachel's little ones.)

Monday morning we were on the road again, back to Columbia, to drop Bryce off to walk and talk his way around town. It was I-70 for the three of us and onto St. Louis. A short but pleasant visit with my parents, until leaving Tuesday for Cleveland, MS and the Green family abode.

The Greens greeted us with plenty of sweet, southern hospitality. John was busy with a one-week intensive semester class and plenty of students to direct with that, so we missed him, but Eleanor and Edye kept us plenty entertained. I found that the Mississippi Delta environment was arguing with my sinuses and thought I had caught cold until Elle informed me that what I had was a condition refered to as the "Delta Crud." When you visit, try not to sample this lovely condition. There is, however, a "cocktail" to cure it, that only a doc can administer. Only in the south. I thought my head would explode any second. Luckily, the boys didn't feel the same way, and took to Edye (John and Elle's 9 year old kind, patient and all around lovely daughter) like ants to a picnic. They all had a great time with one another as Elle tried to connect me to folks that might need help with Oil Spill Clean up. She also pointed out all the great places to stop and enjoy on the way to the coast. Even highlighted a map for us. This was so nice. It was great to get to connect with old friends again and as Wynne informed me on the way out of town,"That was a fun place mom, and we didn't even break that much stuff there. We were good, right mom? We should go back to play with that big girl (Edye) and have some more of that break apart sandwiches (pulled pork) - they were yummy."

On our way down here to the Gulf Coast, we did get to enjoy a few unique pieces of Mississippi. We enjoyed a short stop at the Catfish Museum, where we learned that there are more Catfish raised in Mississippi than anywhere in the world. Catfish is an important staple in the south and catfish farms here now provide catfish to folks all over the world. Who knew?
Another find thanks to the Greens was a rest stop on our way into Jackson with an Indian Burial Mound right in the middle with an interpretive trail and historical markers surrounding it. This was a big hit with the kids and a great way to spend some energy scootering and learning after a picnic lunch.
Soon enough, just a few miles down the road a Donna's #6 Produce stand was full of goodies, where they were boiling peanuts in front of us and had just made a new batch of homemade ice cream. This was too good to pass up. Wynne was so sticky after it all I probably didn't even need to buckle him into his car seat, seeing as he was stuck like glue from all the melted ice cream covering his person. It wasn't all his fault. We haven't practiced eating ice cream cones in 90 degree heat since last year. There's always a learning curve.

Now here we are in Bay St. Louis. We had a leisurely trip down here to the coast yesterday as we still do not have an assignment with the relief efforts, as the oil still spills into the ocean so deep below the surface, it is unknown when it will hit the shore. No one really seems to know what is actually happening down there where the oil continues to spew out. You can catch up with us on our new blog relating to the oil spill at


parks, picnics, and parties

What a time we've had with all our friends and family! Sorry for the delay in keeping you folks updated with our adventures and happenings. We have been all over this fine show-me-state seeing friends and relatives. We are once again refreshed and ready to go for another round of on-the-road travels. First a quick, city by city tour.

St. Louis:

We finished here with the story telling festival in St.Louis. We attended many of these events and were lucky enough to see several tellers in fun locations; the History museum, The Gateway Arch and the UM-St.L campus. At the arch, Bryce treated us to a carriage ride, enjoyed by all.
The St. Stanislaus Spring Polish Heritage Picnic was the highlight of the weekend for all of us, with free vodka shots on the hour, heaping plates of polish food, children's games (pig racing was a real hit) and lots of prizes.


Being back in Columbia was bittersweet for all of us. While Bryce put in time walking and talking on the phone, we were visiting friends and soaking up all the goodness Columbia has to offer, most of it being some of the greatest people found anywhere. Such generosity was showered upon us by all. We thank everyone for this. I (Jenny) was lucky enough to revel in an evening of visiting with all the girl friends I could find and gather in one place. Being back on the patio of Uprise/RagTag with all those women, laughing and sharing stories made me cry myself to sleep thinking of how lucky I am to have friends like these. You all know who you are! Special thanks to Amy Higgins for helping me put together and execute the Family Picnic on Tuesday evening, even though I got a flat tire on the way there and had to borrow a neighbors grill (since the park grill had been replaced with a drinking fountain.) Heidi and Elizabeth were painting faces of all the children, which made for an even livelier event. We all had a blast watching the kids squealing around the playground (pictures soon) chasing, and catching one another until it was too dark to see. It did our hearts good to see our own friends and feel support in a community we still feel so connected to. We love you Columbia!


