My summer as a pioneer

I referenced a few months ago that my kids and I volunteered this summer at a local State Park, called This is the Place Heritage Park in Salt Lake City.
Part of the park consists of a historically re-created village called, Deseret Village, similar in concept to Old Sturbridge Village in Massachusetts or Williamsburg in Virginia, only this village is a recreated mid-19th-century western frontier pioneer setting. (Think Little House on the Prairie era.) The buildings consist of both re-created and original structures built by early Mormon settlers in Utah that have been moved to the site. 
We’ve visited the village in summers past and my kids have always loved it. Last year we visited our cousins volunteering there and this summer my children begged to do the same.
This volunteering including dressing up in period-style clothes and greeting visitors for 4 hours, once a week. I have to admit I wasn’t as enthusiastic about the idea (hello, who’s the one that needs to track down those pioneer clothes!) as they were, but figured I’d better run with it since A) volunteering somewhere worthwhile together is a good thing and B) there probably won’t be many more summers where my kids ask to leave ipods, and computers, and the likes behind and dress like a pioneer. 
Well, it turned out to be an awesome experience to do together. First and foremost (and kind of obvious) getting away from all those tech-y distractions. I feel like so often in the summer I’m saying, “Okay, turn off the screens and go play outside” ad nauseum. (To myself included.) Here, no screens and hence, no need to tell anyone to turn them off. Perfect.
One of the surprising things I loved about the experience is that it gave my kids a lot of autonomy. When my kids were little, I didn’t like the idea of them roaming far from home alone. While that is totally reasonable for little kids, as they’ve grown bigger – esp my boys – I want to encourage them to do that more – go exploring with out me. I think that’s something that’s missing from many of our over-protected kids’ lives – the freedom to roam. Sadly, since we don’t live in Mayberry, it’s hard to just turn them loose all day.
But while we were volunteering at Deseret Village I could do that! (It was even encouraged by the staff because the cute kids in their pioneer garb roaming through the village added the sweetest ambiance to the place.) It was so great to let my kids roam a fairly large area and do what they wanted to do – without me hovering over them. Above is the house we were ‘stationed’ at. I spent most of the time on that front porch and my kids would go visit the animals at the petting farm, or “pan for gold” in the mountain-man camp, or go buy sweets at the mercantile store. All by themselves. It was this great little taste of Mayberry. And it has made them more confident in their explorations without me. And it has helped me have the courage to let them do it. :)

I was so lucky that the house we were assigned to has a quilting project going on every summer. Each year the volunteers at the house hand-piece a quilt top using worn-out pioneer costumes from years past. It felt pretty make-it-do authentic. This year we started paper-piecing these 9-patch diamonds. I loved it.

We also started hand-quilting the hexagon quilt the volunteers had pieced the summer before. Sitting on that shady porch hand-quilting, visiting with my sister-in-law who I rarely see, but enjoy so much, with my kids out roaming and exploring in the fresh air. It was so great! And so therapeutic as I was dealing with all my thyroid nonsense. (Plus it was fun to see that little guy so earnestly want to learn to quilt!)

It was a good reminder of why a slower paced life is a good thing. Granted, we weren’t trying to survive by the sweat of our brow – our main task was to great guests, explain the history of the house where we were, etc. But that was fun too! One of my favorite visitors was a woman from Italy who is a fellow quilter. All of it was a good reminder as to why a slower-paced life, not to mention visiting with old and new friends in real life, is a great thing for our well-being.

And now a payoff for wading through all those words: Quilts! I have some good ones to share. Also housed at the park is a museum of the Utah Quilt Guild with a wonderful library of antique quilts.

Obviously some beautiful treasures. There was also a quilt made with appliqued squirrel pelts. (I’m not making that up.) I took a picture but refrained from posting. :) (Don’t worry – it’s not as bad as it sounds. Think just the fur part of the squirrel.)

 I LOVED this star quilt. I think this is the inspiration for my next paper-piecing project!

Coincidentally, to enhance my pioneer experience this summer, I also got to pull a handcart on a 20 mile, 3-day “trek” through some dusty wilderness, re-enacting the 19th-century Mormon pioneer migration across the plains with a bunch of the greatest teenagers I’d ever met. This experience was to give these kids the opportunity to get away from electronic distractions, do something that pushed them out of their comfort zone a little, and give them an appreciation for sacrifices made for them by fore-bearers. And wow, those kids rose to the occasion. 
The reason we went is that my husband and I were asked to be a “Ma and Pa” for a “family” or group of kids. Our oldest daughter participated as well. I’ll be honest – it as hard. And we were nasty, sweaty, dirty by the end. But it was a great experience. I came away with a deepened appreciation for those who made sacrifices for their faith – my faith – from which I benefit every day. 

