Themed Family Reunions

I know one family that always has a theme for their reunion, and everyone adult and child dress up for it. We have had a few themed reunions because my family is so large that I can’t get the children together on a separate date from the adults, so often I incorporate the theme of Grandma Dottie’s Camp into the reunion for that year. And I often need the help now, from the adults in the family.

Theme Reunions: Medieval Time

Last year Grandma’s Camp was Medieval Times. My daughters made the costumes for the girls. We all attended the Midsummer’s Renaissance Faire in Cedar City, where our reunion was held. Many of them played the game “Off With Their Heads” which is a bean bag toss game–very fun. We spent the afternoon there and then all went to the Green Show on SUU campus that is free and held before the Shakespearean play each night.

The men helped with the making of shields, and made their own as well. The guys all administered the oath of chivalry. The men and oldest boys were dragons that the younger children had to slay in order to get to the challis. And everyone participated in archery, crusades, and physical training

Theme Reunions: Medieval Times–Renaissance Faire, Archery,

Theme Reunions: Pioneer Trek

Theme Reunion: Boot Camp

Theme Reunions: Secret Garden–visit Garden, plant a container, bucket fillers

Theme Reunions: Harry Potter

Destination Reunions



Medieval Camp #1

Grandma Dottie’s Medieval Camp was this year’s theme. The little boys chose it. They are enthralled with that period of knights and castles and kingdoms and battles.

UMRF-crest-painted Utah Shakespeare Festival

Greenshow-09_fs Utah Shakespearean Festival Photo by Karl Hugh

I decided the perfect venue for such a camp would be i n Cedar City during the Shakespearean Festival and on the weekend of the Midsummer Renaissance Faire held in Main Street Park in Cedar City with it’s medieval looking tents for booths and characters dressed up in costumes of that period.

les mis Here you can order Mulled Cider, Fruit Tarts, and other refreshments you might find at an English Country Fair. Or you may wait until they come around calling out their wares for sale.

And we could all attend the Green Show, which is entertainment held every evening before the plays begin, with performers that look like they stepped right out of  Renaissance England with their accents and attitudes creating the atmosphere. It is such an enchanting scene! The first time I took my youngest to this festival when she was 12, she stepped into the Theater area with the actors in costume, the wares being hawked by cockney-speaking peasants, the music, the tarts and humbugs, and she said, “Is there a major in Shakespearean times? I love this!” She was fell in love with Shakespeare, literature, and history all in a moment. So I wanted my grandchildren to experience it too.

Of course, if we were going to take the trip back in time with this kind of culture surrounding us all, the children needed to be in costume too. So I looked for some simple patterns on Pinterest  that would be fairly simple for me–and by me, you know I mean my daughters- to make. (My days of sewing are over, as are my days of pulling off Grandma’s Camp by myself. it is now a family effort.)


The little boys had a tunic with a Celtic cross on it and a belt that could hold their sword. The girls each had a velvet dress with the cascading sleeves. As my kids,–the parents–started helping, enthusiasm was in the air. The little grand kids could hardly wait as their costumes were tried on for the right fit. We decided even the babies would have costumes. This was going to be fun and festive!

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This is a dress for one of the babies. The sleeves are short in front with long trailing sleeves in back.

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Our little seven month old Lady of the Kingdom


leather crown

We found these leather crowns at the Renaissance Faire. Each of the kids had $5.00 to spend. Three of them spent their money on these crowns. They are actually made as hat bands.

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And look at this! You can wear them with the crown points up or down. So cool! I hope they have them there next year. I want to buy more for a Book of Mormon Camp. They would be perfect for Nephi and Captain Moroni!

The Date is Set–this is often the hardest part.

I looked on the Festival City USA website for the date of The Utah Midsummer Renaissance Faire, and that became the date for Grandma’s Camp. Two days was all we could work out for the whole family to be together, so we had just two days to conquer the world!

We were short two families this year which meant we were missing three knights and three Lady Knights, but as I mention in my home page, it is important to be able to adapt. The other four families arrived on that early August day, and the activities started.

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First up was donning costumes, and as part of the costumes, swords were handed out to each child, including the girls. Because we were going to have the Round Table and there were not enough boys–and besides, no matter that there was no such thing as gender equality back then, we have a firm belief in it now and  the girls did not want to be “damsels in distress.”