On our way, we stopped to see Katie and Andy and their little kittens in K.C. It was great fun, even if Wynne got a bit Cinco de Mayo nutso and almost puked on Andy at dinner.
Finally, we made it to Grandpa Scott and Grandma Janet's house. Hooray! Grandpa Scott took the boys fishing, fell into the pond, and helped them catch many fish - delicious for dinner, indeed. Liam was taking scooter and skateboard lessons from his big cousins and Raquel was just looking cute as can be as her sweet baby girl self. We are sure to wear out the four wheeler before we leave. Sadly, the other Oates cousins, Oliver, Aubrie and Alisa are sick with strep so we will miss them and are quite upset for them and for us. Boo Hoo!

My time is almost up, as I have other projects to begin and to prepare for as we leave again on Monday morning.

I am heading south, very very south, with the boys to help in the clean up of our newest disaster - the great goo clean up thanks to BP, down in the Gulf of Mexico. We are heading first to see friends in Mississippi, then getting connected to the right folks to help in whatever capacity we can. We will keep you posted on this and will certainly need your help. I will be hosting a new blog devoted to this new chapter of our home school life. What better way to learn about environmental disasters than to experience them, right? I hope to link the new blog here within the week. Keep reading and we'll keep writing.

Hug your mothers and send them love. Tomorrow is Mother's Day! Happy Mother's Day to all you moms out there!


Super Steve

Uncle Steve. Uncle Steve. What can I say? We love him. He needs his own post. Friday, he took time out of his busy archiving to lead us around the St. Louis Museum of Transportation. We had our own personal tour. The joy that Wynne gets from visiting this guy is just unmatched by anyone (except Grandpa Scott, of course.) Uncle Steve is not only a volunteer here, but also at the Kirkwood Train Station, and is a member of a model train club.
And he used to work on real, actual locomotives! We got to look inside lots of trains no one ever gets to see. We got a special ride on the Trolley. Yes, a real actual working trolley. We got to see where all the books, videos, artifacts and train parts get brought in and catalogued. We learned so much. For example, did you know that the bigger the locomotive engine's wheels are, the faster it goes, AND that it most likely carried passengers.? Those big wheels made for a smoother ride.
And then, he even bought us each a pretzel! The boys were a little wild and crazy, and it was rainy, but Uncle Steve was a champ. Thank you Uncle Steve! Boy, are we are lucky to have this guy!

Back at Grandma's

Now we've been here a week. The shine is beginning to wear off. On the kids, the grandparents, and the parents. We did make it in time for Grandma Nancy's birthday on the 20th, and surprised she was. We walked into Grandma's workplace right as she was walking by to fix the entrance door (that I swear, we didn't break) when she stopped and jumped (almost..if her knees had allowed it) for joy!
That evening, we walked (the boys scootered, naturally) to old downtown Webster to get some pizza, then met up with Aunt Pam and Uncle Steve for some ice cream. Grandma Nancy got plenty of help scooping her own sundae from two sticky little guys, eager to try every flavor.
After several months away, we heard the zoo was missing us. Luckily, Grandma got the day off and we ruled the place. Wynne got splashed in the face by a penguin, he connected with a zoo docent talking about puffins, penguins and okapis, and was at one with the guinea hens and peacocks roaming the place. Not sure what it is, but birds (especially domesticated ones) like the kid. Henry spent about half an hour in a one-on-one Q & A with the Entomologist in the butterfly house. And who says homeschooling can't be fun?

Friday the boys and the neighborhood kids took over the street with bikes, trikes, scooters and skateboards. I love that my parents live on a street full of kids! It was fun...and a bit dangerous. Bryce and I got out of there when Nancy got home from work because guess what...we went on this thing called "A DATE."
WooHoo! Dining without children - what an experience! So quiet, so intriguing, so tasty. Really, I mean I actually got to taste my food. And good food it was. Smoked duck confit, braised mustard greens, smoky beans and so much more. OOooola la! The Smoked Duck Restaurant was not a disappointment. We wandered the city, enjoyed some drinks and dessert and made it back home to find...the kids still awake?!!! Aye aye aye! This was all wrong. Yes, it was 10:30, but they should be sleeping. What exactly happens between that parent/grandparent stage? I don't think I saw 10:30 on any day of the year but New Years Eve in my youth.