No matter what our heritage, there are people in our past who made sacrifices for us to have the comforts, freedoms, and opportunities that we have. It was an enriching thing for me, and my kids, to learn a more about and appreciate that heritage a little more. And to take some time to realize how enjoyable life is at a slower pace. So, whether we do it again or not (though I suspect we might), I’m so glad I learned to appreciate just turning off the gadgets, slowing down, and hanging out with the people I love most.


  1. says

    What a lovely experience. Thanks for sharing…and I completely agree about the whole screen time break. It is a challenge, but so worth it. We started raising a flock of chickens this summer, and what fun it's been to watch them grow and their personalities emerge. Plus, now we get eggs! :) Hoping the peace continues as school ramps up.

  2. says

    I thoroughly enjoyed this post. Thank you for sharing. So much resonated with me &quot;turn off screens and go play outside&quot;! What a great opportunity for you and your family – not least the 3-day trek. I enjoyed the vintage quilts and I agree – I love that star quilt. You&#39;ll all remember this summer :)<br /><br />

  3. says

    What a wonderful summer you had! I&#39;m so impressed with all that you did and the fun you must have had being pioneers! I would love to do that someday! Thank you for sharing this:-)<br />

  4. says

    Oh my God! So cute… Nice to hear about this kind of special holidays to share with the family. Thank you for these gorgeous pictures… the star quilt is so lovely! Montse of

  5. says

    what an amazing experience and so good for the kids, I bet they did not even miss the tv and all the mod cons whilst there. No doubt they are back onto their gadgets now! There is a lot to be said for the simple life although I know I would miss my CD player most, the tv I think I could live without but there are one or two programmes I would miss, the quilting ones come to mind I have learnt

  6. says

    Congrats on surviving the Trek experience as a Ma and Pa. My DH and I did that 6 years ago. Very rewarding. I would love to spend the Summer quilting like you did in &quot;Mayberry&quot;. I hope you kept a Journal…

  7. says

    Wow, what an incredible experience for both you and your children! Those are memories that will never be forgotten and will always be treasured. Thank you for the great post!

  8. says

    I am so impressed and envious. Wow!! What a neat experience for you and for your children. I know they enjoyed it but I&#39;m sure as they get older they&#39;ll also appreciate the lesson they were taught about volunteering and how it has so many rewards. I just think that is so neat, though the whole appliqued quilt using squirrel pelts made me glad I&#39;d finished my breakfast before

  9. says

    What a great holiday you must have had. I am envious.<br />Are you sure about the squirrel pelt appliqué? I am curious about what that could even look like. Rest assured that all squirrels would be safe from me! I live in a mostly squirrel-free country. I say &#39;mostly&#39; as a small community of them escaped from the zoo and live in the few blocks in and around the zoo.

  10. says

    What a lovely post! And your timing for me is perfect. I just had a week with numerous failures of &quot;things&quot; we have become dependant upon. It has been so frustrating and caused me to be envious of simpler days, for example, when there weren&#39;t computers that crashed without warning! Bravo for giving your children (and yourself) these experiences!

  11. says

    What a wonderful experience that must have been! Getting away from the &#39;modern world&#39; like that sounds like music to my ears, unfortunately there&#39;s nothinglike that at all in this little and far too busy land of ours, full of houses and roads and traffic jams, the worst in the whole world, worse even than LA or NY to name some major cities in this world. Just heard that in the news

  12. says

    Lovely post :) I&#39;ve always wondered what it would be like to have lived back then (or just try it like you all did!) And what was it fun to wear the pioneer clothing?

  13. says

    What a great experience and what a great post!!! I also envy you, I&#39;d love to have such a experience but I live to far away, in Spain. Thanks for sharing with us and for the beautiful pics.

  14. says

    Thanks for sharing. The only time I visited This is The Place park we were looking for a place for a wedding reception and not really getting the whole experience. Your post made me want to go back and see what&#39;s really there. Sounds like a great experience for the whole family. And putting the gadgets aside for awhile is probably something we should do more often…

  15. says

    Beautiful post Amy, and beautiful pictures. I love This Is The Place Park. I was on the Utah Quilt Guild board with Sherry Kasteller when she first represented the guild&#39;s work out there. Look how far things have come! And what an amazing experience with your children. Something they will hold on to and look back on with fondness as they reminisce their childhood.

