As much as we relish adventure in far off places, our own state is full of so many captivating places and stories. I want my kids to grow up with an understanding of how history and culture shape life today. It isn’t practical for us to dig deep into the history of every state. It is, however, very practical for us to dive into Oklahoma history. We’ve been studying events that shaped American history like westward expansion and the Indian Removal Act. It is one thing to read about those things, it is something totally different to visit a place that makes those events and stories come to life.

We loaded up the kids for a few days in southern Oklahoma, namely Chickasaw Country. Last fall we visited the area, but were not able to make all the stops we wanted. On the top of our list of places to visit was the Chickasaw Cultural Center.

We weren’t sure what to expect. I think we were all surprised by the beautiful facility and how welcoming every person we met was to us. It is always fun to be in a place where everyone smiles and says hello.

ChickasawCulturalCenter-01One area of the grounds includes an exhibit center. We were able to watch a short video telling the story of the Chickasaw people. My kids are much more apt to watch a video than read signs, so I was grateful to start our tour there. After the video, we explored various exhibits related to the past and present of the Chickasaw people.ChickasawCulturalCenter-02ChickasawCulturalCenter-03Outside were several areas for exploring and burning some energy.ChickasawCulturalCenter-04ChickasawCulturalCenter-05
ChickasawCulturalCenter-16The highlight of the visit for the kids was the Chikasha Inchokka’ Traditional Village (a historically accurate replica of a Chickasaw village). My kids ran around imagining what life would have been like and picking the roles they might have had if they lived in a Chickasaw community hundreds of years ago.ChickasawCulturalCenter-06The boys sat around a ‘campfire’ and decided one of the best parts of living in a village must have been everyone gathering as a community around the fire at night. When Corbett and I were in Ecuador we had many of the same thoughts. Closely living and working together is something lost in most modern day communities. There is much to be said about the value and beauty of life lived in community.ChickasawCulturalCenter-07ChickasawCulturalCenter-08My youngest son claimed this dugout canoe as his. He told us he could sleep there all day. While everyone else was going in and out of the village buildings, he just laid in the canoe. He makes me laugh.ChickasawCulturalCenter-10We stretched the kids comfort level a bit and encouraged them to try traditional indian food. There is a cafe on the grounds and everyone ordered some form of an indian taco. They were all surprised how much they really liked lunch. Hey kids, you should listen to your mom regarding trying new foods more often!ChickasawCulturalCenter-11ChickasawCulturalCenter-12There is a pond stocked with massive catfish and other fish. I was looking for quarters to buy fish food when a sweet woman started handing all my kids quarters. She turned to me and said she doesn’t get to go to places like this with her grandkids, so it would make her happy to buy fish food for my kids. I’m going to remember to do stuff like that one day.ChickasawCulturalCenter-13We finished our time by watching traditional stomp dances. The dancers asked for volunteers to join them for a community dance. Four of my kids were not about to join them. My youngest and her dad, well, they were not about to stay in their seats. Offer them the chance to be on stage and have fun – they won’t pass it up. I watched her – so captivated by her bravery and confidence. The shy timid toddler she once was is far gone.

She was the only little one to join the dance and those watching smiled at her cute little self up there. ChickasawCulturalCenter-14Everything went well until the dance changed up partners and she was no longer holding her daddy’s hand. In a matter of seconds, he swooped her up and she finished nestled in his arms. It is her favorite place to be…when she is happy, sad, scared or tired. Daddy’s arms since day one together.

ChickasawCulturalCenter-15Chickasaw Cultural Center

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  • Annemieke - So perfect! That picture of Chris’ tear streaked face holding her while she sleeps in his arms is the most beautiful yet haunting picture (especially because of your caption for that picture.)

  • Debbie H - What a beautiful Center! Good for OK for committing resources to a place like this! The best way to learn for kids and adults!

  • Carolina - Thank you so much for writing about your local adventures! I am taking my two young kids on a cross country road trip this summer and I never would have thought to add Oklahoma to our must see list but after reading about some of your adventures I am going to add a detour down through your beautiful state to see some of the places you have written about!

  • Byron - >>>There is much to be said about the value and beauty of life lived in community.<<<

    We were created for communion, not individualism. We tend to forget that since our society focuses everything on the individual.

    Great post and pictures!

  • MC - What a beautiful place! Thank you so much for sharing. We’ve never been to Oklahoma, but you never know!

  • Jenny B. - I love these posts. :) My Girl Scout troop visited the Cherokee Heritage Center in Talequah when I was about 12. It was really interesting and fun to imagine life differently, but also difficult to think about the hardships and the Trail of Tears. I’m looking forward to going on trips like this with our kids when our littlest guy is older. :)

  • kimberly oyler - what i would do for an indian taco right now.