In the background of this picture is another version of the headpiece options for the Lady Knights framed by our two newest adorable babies! Aren’t babies “divinity?” (from Little Women)

The Knights’ Code

I found this knight’s code online under King Arthur’s Knights. It was a great website–very serious about the history of King Arthur–and I would like to have used more of it, but we had so much to conquer in our shortish time, that I never can do as much as I plan, but the code was a great idea for our Camp.

The Knights  were men of courage, bravery, honor, dignity, courtesy, and nobleness.

They protected ladies and damsels, honored and fought for kings, and undertook dangerous quests.


The children, of course,  knew how to act with Courage and Bravery and Honor. But  Courtesy part of the code was on sort of an ebb and flow basis, however, look at this cute little act of courtesy by the four year old Princess helping another little Lady out of the tunnel on the final quest. And you’ve got to love her Medieval dress with pink cowboy boots! Ahh! Kids are the cutest!!


The first activity, after donning costumes, was to make our shields. Grandpa had cut our various shapes from cardboard so they could choose the shield that they wanted. We had paint, markers, beads,  and jewels to create their own coat of arms on the shield.

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I think it might be a good idea to have tin foil and scrap-booking paper they can glue on or Mod Podge, but we worked with what I had remembered to bring along. And they LOVED making their shields and were so proud of them.  The shields have a very sturdy duct tape handle on the back of them that held tight through all of their battles.

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 All for One and One for All!

(I know I’m mixing up time periods with all these references of medieval knights, renaissance, Three Musketeers, but the goal is fun, so mixed up it is!)

And so it was decreed that the girls would be knighted (here comes artistic license again as I’m forced to change history as we apply it in 2013) as part of the Round Table.As for the damsel in distress thing–Their Grandma Dottie has set the example for the girls–that is I am one who expects to be rescued whenever there is distress–I gave up wanting to be independent long ago, but we have a new generation of independents and so female knights it is!Actually it was only the nine year old lady that demanded equality. The four year old was totally satisfied with being a princess. She claims full and sometimes solitary right to the title as well as the royal power to command. However she wanted to be part of the knighting ceremony. So we adapt.

Midsummer’s Renaissance Faire 

As soon as the shields were made we went to the Renaissance Faire held in Cedar City’s  Main Street Park. There were booths, bounce houses, face painting, entertainers, balloons, and games.

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The Renaissance Faire in Cedar City Park.

It might be good to note here that part of the code of a knight requires them to not take payment for their services and daring deeds, so sometimes their pants are holey, and sometimes their shoes are worn to simple straps, but both are comfortable for battle and other daring deeds like talking one of the vendors to come down on his price of shirts so he could buy one for him and one for his brother. Yeah, he’s a daredevil, but one with brotherly love!

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Top picture–This bean bag game was played by everyone. You aim at the wives of Henry VIII. If you hit one, her head falls back.  It was a cute concept and fun to play.

Bottom picture–I gave them each $5.00, and they went shopping to the booths throughout the park. This booth is called “Another Realm” where they bought their leather “crowns.” There are bounce houses, face painting, rides, food, and entertainment there all day long.


The most fun this for our 18 month princess was trying to take care of Moki as she models her Renaissance dress. You can see that Moki doesn’t like to obey babies, even royal ones.

Next Blog:


Quest #1  Strength and Endurance

Quest #2 Archery

Quest #3 Sword fighting–ready for duels or battles


Medieval Camp #3


The jousting was an exciting time. The kids put their swords in their scabbards to use as a lance. They had to knock the star from the sky–it was actually a pinata filled with candy and small toys. This seemed like the best and most safe way to complete the jousting requirement for knighthood. And their victory brought rewards to the all the kids, er the whole village!

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Jousting the Angry Bird. Top Row–The younger children got some whacks in that weakened the enemy. Middle Row–Notice they are jousting on their noble horses. Bottom Row–Mighty Whacks disable the enemy and the knights won the treasure!



Here! Here! All who are desiring to participate in the Crusades and Other Quests must understand these simple principles of Nobleness:

“The journey may be approached only by those who have been purged, are celibate and show an obedience to the Lord. “The quest, then, is seeking  after God through complete and joyous self-abnegation among those who are on the same journey.”