Saturday the whole crew was out of the house early for a new experience for most of the crew. The IMAX Theater show about Sea Life at the Science Center. This exceeded all expectations and once we convinced Wynne that he would not be falling out of the seat down to the bottom of the theater, all was well. We even stayed for the new Darwin Exhibit, which is pretty darn good for the science center. We all found something to enjoy. On to Sweetie Pie's restaurant for another new experience. Wow. Soul food anyone? I think there was a stick of butter in everything I tried. At least 5 cheeses in the Mac n Cheese. It was tasty but Wynne said it best when he finished his whole plate of catfish, sweet potatoes, cornbread, mac n cheese and cobbler, " My feet and legs feel heavy dad." He climbed onto Bryce's lap and fell asleep. No joke. We all required a caffeine boost after that lard coma.

Sunday we snuck away for a soggy, squishy, muddy birthday bash for Lushen Claridge out at Terra Bella. We surprised him and the whole gang. It was lots of fun and lots of rain!

That leads us to this week. Back to the books for the boys and me, visits with Great Grandpa, picnics at the Sculpture Park, slides and swings at the playground and the St. Louis Storytelling Festival for the rest of the week. We'll share some tall tales with you next time we're around.


The Toothfairy

Funny moment. Henry lost his second tooth yesterday. That makes 2 teeth lost in 6 days! This kid will be rich in no time. Good thing he only has a limited number of teeth. On the occasion of his first lost tooth, a few funny conversations evolved.

1. At bedtime.
Shortly after Henry lost his first tooth, it was time for bed. Oh the excitement! He found his nifty tooth pillow he had made only months before, stuffed the tooth in the pocket, wrote a note to the fairy and laid down to rest. Only a moment later did Wynne ruffle his feathers, complaining that he too wanted his tooth pillow to sleep with for the night. Wynne fell asleep, while Henry continued to toss and turn. He got up, turned on the light and said,"Mom, I can't sleep. I think that if the toothfairy visits me and not Wynne, then Wynne is going to be very sad."
To which I responded that when he loses a tooth the fairy will visit him too. This was just not good enough for Henry. He got out a pencil and paper and left this note," Dear Toothfairy, This is my brother Wynne's tooth pillow. He would like something too, if you have anything extra. Thanks, Henry" He folded the note, placed it in the W pillow and fell right to sleep.

2. In the Morning.
We were busy trying to get the car packed to get on the road to St.Louis. It was 5 a.m. The boys woke up excited about the toothfairy visit. Bryce and I heard this exchange.

Wynne: Did the toothfairy find your pillow, Henry?

Henry: Oh yes! Look, its paper money with a 5 on it! Oh yeah! Wynne! Check your pillow pocket!

Wynne: Oh, I got a paper money too! With a one on it. But...where's the rest?

Henry: The rest of what?

Wynne: The rest of the toothfairy stuff, the...CANDY?!!

Henry: [laughing] She brings money, not candy, Wynne.

Wynne: Yeah, but candy is good. Not money. And candy is what makes your teeth fall out! I want candy from my toothfairy!

Henry: [laughing his head off]


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Wonderful Waterfalls


There was no way we were going to leave Virginia without one last tour of some of the state's finest waterfalls. It was off to the Peaks of Otter we went after packing the car. So full, in fact, that everytime we opened a door or rolled down a window a shoe, colored pencil, map or one of us would pop out from the pressure of all of it being squished in there together. Why is this? I blame the Easter Bunny. I digress. The Peaks of Otter. What a hike! Trillium, Jack-in-the-Pulpit, wild violets, Dogwoods, Redbuds and a host of others, all along the cool, bubbling stream, dotted with boulders and small waterfalls. It was too much to bear. We had to take off our shoes and wade around a bit. Tiny frogs and more little eggs were discovered all around. After all this exploring, it was back to the Peaks of Otter Lodge. The Lodge was just what we needed. Virtually indestructible, this lodge was built shortly after the WPA era which meant cinderblock walls, and sturdy construction leaving this mom with no worries about the boys wrecking the place. Also, it was right on Abbott Lake, with a lovely view of the Peaks of Otter. The rooms had no telephones, televisions, internet or cell phone reception. It was perfect. Even better was the amazing seafood buffet that included whole steamed lobster, crab legs, oysters, on the half shell and fried, catfish, salmon, halibut, clams, scallops, seafood salad, crab cakes, frog legs and shrimp cocktail. This is only the seafood represented. There was a whole host of other fixins besides, along with the virtually untouched salad bar, and of course, desserts. Lucky for us the boys were free - I think Wynne ate the legs off of a whole community of crabs along with enough fried oysters and hush puppies to fill a boat. Henry would've eaten the whole lobster himself if it weren't for me sneaking in a bite or two. I think the boys ate 3 plates themselves. Full and happy, we took the trail back to our sleepy cabin.