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4.16backdoor-01Our backdoor. The bottom is stained in dirt from kids kicking it open or closed. The metal part that held it open broke off a while back. We fixed it. It broke again. It is swinging open more than it stays closed. Nearly every day I look out its window and see a group of kids digging in the garden or swinging on the rope. They start filling the yard soon after school buses drive down the street dropping off kids.

It is a rare day that no one outside of our family of 7 steps on our property.

Neighbors. Family. Friends. Some invited. Others just ‘in the neighborhood’ and stopping by.

4.16backdoor-02Recently, I received an email asking me a few questions about hospitality. I feel like the last person qualified to give any advice on hospitality. When I read tips for hosting others in my home, I end up feeling like I come up so short. It seems like most hosts have it all together. I have nothing together, but there always seems to be extra people around here.

I decided to keep a tally for the month of March each time someone not in our immediate family visited our home.

143. The final count was 143.

That number even surprised me. I’m a introvert – you won’t find me at blogging conferences or big get-togethers. I joked with a friend last week that the only thing I am allergic to is crowds. I crave alone time, quite and calm. (a bit of an oxymoron for a homeschooling mom of 5!)

I also crave beyond the surface conversations and treasure any time I can gather those I love.

I would far rather sit at my kitchen table with a friend than wine and dine at an elaborate venue.

4.16backdoor-05143. Of course there were several repeat visitors, but the majority were backdoor friends & family. These are the kind of friends that don’t mind my messes. They don’t notice the kids are shoeless or the one boy that never has on a shirt. Maybe they do notice, but backdoor friends never seem to mind. They don’t mind the ladder in the living room or that I offer up a bag of pretzels as a snack because I haven’t made it to the grocery store and the cabinets are bare.

Backdoor friends have taught me the most about hospitality.

They give me the okay to not have a perfect home or clean floors or gourmet meals.

Backdoor friends teach me to slow down and to invite interruption instead of focusing on a task list that will always grow.

Backdoor friends seem to actually like my messy and ignore all the LOUD kids running in and out around us.

Backdoor friends are the ones that show me that welcoming others into my real life is not just okay, but it wanted.

I don’t have anything to teach on hospitality. I’m learning as I go. I get it ‘wrong’ all the time…really more like every time we have someone over.

  • A group of girlfriends were staying in the studio for a couple of nights. One was very pregnant and it was the middle of winter. We forgot to turn on the hot water heater. For 2 nights those girls took ice cold showers and never told us.
  • A sweet friend, who is a food blogger and author, stayed with us. I spent the day making lasagna for dinner. It was cooking in the oven for an hour. When I went to pull it out, I realized the oven had broke. We had to cook the lasagna in the microwave. I promised them a great latte in the morning. The next morning our espresso machine broke.
  • Before we had curtains on the studio windows, two friends stayed the night. They didn’t tell us that we forgot to turn off the outside lights so they had bright lights shining in their windows all night.
  • One of our first (non-family, non-kid) guests was an author known for writing on hospitality. All we had was a mattress. On the floor. For a hospitality author. And like a backdoor friend, he made me feel like it was the best bed he had ever slept on…

My point is if I wait to host until I get it hospitality book perfect, I won’t host. If my goal is to have the pinterest guest room with all the little details that are so special and picture perfect, I won’t host. There are many people that offer hospitality and they can do all those things – every detail is perfect, every item in its place, every crumb swept from the floor. At least for now, that is not the season I am in. If I wait for that season, it will mean waiting until my kids are out of the house. If I wait for that season, it means my kids would miss out on all the fun they have when welcome others into our mess.

So I will fight the temptation to think what I have is not enough and my mess is too messy. I’ll offer up coffee, pretzels and full of energy kids.

4.16backdoor-03Right now, coming to our house means you automatically become a backdoor friend. You are invited into our imperfection. You can sit down for a less than gourmet meal on a cute plate. You can have a cup a coffee and slow conversation….with a lot of noise and active kids on the side. If I see you overly worried that your kid might spill or break something, I’ll ‘accidentally’ spill or break something first to put you at ease. You can take a deep breath and stop worrying. I’ll tell you there is nothing in my house that I’ll cry if it gets broken. Maybe it comes from having an eternal perspective or from living in Oklahoma where every spring I’m reminded that a tornado could sweep it all away. Either way, it is all just stuff and you being able to relax in a hustling, high stress culture is far more important.

