Often on the go, my husband, Justin, our two daughters and I turned one of our many commitments into a fun, family getaway.
My oldest daughter, Mackenzie (who’s 9), had a competitive cheer competition in Kansas City. We took advantage of the travel by making a weekend out of it.
After researching nice places to stay, we decided on Olathe—just outside of Kansas City. From an immersive history experience to good food as recommended by friends, I knew we would enjoy ourselves.
The first thing I noticed about Olathe was its classy and established feel. There was a healthy mix of old and new structures, fountains and other scenery. Emily, our youngest, kept shouting “What’s that?” from the backseat, in true curious 6-year-old form.
Saturday was primarily dedicated to the competition, but we did have the chance to indulge in some much-anticipated barbecue for dinner. Friends of ours strongly recommended Smokin’ Joe’s Bar-B-Q. The humble diner exterior was complete with neon signs, but it was the aroma of smoking meat and wood that invited us in.
We ordered the family pack. It consisted of two pounds of pulled pork; a pint of beans seasoned with a comfortable spice; a pint of crunchy, creamy coleslaw; four orders of fries; and a two-liter soda. While the sides were wonderful, it was the meat that brought the conversation to a halt. Instead of talking, we were savoring. Tender and juicy, it was good all on its own, but adding the hot or mild sauces brought the entrée extra personality.
Emily was first to break the silence, saying “‘Kenzie, you can have competitions here any time!”
After a good night’s sleep at our hotel, we were ready to play.
I’d wanted to visit the Mahaffie Stagecoach Stop & Farm Historic Site because it seemed to be the type of place we’d all enjoy—interesting and interactive. In researching the site, I learned that this is the last remaining stagecoach stop on the Oregon Trail that’s open to the public.
We were greeted by staff members in the Heritage Center dressed in 1860s attire. The women wore Victorian-style dresses with long sleeves and poofed out skirts. Men were in pants held up by suspenders over button-up flannel shirts, or suits with long coats.
Justin pointed out the cardinal red wagon to the kids, and while they were both excited, Mackenzie literally squealed. Our guide was an upbeat gentlemen dressed rather spiffy in suspenders and a top hat; he introduced himself as Benjamin. After letting Mackenzie and Emily pet the horses that would pull our stagecoach, he guided us around the site on the open-air wagon, providing a view of the animal pens, crop field, wash house, cellar and farm house. Emily called out all the animals—“Look, chickens! Can we pet the goats? There’s an ox, too. Do you see the horses?” That girl sure is observant.
After the tour, we greeted the animals we had seen from the stagecoach. There were plenty of smiley photo opps thanks to Justin, who cracked us up by making faces and weird noises alongside the goofy goats. I happen to think horses are adorable, and loved petting their velvety soft noses.
Next door, we felt the heat of the flames in the blacksmith shop. An interpreter was there wearing an apron and holding metal in the furnace with long tongs. When the metal turned light orange, he set it on an anvil and pounded it into a curve, explaining the steps he was taking to create an S-hook.
Afterward, we checked out the farm house. It had wallpapering throughout, a kitchen, bedrooms and all the looks of a normal home. As I was thinking it looked old, but not completely foreign, Emily pointed at a feature of one of the bedrooms and said, “What’s that?” I’m sure she could have accurately guessed at the wooden seat with a hole cut out and room for a pot below, but was taken aback at the idea of a portable toilet in a bedroom. Justin laughed and explained.
Before leaving, we investigated the exhibit, I knew it was a Fine Country, back at the Heritage Center. This exhibit included a 12-minute movie called Border War Voices. The movie was narrated by actors portraying what life was life for settlers living during the 1860s. A mother spoke of what it was like raising her little ones to help around the home, while a father spoke of the challenges in finding work and keeping the family farm going. It was fun hearing Mackenzie and Emily chattering about what they would do if they lived in the era. Mackenzie said she’d start a cheer squad. Emily thought it would be fun working on the farm with the animals, but probably very hard, too.
Our drive home started with an excited conversation, where we all talked about our favorite Olathe activities, and ended with happy napping children in the back.
I was happy, too, having made the most of our weekend. While we might be heading back to our crazy busy lives, we successfully carved out time to have fun and connect as a family. Maybe we’d return soon—no cheer competition necessary.