After a quick morning hike to the Johnson Farmstead, we were on our way to Shenandoah National Park. The Blue Ridge Parkway on a 65 degree day in spring was definitely the way to travel. Beautiful vistas and flowers all around, we enjoyed it all. One picnic later, it was time for another walk. This time to another waterfall (what else!?) When we reached the small falls after walking down, down, down for about a mile, Wynne peeled his clothes off in record time and splashed right in the water. Henry quickly followed, hopping from stone to stone and sliding down slippery rocks naked as jaybirds and happy. The trip back up, up, up the mountain was memorable, but not so enjoyable as the boys had exhausted themselves in the stream. Dragging them up the trail, Bryce and I exchanged looks that said,"Will we ever learn?" These are character building exercises, right? One can only hope.

That evening, as we drove through the park in search of lodging, I came across a coupon in a travel guide. Massanutten Lodge Spring Special! It sounded like fun, had a great rate, a perfect location - we pulled up to the check in. My! Oh my Oh my! For you skiers out there, this is like a ski resort meets Tan-Tar-A meets Hilton Head (without the beach.) The boys were dazzled. Once they caught site of the indoor waterpark, there was no going back. The place was a zoo with 6 hotels, too many condos, its own police department, grocery and liquor store, and...well, you get the idea.

Yes, the next morning after a breakfast that rivals that of Cafe Berlin (in Columbia, MO) at the Little Grille in Harrisonburg, VA , where there are boxes of trivial pursuit cards on all the tables, fun bookshelves full of ninja turtles, hello kitty toys, postcards and kids books from years gone by we were on our way to (Oh God help us) the indoor waterpark. The boys chanted "We're so excited! We can't wait! We're going to an inside waterslide! Yessss!" while wearing their goggles the whole way there. Truthfully, it was a blast. Just like Oceans of Fun or White Water or whatever waterpark you've been to, only in a climate controlled, massively huge bubble. What a day!

That night we stayed in Wytheville, VA exhausted and happy to sleep. Henry, Wynne and I headed to Big Walker Lookout and Mountain for more mountain goat activities to wear out the boys (and myself) as Bryce worked his hiney off so we could leave the state of Virginia and be back in St. Louis, MO just in time for my mom's birthday on the 20th. And we did it! Here we are, back in St.Louis with my family and the boys are back to playing with all their toys and begging to sleep in the camper in my parents backyard. Is it strange that when they get here Henry says ,"Hey Wynne, I know. We can sleep in the camper and pretend we are traveling all over the world." Really?! What an idea.
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goodbye claytor lake tour

Here is a quick video of the house we've called home in Virginia for the last 2 months. It is a partial tour, ending at the dock before our bon voyage paddle boat excursion.

Farewell Virginia

Here we are in our last hours at Claytor Lake. Tomorrow is the last day here on Old Ferry Road, so tonight for our "finilly" as Henry regards it, we took out the Paddle boat for a little trip around the lake. Lots of fun was had by all, even when we let the boys steer the boat around and around and around in circles. We finished up by cleaning out the fridge, making breakfast for supper. The boys ate 5 pancakes each in an all new record. Now to pack the car.

We do regret saying good bye to our new friends, gymnastics classes, the Blacksburg Library folks (especially Ruth) and this fine state full of wonders. We're sure to be back again soon. The boys and I even made a special trip to the Museum of Transportation in Roanoke this week, so we'll include a few pictures here too.
Missourians - we're headed to see all of you and we can't wait!


Cascade Falls & Frontier Culture Museum slideshow

Cascade Falls & Frontier Culture Museum

Once again, the Oates family is on the move. Now don't get too excited...we're still in Virginia. Now that the weather is warm and the trees are flowering and leafing out, so are we.
While Bryce was busy this week working, the boys and I explored more of the Blacksburg, VA area. I will once again give you a daily breakdown as this is easier for me.

Enjoyed some storytime with Miss Ruth at the library followed by a picnic lunch with our new friends Jack and Margaret, then some exploring on the Huckleberry trail that runs from Blacksburg to Christiansburg. A perfect warm day to spend running around the trail fending off oncoming bike traffic and pretend witches with sticks. Oh how folks on bikes love to see children running with sticks on "their" bike trail. Sorry folks.