When first time guests leave I recount and second guess everything. I have no idea how people actually feel after they leave our home. I know they aren’t walking away talking about what an amazing cook I am or how they can’t believe how spotless my home is. My mind first goes to all the things that went wrong and I cringe at how I am pretty sure I forgot to clean the bathroom. It happens every time. I could stay there – full of self doubt and wondering if hospitality is something I should give up on. But I choose not to stay there. I choose to push through the self doubt and the risks of inviting people into my mess. I push through because it is worth it.

I hope our guests leave feeling seen, heard, and genuinely cared about…I hope my home feels like a spring breeze…welcoming, warm and making imperfections look lovely.

I hope my backdoor stays broken.

I hope everyone who enters through the front door, leaves as a backdoor friend.

4.16backdoor-06

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  • Andreea - Dear Ashley, I love how you use this space to show who you really are. This is truly inspriring. Thank you so much. Be blessed, Andreea

  • Kat - Love your perspective. So true about the time never being right if you’re waiting for it to be perfect. The best moments enjoyed are when its spontaneous and therefore less pressure put on oneself to have “everything perfect”.

  • Southern Gal - I’m sharing this with my girl. She was raised in my house where I was the one worrying about what everyone would think. It had to be as close to perfect as possible. I let that go over the past few years, but I wish I had done that while she was still little. Your perspective and attitude are what I wish I had raised her in. She’s way more hospitable than I was and I love that about her. Thanks for sharing!

  • jenw - See, I think that’s what hospitality IS. Inviting someone in and making them feel part of the family, not a burden. I feel like a burden if I go somewhere and know the host put extra effort into cleaning up or cooking or decorating to get ready for me. Now, some people really like that…cooking a special meal or staging a table, and that’s great for them…but I don’t want people to think I’m worried or dreading them dropping by because my house isn’t perfect and we haven’t had a bathroom mirror for 3 months. :) Knowing that you welcome them into your home, just as IT is, and just as THEY are is what makes you hospitable to me.

    That said, I was more than a little nervous last Friday when the bell rang, the boy was only in underwear, I was in jammies, and the kitchen was full of dirty dishes…at 3pm. :)

  • Jenn - love your laid back style.
    love that people come and feel welcomes.
    would love to sit down over a cup of coffee sometimes
    taking your words and putting them to practice as people come visit us. even though i am an introvert i would rather people come and feel welcomed than not come at all.

  • Nickie - Great post! We just recently retired from the Airforce and bought an older home in Maine. Right now there’s plastic hanging from my ceiling so we can sand the entry and dirty dishes and piles upon piles of laundry. In The mist of homeschooling our crew and rocking the baby, I smile at every back door guest that blows in our front door! We laugh, drink lots of coffee, and also snack on pretzels! God has blessed us with this life, and by George! We are going to enjoy it!

  • Byron - I cannot speak for everyone who has been to your home but I always feel amazed at the time I’ve spent there. Most of all, I always feel welcome. Hospitality is a gift of self-emptying; one that creates communion among friends and enemies alike. You have this gift in spades! It’s a blessing to occasionally be a part of your mess. Many thanks for that!

  • Trilby - I read every day & almost never comment. But I love, love, love this with all of my heart.

  • Krystina - Thank you for this reminder that things don’t always have to be perfect. And for being a silent leader in showing this to your children the same thing – whether you know it or not, they are seeing how you show up in these situations. I grew up in a house where we couldn’t have friends/company unless the house was absolutely clean and the baseboards were wiped down. It was so stressful to have company over. I took that into my early adulthood. I’ve now hit my thirties where I’m entering what I call a “screw it let’s do it” phase. I started something at my place where at least once a month whoever is available fills my one bedroom apartment for game night. Some months I’m lucky to have my floor vacuumed…and there’s frequently pretzels as the feature snack. But, the snack is appreciated for it’s simplicity because friends feel “normal” when they visit and I’m not stressed making a 3 course meal. And the laughter and friendship that comes from that night is much more important than a perfectly clean house. I’m hoping to get to a point where people don’t feel the need to be invited…I think I just don’t have that group of friends maybe.

  • Tanya - I love everything about this! I grew up with a back porch and a sign that said: Backdoor Guests are Best. (Our front door had a doorbell that when it would ring we’d all look around wondering if someone ordered pizza.) My mom never worried about the status of her house or us, she just welcomed everyone, every time. Your kids are noticing and remembering and loving you for this. :) Thanks for sharing.

  • Tammy - Our home is always a hot mess and something crazy almost always happens, but it doesn’t seem to bother anyone. I honestly think people feel more comfortable in a lived-in house.

  • tammy - And where or where did you get the adorable cup with the turquoise handle and yellow flowers?! And the deep green one with the colorful flowers?? (I recognize some of Ree’s!)