  16. says

    WOW! Thanks for sharing this experience on your blog. What a wonderful life lesson for your family. We were at Plymouth Colony last year and the re-enactors were key to the visitors, especially since they stayed in character so well….<br /><br />One school girl held her camera and asked a young colonist, &quot;May I take your picture?&quot;<br /><br />&quot;What?!&quot; he replied. &quot;Why do

  17. says

    I have a dear friend who has volunteered, along with her 4 boys, at Deseret Village for the past 3 or 4 summers. She has the same reasons you do. She wants her sons to understand that life was not always like it is today. Although life back then was physically hard with all the chores and such, it was a much simpler less complicated existence.<br />Who couldn&#39;t use a dose of that?

  18. says

    So fabulous that you and the kids had a chance to experience &quot;Mayberry&quot;! We live so far out on a dirt road that ours never got to wander far…but they did enjoy making things out of sticks, flowers and leaves every summer…so much that they always had some sort of blisters on their fingers and we never could figure out what they got into…no…it wasn&#39;t poison ivy…that we know

  19. says

    It sounds like a fabulous way to spend part of your summer, a great escape :o) When I was a tween/teen I spent most of my school holidays &#39;working&#39; as a street urchin at our local living museum, set in the 1900s. I basically spent my time playing games and selling little period nick-nacks to the visitors.

  20. says

    I keep saying that one of these summers we are going to get up to Deseret Village. I went back in 1999 before I was married and had kids and I thought it was so neat. That was before I actually lived here! I know my kids would love it. I totally understand the need for kids to be able to get out without having parents hovering over them. I just wish all my neighbors felt the same way. We live in

  21. says

    Wow that was a great post! I loved all of those quilts – it amazes me how dedicated those women in history were with their hand piecing and I complain that my machine doesn&#39;t sew fast enough, who needs to slow down? I love that your kids got to wander – I agree that generally our kids are over-protected, but that is a sign, sadly of society. Just sounds like you and your family have made

  22. says

    I went to This is the Place park this summer as well, and lingered on the quilting porch while my children petted the animals next door. How wonderful you could enjoy so much time there as a family! You are so blessed, and blessing so many at once.

  23. says

    How very cool! I lived in Utah until I was 18 and never went there. I had no idea you could volunteer. I assumed it was a mission type thing. One of these days I will have to take my family. If you do it again, let us know when you will be there. I would love to come say hi!

  24. says

    This is the best blog post I&#39;ve read in months!! Why not go ahead and have your children document their summer adventures, while fresh in their minds? Next summer, if they aren&#39;t as interested, pull out their papers and re-read them as a group….bet it will inspire them to go again!!<br /><br />I think all children would benefit by being able to experience such a summer!!

  25. says

    Amazing. I loved reading every word of your summer. My kids are too old for that now. And I&#39;m feeling like I wish I&#39;d have done this. What a sweet experience that will never be forgotten. I so admire you.

  26. says

    Thank you so much for sharing your pictures and experiences. The Fairbanks home at This is the Place belonged to my 3rd great aunt &amp; uncle – John B &amp; Sarah Van Wagoner Fairbanks. The one time I visited there was in the off season, so I couldn&#39;t go into the house. I haven&#39;t made it back there to do that, but I definitely want and need to. Also, another 2nd great aunt came to

  27. says

    Oh, wow! I love the idea of the kids volunteering to wander through the past — that is just so beyond neat. I remember reading about the squirrel pelt quilt somewhere…maybe I can use it as a way to convince Hubby we should stop there on one of our trips to Utah?

  28. says

    Wow! What an amazing experience. The Fortress of Louisbourg in Nova Scotia has always been one of may favourite places because it&#39;s so interesting to see how people lived long ago. The ladies in one of the houses there make lace. I love the star quilt too.

  29. says

    Wow Amy — it sounds like the perfect summer. I love that you had duty at a house where there was quilting — perfect! And I&#39;ve always wanted to do that pioneer trek – maybe someday. ;-D

  30. says

    Sooo awesome! We went on Trek as a Ma and Pa this summer too and I&#39;m still thinking about it. We had an amazing experience. I am so jealous of your being able to volunteer at the Park (I don&#39;t live in Utah). I think I am obsessed with making bonnets. ha.


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