I didn’t  explain the big words, however, it would be a great lesson for the older kids. We just talked about how Europeans, at that time in history,were Christians believed in Jesus Christ. They felt like the land where Jesus had lived his mortal life was sacred land and should not be inhabited by people who did not believe in him, and so they set out on journeys or crusades to win the land back and drive the unbelievers out. They also believed that special items that belonged to Jesus were sacred and should be owned by the Church and not anyone else, so some of their quests had to do with these special artifacts. I explained what the Crusades were in the medieval times, but for our camp, any time we went for a walk we called it a crusade. We went on one crusade where getting shave ice was our Destiny! Our crusade was Victorious and we returned home mightier than when we left. the only difference being now we had blue and red mouths!


The Quest For The Holy Grail

The longest and most dangerous Crusade was the Quest for the Holy Grail. I had explained to the children what the actual crusades were all about and that they wanted anything that had belonged to Jesus. The cup he used at the last supper was considered holy and is called the Holy Grail.  King Arthur’s knight Sir Gallahad goes on a quest to find the cup and bring it back to the believers. Our setting for this quest was the livestock tunnel that runs under the freeway for about a mile. It is dark except for grates in the roof of the tunnel evenly spaced. The Holy Grail was in a patch of light. It had to be reached by only stepping on stones that lead up to it. This was the most fun part of the whole Camp!

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Top Row–The children begin their crusade into the tunnel, but one of the princesses finds what looks like a small toad, however, it is a baby dragon, held tightly in her hand! Middle Row–Dragons come out of no where to chase the children. They have to fight them and slay them. Just when they have slain one, another one comes! (Their dads were the dragons). Bottom Row R–The find and recover the Holy Grail , and L–the princess has saved the baby dragon, and they retreat out of the long cave!

The Knighting Ceremony

The Queen, pleased with their accomplishments knights each candidate and they join the Knights of the Round Table


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The Knighting Ceremony went off smoothly until the Center Row, middle picture–We have a Napoleon in our midst who wants to knight herself! The Wise Old Merlin (Grandpa) led the knight’s oath.

The End for 2013

Medieval Camp #2


Knighthood is dangerous so  skills have to be mastered and strength developed, hence intense training is needed. They had to climb mountains and other feats to pass their quest for strength and endurance!


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(I was going to put this as “Running the Gauntlet” like Richard Gere did in “First Knight” but then I read the history on what running the gauntlet really was, and it was too horrible,! So I bagged that title of the activity. Yuck! There was no respect for human life back in the Medieval times, but this was not a topic I wanted to cover, so this activity was simply titled, “Quest for Strength and Endurance”)

Here is the test and development of arms so they could Hang on to Dragon’s Feet While It Is Flying.

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Hanging on to a dragon as he flies!

The best place for endurance challenges was the park. We went on a “crusade” (any time we walked somewhere, we called it a crusade–a journey with a purpose) to the near by park where physical strength was tested. You can guess what they were: climbing walls, hand over hand bars, climbing up and over the rope web, running through an obstacle course etc. Each activity was a gauntlet full of fun!


Each of the kids was given a sword made of plastic and purchased at one of the small town  local 4th of July festivals. They looked fancy and the kids were so excited when I bought them. I showed them all and let the ones who were with me choose which one they wanted, but put them away for safe keeping until Grandma’s Camp. This created some excitement and anticipation for the coming camp, and when the day came to don their costume, they acted like they found an old friend when their sword was presented to them. So cute! I love these little moments!

I also bought some bows and arrows at the Renaissance Faire for our Archery Competition.

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The sword fights were held before the Queen. Fencing moves were demonstrated to the kids by their dads. Fencing rules were followed, since we didn’t really want to fight to the death, or the pain. I don’t even know how the judging went on that because I turned it over to the male people in our group.


The kids had great fun, and actually the sword fights went on for two days straight–every chance they got, as you might imagine. These pictures are taken on SUU campus before and after the Green Show was over.


The Knight Apprentices were recipients of a lot a of stares as people noticed their costumes, but that is what they wanted. When this sword play broke out on the grounds, passersby stopped to watch. One couple got their video camera out and recorded them. They gathered their own crowd.