What a busy day. Henry was the obstacle course king at his homeschool gymnastics class, which put him in a fine mood for the remainder of the day. We hit the Subway (thank you Aunt Pam!) and took a picnic out to the Pandapas Pond and trails for an evening meal. It might have been peaceful, had it not been for the dozen or so Canadian geese surrounding us hissing demands for veggie subs and popcorn. Wynne stood up to talk sense into them, finding only that they didn't speak english, were the same size as he was, and that it made it easier for them to nab his sammy. We finished up quickly, and walked the trail around the pond, enjoying the nature guideposts along the path. We finished up here, headed back to the car (where some crazy redneck was waving a pistol around in the parking lot. wow! the nice weather really brings the best out in folks!) It was onto poetry night at the Library, where we wrote Acrostic Poems, while Wynne entertained all the kids by telling them he was "made of fire and was going to invent a racecar that could drive through fire and blast off into space." That Wynne, he just has no imagination. Henry illustrated a poem with a painting and a drawing and had a great time chatting it up with the librarians,'telling them to visit Monticello sometime because "yeah, its a really cool place and a president lived there once too." He also added, mater-of-factly that the drive is "not too bad either." I think perhaps we've been doing a bit too much lately.

Check out the tiny video posted of Henry & Wynne's gymnastics and that will give you a vision on thursday. It was practice for future stunt man auditions...all day. We did manage to sneak in a visit to the lovely Virginia Tech Gardens where we found bluebells, redbuds, magnolias, tulips, daffodils, hyacinth, dogwood and a few cherry blossoms all bursting with color.

Bryce joined us this afternoon - Hooray!! Hiking up to Cascade Falls (just outside of Blacksburg, VA). A perfect day for it. Lots of granite stones and boulders to climb on, amazing rushing clear water, lots of interesting waterfalls and the grand prize - Cascade Falls. A 65 foot cascading waterfall to behold at the end of your 2 mile, uphill hike. We did stop to explore the stream quite a bit on the way up. At one point Henry decided to forge a new trail across the stream on a fallen log (um...I might mention here that the log was nearly 8 ft. above the very fast moving water) to what he called "a really interesting rock, mom." He luckily made it back to us alive, with one foot wetter, as I continued to breathe deeply into a paper bag. It should be noted that I am NOT a nervous nellie type, but seeing your son just balance beam walk across a HUGE fallen log over moving water as if he is Indiana Jones is a bit terrifying for the onlooking mother. The trail back down from the falls was not as enjoyable as the boys used their energies to get to the falls, making the trip back nothing new and interesting. Right around the 3.25 mile mark a whining party commenced, scattering wildlife far and wide. While we all did complete the 4 mile loop, there were few smiles from mile 3.5 to 4.
Found some good grub on the way back home and were all the better for it.

A day of history and culture. Out of the house early, we headed for Staunton, and the Frontier Culture Museum. This is a mostly outdoor museum consisting of several "homesteads" from a West African village in the 1700s (the slaves origins), an English homestead from 1600s with a milk cow, geese, sheep, chickens and the house and barns, an Irish Homestead with house, pens, stone fences, pigs, etc, a German Homestead with house, barn, garden, animals, well, etc and two homesteads "Appalachian style" one circa 1840 and one 1880. This place was very interesting and fun to walk around. This was a great way for all of us to learn about the various cultures based on their types of homes, gardens, animals and architectural patterns. Also, the German, Irish and English buildings were all authentic and brought from their respective countries and reconstructed on site. A blacksmith was working along with other guides in homes making cheese, buckets, and playing old time fiddle music. It was an educational and fun day in the sun. Again, the loop around the villages was a bit over 3 miles and yes, you guessed it, the walk back to the visitors center was slow and staggering. A popsicle at the finish improved moods greatly.
We drove into the town of Staunton (a town of nearly 350 years) and enjoyed the downtown scene, checking out the Cranberry Grocery & Cafe for some wraps and salads, then found some great gelato and sorbet at the Split Banana. All of these fun activities left us hoping for a slow and quiet Sunday. We wish you all the same.

Henry & Wynne and the Gymnastics show




Easter weekend brought us warm weather and lots of fun. Saturday we attempted to kayak at Claytor Lake State Park. Our plan was to kayak around the lake, enjoying the sunshine and scenery. Unfortunately, after an hour of kayaking INTO 45 mph winds with the boys shouting, "C'mon mom, C'mon dad! Turn on your engines!" we finally gave up and headed back to the docks. The return trip took about 30 seconds with the wind at our backs! Ha! Oh well, we had fun anyway. Building volcanoes and castles at the swimming beach proved fun until those wind gusts brought the sand into our faces. Yuck. Back home for some relaxation and togetherness.