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Everyone enjoys the Green Show. The actors are so cute and talented, and they interact with the audience.

Two little four year olds enthralled with the Green Show entertainment.

Next Post:

Quest 3 –Jousting

Quest 4–Crusades

Knighting Ceremony





Pioneer Camp (Part 1) – Westward Ho!

O Pioneers!

in the Tetons: Sam and McKay

This picture was taken long before Grandma Dottie’s Pioneer Camp. It was taken when my grandson was about 2 years old. But doesn’t it just make you want to be a pioneer for a day?

  I have several ancestors who trekked across the Plains and  Rocky Mountains to settle the West. This particular camp was prepared to help my grandchildren gain an appreciation for these pioneers and a little understanding of the way of life in the 1800s, all while making happy memories of our own.

Everyone has ancestors who lived through the 1800s, and no matter where they were, life was similar in the type of clothing, ways to cook, clean, wash, travel and hunt, so this camp works for anyone and activities can be associated with family members from the past. I based many of our activities around the stories of some of our family’s pioneer ancestors.

Preparing for Pioneer Camp--loading our handcart

My first Pioneer Camp at my home. We have our “handcart” (wheelbarrow) packed and ready to trek. Instructions are being given…um, no one appears to be listening.

McKay and Weston

Panning for gold at Grandma’s Camp: Pie plates were used for panning gold marbles buried in a little pool filled with dirt, sand, and water. The kids learned to swirl the water and sand like real gold panners.


We visited the grave of Ann Jewell Rowley who had been part of the Willey Handcart Company.

The Pioneer Camp theme with my grandkids was so much fun that I used the ideas a second time. When it was my turn to plan the annual family reunion, I decided to have a mini Pioneer Camp again, this time with children and adults of my extended family.

Some of our family’s pioneer ancestors:

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William Morely Black

William Morely Black headed for the gold fields in Oregon. His wagon train stopped in Salt Lake for supplies. He met some Mormons and was invited to church. He joined the LDS Church and let his wagon train go on without him.



Ann Jewel Rowley

Ann Jewel Rowley joined the LDS church with her husband in England. As a widow and mother of seven children she immigrated to the United States. Traveled by train to Iowa. Joined the Willie Handcart Company and walked to Utah with her children.

Come, Come Ye Saints!

Family Reunion Pioneer Trek

Pioneer Trek Camp for the whole family had to be adjusted to accommodate about 30 people. I sent my brothers and sisters and their adult children an email invitation, “Call to Move West” which included a list of a few supplies that would be needed.

Dear Families,

You are hereby called to organize into The Hawkins Handcart Company that will head West into the frontier. This Company will meet at the Huntington Park on Saturday, August 1 to assemble. We will then head up the canyon and start our Westward  Journey.  

Every person needs to bring a bedroll (a blanket folded in thirds and rolled like a sleeping bag) and a water gun or super soaker for our buffalo hunt.  We will divide into four families.  We will need four “handcarts.”  Other supplies will be distributed after the company has assembled.

After the trek we will all have pioneer Dutch Oven Supper before heading home.

(The location of our meeting point and map were included in the email.)

I look forward to seeing you all at the gathering place!


The Gathering

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We all met at the spot in a canyon near my home that my husband and I had previously chosen and mapped out. The children were divided into families, with a Ma and Pa appointed for each family.

The required supplies from their call letter were accounted for…

  • Handcarts (red wagons or wheelbarrows–we only needed three or four)
  • Bedroll (a blanket to use when we stopped for lunch)
  • A Water Gun (the bigger the better)HawkinsTreck 006-001

Next, individual supplies were given to each child:

  • A hat–sunbonnets for girls, cowboy hats for boys. My sister made about 20 pioneer bonnets. I bought the hats at the Dollar Store or somewhere cheap.
  • A small bag to hold the gold they were going to find. My sister also made the little bags for gold–about 25.
  • A lunch of cheese, jerky, apple, and dried fruit. I bought these.
  • A gold-panning-pan. We decided not to use these, so they were eliminated from this version of the trek.
  • A trek map for each family. A simple drawing showing the events and stops we would be making.
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Cowboy hats and sunbonnets and little linen sacks for gold discovery are some of the supplies handed out. Even the babies had hats and bonnets.

The kids are ready to find out which family they belong to, put their bedrolls and guns,  in the family “handcart.”

I love the expressions on their faces as they WAIT for adults to get organized and ready to go. I hated waiting as a child–I still do.Hawkins Pioneer Trek

Wagons Ho!

Then the Wagon Master called out Wagons Ho!  Anyone remember that old TV shows “Wagon Train?” And  so, following the Wagon Master, our train of  (little red) wagons (and wheelbarrows) began to move and our journey/adventure begins.

“And Soon We’ll Have This Tale To Tell!”

Pioneer Camp (Part 2) – Discoveries on the Trek

Theme Quick Links: Pioneer Camp – Part 1 & Pioneer Camp – Part 3

The Gold Rush!

Many pioneers headed to California or Oregon to find gold, including one of our ancestors. The first activity on our Family Reunion Pioneer Trek was panning for gold.

The first stop was at the stream where we had previously scattered the gold in the creek. I thought about fool’s gold, but couldn’t find any; I was going to spray rocks gold, but I decided to just buy gold colored glass globs. I’ve learned to do some things the easiest way, as long as you get close to the concept, the kids imaginations do the rest.
Panning for gold is done with a shallow pan such as a tin pie plate, which we used in my first trek, but for this one, the gold was on the surface and the stream meandered instead of rushing, so I decided they could just pick it out of the stream with their hands, which made this activity shorter so as to fit into the time frame we had for all the activities planned.There's gold in that thar creek -- Pioneer Camp

I limited the amount of gold nuggets each child could find, in a socialistic way I’m afraid, but fairness makes Grandma’s Camps easier. Parents helped the littler kids find enough gold so that everyone had a small bag  of “gold” which they could spend later.

Onward and Upward

The trail continued on up the mountain to a grassy plateau. There we stopped for a break and here’s where my sister, Grandma Ginny, portrayed our angel ancestor.

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Grandmother Ann Jewell Rowley tells the story we call “Bless the Biscuits.”

 Ann Jewell Rowley  appeared to us and told us a little about her experiences with the Willie Handcart Company.

HawkinsTreck 061 The group listens as Grandmother Ann Jewell Rowley tells  how they encountered early winter weather in the mountains of Wyoming along with other obstacles that slowed the company down, and they ran out of food. When they had gone without food for days, Ann found an old sea-biscuit from their ocean-crossing voyage. One biscuit, however, could not feed all of her children. She put it in a pan, prayed and asked for enough food for her family, and when she took the lid off, the pan was filled!HawkinsTreck 059

Teaching Moment:

Here was a teaching moment of faith and courage!I think all of Ann Jewell Rowley’s descendants know this story and have been inspired by her great faith. Descendants may not know their great-grandparents, but further back into the great-greats, they know Grandmother Ann!

Crossing Sweetwater River

The actual pioneer trek required the pioneers to cross a river that snaked back and forth in Wyoming called Sweetwater. They had to cross that river six times in the course of their journey. So in our trek I thought we should have to cross a stream at least twice!  Our trail led to a small stream that required some strategy to get all the people and carts across without drowning or losing belongings.

…Okay–yeah, so this little stream can’t be called a river.  Here you have to use your imagination  a little. We just needed to get across without getting wet!

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Arranging the log in the river to walk across.

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Just like in the real story, young men went into the water to help each person across safely.

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Here’s another real scenario–Mom carrying two babies across.

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And then the handcarts.

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It was time to get the bedrolls out and have a rest and refreshment. Each person had a lunch in their handcart.

Perils Along The Trail

Every pioneer had challenges on the trail such as illness and accidents, among other things. so for another teaching moment, a few of the kids were handed notes that indicated a problem such as a broken leg, or a serious illness. Their family had to determine how to help their injured co-travelers continue the journey.

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Helping a cousin with “a broken leg” finish the trek.

This turned out to be more pleasure than plight, but isn’t that the the point of Grandma’s Camp?

“But With Joy Wend Your Way.”


Pioneer Camp (Part 3) – The Buffalo Hunt

Theme Quick Links: Pioneer Camp – Part 1 & Pioneer Camp – Part 3

The Buffalo Hunt

The kids (and the buffalo) had the most fun with this activity!