Sunday we were lucky enough to be invited back to Harry and Gail's farm for a delicous lunch and Easter egg hunt. Their daughter Sarah and her son William (a charming little cutie) were also there for the fun. The boys had a great time hunting eggs all over the farm, finding the eggs filled with animals and playdough so they could be enjoyed for years to come. What a lovely day! We enjoyed visiting and felt lucky to have spent the day with these kind and generous folks. Hope you all had an equally fun spring day!
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D.C. trip (continued)

Okay, folks, my apologies on the newest photo collage. For those of you with Facebook accounts, you can check out more photos there, otherwise, you will have to put up with my photo collage-mania. For whatever reason, this blog does not care to digest photos in groups larger than three, so to decrease my own frustration with my technological ignorance, I just prefer to create a collage and share that way. Someday (probably never) I will attempt to fix this problem. If you know how to solve this dilemma, please send a tutorial my way. Again, my apologies.


Up bright and early with the rest of the D.C. area burbs, we were on the meto and headed back into the city for the Cherry Blossom Festival and the Kite Festival, all taking place in, around or near the National Mall. We arrived, squished ourselves out of the train with everyone else and decided that first, we'd finish up with any museum business that didn't get taken care of yesterday. Henry, Bryce and I went back to the Museum of Natural History. Henry just HAD to introduce Bryce to his new friend Darwin at the evolution exhibit, and take one last look at the dinosaurs and ancient cultures rooms before moving on to dead presidents and memorials.
Jake and Chelsea generously volunteered to take Wynne to the Air and Space museum to see the fast rockets and airplanes. This was a big step of independence for the little guy, being the first time he has been separated from family and done something with friends all by himself. Proud as punch and lifting off the ground like a little rocket himself, he held Jake's hand and Chelsea's hand and headed to the museum with his best buds.
Sometime later we all met up, enjoyed hotdogs and half-smokes (these are sausages, not cigarettes) and walked and walked and walked and walked some more, seeing kites of all colors surrounding the Washington Monument, the Lincoln Memorial (where Wynne declared,"what! we're going to that stadium!"), the FDR memorial (where Henry hijacked the camera and took 200 pictures of the various waterfalls and statues), through the Cherry Blossoms along the Potomac, to the Jefferson Memorial (where we lost Wynne's glasses.) Whew! If you are saying, "Wow, that is the longest run-on sentence ever." It is because that is exactly how it felt going from one place to the next with 3000 other people (or more) packed all around us. It was a good time, but a crowded one at that. Lovely and crowded.
The boys had walked all this way, all day by themselves and were beginning to lose it so we decided to head back to the Metro station (which felt like a bazillion blocks away) at the Smithsonian stop. Nearing this station, with Henry on Bryce's shoulders, and Wynne on mine, we noticed that the queue just to get down the escalator to the platform was stretching across the mall. Yikes! We walked on in search of Dim Sum. This is what the boys had decided they needed at the time. Specifically, every kind of chinese dumpling available, ever made. Finally, we found the Federal Triangle stop (not as far as we feared) and made it to China town for a Dim Sum experience that was delicious, but perhaps a bit too much for all of us. The combination of our slap-happy boys and the loud "house music" we'll say made for some videos I will refrain from posting, but will keep in my files for future bribery. The boys were done! We escaped the restaurant quickly, even if not so quietly, grabbed a chocolate crepe from a vendor for dessert and headed back to our hotel via Metro train.
We stepped out of the station in Alexandria and noticed things were all too quiet, and where was our hotel shuttle bus anyway? Only to find out that the shuttle stopped running about the same time our children did. Thank goodness for Chelsea, we called her and she kindly came to our rescue. Thank you Chelsea! We returned and counted zzzzs.


Rainy weather kept us from wanting to go back to the city, so instead we were off to Monticello. We made a quick stop at the Prince William Forest for a short hike, but the boys were a bit hostile about going for a hike after walking around the city for 3 days non-stop, so we cut it short and went on over to the Jeffersons'. Monticello was lovely, even in the rain. I cannot begin to describe what an interesting and amazing place this is. The tour, however, proved to be a bit more than a 3 year old was willing to handle, so we didn't stay too long after to explore. And that is pretty much the end of this adventure. I'll post another soon.