We all know that Buffalo were an important part of the Western Migration, so I wanted to teach the kids about them and how the pioneers found buffalo hides a blessing of warmth and the meat was so welcome and often life saving. The idea of doing a buffalo hunt popped into my head, and  I excited to arrange it in our trek experience.

Going on a Buffalo Hunt

Here the kids are armed and waiting for the hunt to officially open.

 Each of the kids was asked to bring a water gun–mostly super soakers. (I had extras for the forgetters in the family, like me.)  The fathers and grandfathers of the children were to be the buffalo, and they each held  a cardboard cutout of a buffalo head to use as a shield against the mighty hunters.

Buffalo Hunt -- Pioneer Camp


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The kids loved picking on their dads, grandpas and uncles.

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Some of the Grandpa Buffaloes seemed easy targets for the littler kids, so they ganged up on them!

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BUT sometimes the buffalo fought back!

Values and Principles–Another Teaching Moment

The needless slaughter of the buffalo herds causing Native Americans to suffer is very sad, even heart breaking.  After our fun sport, I talked to the kids about this. Our ancestor, William Morely Black– the one who joined the wagon train in search of gold–experienced the sport of the huge buffalo herds. The herds were so large that people could feel the ground shake before they heard the thunder of their hoofs. They traveled in herds of about 10,000 (some estimate).  In his writings: Sketch of the Life of William Morley Black. he expresses his regret of participating in the hunts:

“The journey…was a prosperous one. The most lively incidents were the days when for sport we hunted buffaloes, thousands of them  were shot down for the mere fun of the thing. No one seemed to consider that they were the property of the Red Men, and that they by generations of inheritance claimed them as we claim our marked and branded cattle. Sad indeed was it for the Sioux nation when the white man made a thoroughfare through their well stocked hunting grounds.”

What better way to talk about the terrible consequences of sport killing and how the slaughtering of millions of buffalo changed the whole Western landscape than hearing a great…grandfather’s words?

Trading Post–End of the Trail

On the final stretch of the Pioneer Trek, they came to a Trading Post. I had purchased souvenirs from the Pioneer Museum in Salt Lake City and other souvenir shops in Salt Lake. I had some beaded dolls and pop guns, Native American medicine pouches, bracelets, necklaces, cups, little boxes with bugs (artificial) and a lot of other inexpensive things that I had been gathering for months.

Trading Post -- Pioneer Camp


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The kids were so delighted at the chance to spend their gold!

Ancestor Story Books

My niece had made two spiral-bound books with a simple retelling of the stories of the ancestors we had been talking about: Red Bill about William Morely Black, and Mama’s Faith: The Miracle of the Sea Biscuit about Ann Jewell Rowley. The books were very cute with illustrations and all!  It was the best souvenir that  would be a reminder of  our Pioneer Camp Adventure, and could be read to coming generations of children. Each family, not each child, received the two books.

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We ended with Dutch oven potatoes, chicken, and fried scones with jam and honey.

Our Pioneer Camp was over by early afternoon. We met at 11:00 and ended about 2:30. Getting organized took about 30 minutes. The Trek, with our breaks and games and trading post took about 2 hours (we didn’t travel very far). Then we ate and visited and cleaned up, which was another hour and a half or so.We made lots of happy memories as well as introduced our grandchildren to a couple of their ancestors in a super fun way!

Happy Day! All Is Well!


Secret Garden Camp – (part 1 of 3)

 A Bit of Earth

GrOur own “Mary and Dickon” unlocking the door to The Secret Garden at Thanksgiving Point Gardens

“Can I have a bit of earth?” – Introduction

One of my favorite Grandma’s Camps was Secret Garden Camp, which of course, was centered around the book by Francis Hodgson Burnett. I love the movie adaptations as well. Not many of my grandchildren had read it, so we watched the movie the night before our camp really started and talked about the parts we loved. Actually, the preteen boys hated the movie–but they loved the camp.

There are three parts to the book A Secret Garden that I chose to use for activities in this camp: Gardening, Character Values, Mystery.


I used a few books to get ideas (see here for those resources). For this post I’ll focus on the hands on gardening activity.

Mary and Dickon discoverying the secret gardenDiscovering the Secret Garden

After Mary discovers the garden that has been shut up for 10 years, she asks her uncle for “a bit of earth”. He tells her to take it anywhere, so she takes that as permission to care for the secret garden.

“A bit of earth?” – Gardening Prep

In my side yard, I had previously tilled a section for the Secret Garden Camp. Before we could plant, we talked about how to prepare for creating a garden.

  • TOOLS – Buckets with garden gloves, a spade, a garden fork, and a package of seeds were given to each child.
  • DIVIDE & TEAM UP – The children were paired–one older child and one younger one–into gardening teams to prepare, plan and plant their portion of the garden.
  • SHOPPING – Each team was given some money and we went shopping for plants and things.  I had separated some flowers in my yard, such as daisies and irises, that they could choose to plant in their garden, and they had flower seeds, or they could buy all new plants and flowers. –Two of my grandsons decided they wanted to buy things instead of flowers. They would use the plants at home and that way they could spend their money on more manly things like an ornamental garden squirrel and a cactus!
The two busy kids by the pond were supposed to be helping Weston.

Planning and planting their “bit of earth.” The two little ones playing in the pond are supposed to be helping with the planting.


‘To plant things. To make things grow.” 

Back to my yard, we learned how to plant a garden in two basic steps–with a secret mixed in.

  • TURNING THE SOIL and mixing some mulch into it.
  • PLANTING the flowers and seeds the children had chosen.

For extra fun, I had previously buried some items into the areas they would be digging such as a small ceramic figurine, an old fork, a tube of lipstick (remember the lipstick in the movie/book Holes?),…


…and an envelope which held a key and a cryptic note inside. This went along with the mystery part of The Secret Garden story and I hooked their interest for their own Grandma’s Camp secret to uncover later.

Secret Garden Envelop


“Open, and awake, and alive.”

Around the side yard waterfall, with its tiny stream and wading pool, each garden plot was planted and signs were placed for whose garden it was. My grand kids’ bits of earth results were adorable!

Secret Garden Camp — Garden Magic Part 2 of 3


There are three parts to the book A Secret Garden that I chose to use for activities in this camp: Gardening, Character Values, Mystery.


I used a few books to get ideas. This one is fabulous! Other than our secret garden, we also made this spider web climber and Safari Hideout, and a scarecrow for Grandpa’s vegetable garden.


Great Gardens For Kids, by  Clare Matthews. This book is full of fabulous backyard ideas for kids!

2-The Magic Is In Me

There is “magic in all of us” is a lesson the children in the book learn that comes through positive thinking, believing in ourselves, and being likeable, and being happy.

Mary and Collin are often described as being unpleasant and rude. The servant Martha, in fact, says Mary is “as tyrannical as a pig” and that Collin is the “worst young newt as ever was.” At camp we talked about why  both of these children were so ill tempered. No one liked to be around them. Would we like to be like them? How did they turn their attitudes around? The gardener Ben Weathstaff told the children, “Two things cannot be in the same place. Where you tend a rose, a thistle cannot grow.”  Perfect teaching point.

Our smiley baby–Little one year old with a broken arm. She never complained about her cast–no big deal–she just keeps smiling–always happy.

Toward the end of the book Collin said to Mary,

“’Of course there must be lots of Magic in the world,…but people don’t know what it is like or how to make it. Perhaps the beginning is just to say nice things are going to happen until you make them happen. I am going to try and experiment.’ It made her think that it was curious how much nicer a person looked when he smiled.’ She had not thought of it before.

Both Colin and Mary learned the lessons of positive thinking, happiness is created within, and believing in yourself from Dickon and his family, as well as the gardener Ben Weatherstaff. These are the elements of the magic we can create. and developing these characteristics was a major focus for this Grandma’s Camp.

Smiling was a good place to start.

For Younger Children:

  • The Smile Song: For the smaller children we sang the Smile Song  (LDS Children’s Songbook, 267) and do the actions below with the kids. There is a graphic of a smiley face that you turn upside down and it’s a frowny face.  (It is in the LDS nursery manual, but I cannot post the link. You can search for it.) Here are the words and actions of the song. I sang it as a child and still love it and sing it to my grandkids.

If you chance to meet a frown, (pull corners of mouth down to a frown) ; Do not let it stay. (shake head from side to side);  Quickly turn it upside down  And smile that frown away. (push corners of mouth into a smile);  No one likes a frowning face. (pull corners of mouth down to a frown); Change it for a smile. (push corners of mouth into a smile) ; Make the world a better place  By smiling all the while.

  • The Little Engine That Could: This story written by  story for younger children to teach optimism and hard work.IMG_2775-001Everyone loves this story about a little train. After reading it, we talked about things they tried even though it looked too hard for them.Then we went outside and hooked together as a train and climbed one of our hills, repeating the phrase,  “I think I can, I think I can, I think I can” as the little train did. This demonstrated team work and “keep trying.”

For All Ages:

  •  The Good In You:  Pass slips of paper to the children. Have them write something good about each of the other children–put it in a basket and draw them out and read them to the children. Then have each child write something good about themselves. Attach these to their journals.
  • Are You A Filler or a Dipper? Mary and Collin were both Dippers. Dickon and Martha were Fillers.
  • The kids each had a small bucket with a few pieces of candy in it and a scoop.
  • They stood in a circle, with two or three judges on the outside.
  • They were to talk to each other and tell each other something they liked about them.
  • When a positive thing was said (“you are a good friend to people”), the judge put a few more candies in that person’s bucket.
  • When a snide comment was heard like “yeah, only sometimes.”  The judge scoops out some candy from that bucket.
  • As it keeps going, the kids begin talking over each other, but unkind comments disappear.
  • Then is a perfect time for a discussion about two kinds of people–some fill others buckets and some dip out of people’s buckets. Mary and Collin were dippers until their attitudes and actions changed. Which are we?  The Internet has a lot of ideas about using this book Have You Filled A Bucket Today? See BUCKET FILLERS.
  • Doorknob Signs

Foam doorknob signs can be purchased at any craft store.  Cover the signs with scrapbook paper and embellishments. This is a good activity toward the end of camp. I used all of the following quotes as we discussed what Mary and Colin learned from Dickon and his family.

Remind the kids and summarize with these quotes, then have them choose one to use as a doorknob sign:

  • Happiness is created from within. –Grandpa Parker
  • “They can because they think they can.”–Virgil
  • “If you think you can or if you think you can’t, you are right.”–Henry Ford

  • Where a rose is planted, a thistle cannot grow– Frances Hodgson Burnett’s

  • Most folks are as happy as they make up their minds to be.” – Abraham Lincoln
  • “Every day is a good day if you pray.” –Norman Vincent Peale

Secret Garden Camp — Mysteries part 3 of 3

Secret Garden Camp Part 3

3– Mystery

There are a couple of mysteries in the book. Mary found a key and hunted for a secret door to a walled garden. There are a couple of other mysteries in the book, so  I wanted to include a mystery in our camp. We had a treasure hunt with clues. I always have a treasure hunt, but this one started with a key and finally found the box that it fit.

As the gardening proceeded, more clues were discovered. One of my daughters had created a treasure hunt that was designed for the teenaged kids. All clues were very complex and took a lot of thinking and discussing to figure each one of them. These older kids loved the challenge. IMG_0905-001

One of the clues was musical notes, they had to play the tune figure out the words which led them to the next clue. This one was “In the Leafy Treetops,” so they had the little kids climb the tree and look for the clue.

On the third day they found the spot where the treasure was buried. They dug it up and opened the box to find a wooden locked box inside.

Treasure finally found

They found the clue near an old log that some of my kids called The Whale.


The key found on the first day fit the lock on the box…and it was filled with money–coins–all silver!


Grandpa became the treasure broker; each person could get as many coins as their fists could hold.

It was a happy ending to our three day Grandma’s Camp.


Our youngest grandson playing in the waterfall in our newly planted Secret Garden.

Camp lasted three days and then we went on a field trip to Provo area where we visited the Thanksgiving Point Gardens. They were all beautiful, but the Garden we wanted to see was the Secret Garden.


This was to be a perfect photo op for me with my grandchildren in the Thanksgiving Point Secret Garden–the crowning picture of our camp.  The garden is beautiful, but the kids were hot and tired and hungry. One of the kids refused to sit with us; the little girl toward the front of the picture is quietly scooting backwards to get away. She is in no mood for a picture. And the little one in the middle is crying loudly and crawling out of  the circle and ready run!

It’s one of my favorite pictures.