  • Jess - I love everything you commented on. Offering yourself because that’s what you have is a beautiful gift that any true friend would value. This post speaks right into my heart.

  • Jenny B. - Thank you for writing this post, Ashley. I have to admit that when you posted the tally on Instagram the other day, I felt… well… not great. We had zero guests at our house this past month (not even for just a minute), and I was feeling pretty sad about that. Not just that we didn’t have anyone over, but that I feel like we actually don’t have any friends. All our family lives hours away, and we have lots of acquaintances, but really no close friends (and it’s not like we haven’t had time to get to know people… we’ve lived in the same house for 15 years!). My husband and I are both introverts (he more so than I), and hospitality is hard. My next door neighbor invites our older boys over to jump on their trampoline all the time, but we never invite them over here. I feel like there would be nothing fun for them to do. We talk about inviting families over to eat dinner and play board games (which we’ve done in the past, when we had fewer kids), but our house is a lot smaller than most of the people we know, we don’t have enough chairs, no play room, and a tiny backyard. What would all the kids do? I’m not asking you — just sharing my worries. :) Anyway, I really appreciate you sharing your struggles and the whole story behind the number.

  • Megan - You’re awesome Ashley. Thank you!!

  • Mo - I wish you were our neighbor! 😉

  • Kimberly Oyler - ohhhhh my gosh. ashley. i still think about the time i spent at your house. you are a GREAT host! i left your house feeling so known and cared for. i can’t tell you how much everything you did impacted me, especially since i had just walked out of a situation that i did not feel known or cared for in. i know you are not fishing for compliments in this post, but please know what a great host you are. even if you lived in a tent and i had slept on the floor i would have still walked away feeling cared for. your heart is one of great hospitality. your words and actions and thoughtfulness go such a long way and i hope i can have that same heart someday!

  • Amy K. - Ashley! If you weren’t getting the important parts of hospitality right, there would not be 143 non-residents at your house in one month! =)

  • hannah singer - LOVE. thanks so much for this, XO!

  • ranee - love all of this. :)

  • Tracie M. - My husband’s family taught me so much about hospitality. They really want people to just show up, no matter what. When you show up, they make you feel like a million bucks. And anyone is ALWAYS welcome. I have had to learn to be okay with this, to let people in, even when my house is a wreck and we don’t have great food to serve. People just don’t care because they want to be with YOU, not your house! I’m not a great home decorator and I don’t put pretty food on the plate, but I’ll feed you and welcome you in and hope you’ll come by again!

  • Anna - Ashley you and your family are amazing. Thank you for this post and the encouragement You give me. Xx

  • Jennifer Williams - Wow, I feel like I could have written this post! I am an introvert and hospitality is hard for me. I want things to be “perfect” before we invite people over, but that is never going to happen. I am glad that there are others out there just like me. :-) I have been telling myself lately that the most important thing is relationship, not clean bathrooms. Thanks for sharing. I am from Oklahoma, and I chuckled over your tornado comment because it is so true! You are adorable! :-)

  • Jodi - What a beautiful post. I really needed to hear this and have it soak into my heart. I’m a recovering perfectionist who worried way too many years about things that didn’t need to be worried about or perfect. THANK YOU.
    BTW, where did you purchase the cup holder? Thanks!

  • Laura - Great reminder. I love how you describe your community.

  • Kelli - Thank you for sharing. I loved reading this, and I think you make life look so beautiful. :)

  • Buffy - Boy do I identify with your words about hospitality. If I wait for my house or circumstances to be Pinterest perfect- I’ll never host anything. Thanks for your encouraging words, Ashley.

  • Emily - Such a refreshing post- most of these things I know in my head, but my heart always seems to strive for the “perfect”. Those real life examples are totally priceless… thanks so much for being willing to share! Thanks for the reminder that love and grace are so much more important than having the perfect meal or picked up house. :)

  • Kirsten J - I adore you. Excellent reminder! Yesterday, a neighbor texted me to ask if she could come over to check if her lack of Internet was a laptop issue, and I didn’t hesitate. House wasn’t in the best shape, but not the worst. I had coffee but no half n half to offer her. And it was all good. I need to remind myself often.

  • Amy Arroyo - 143? 143. That is insane. That number alone tells me you are the epitome of hospitable. I don’t know if we hit 143 in a year. Seriously. I need to take a page from your book and worry less about things being right, the house being too small, the kid being too loud, the yard being too sunny, having the right snacks/meals, etc., etc.

  • Katie - Oh, this is so, SO good. I’ll be sharing this on my blog this weekend, for sure! I want my home to be a place for backdoor friends, too. A place where it’s okay if there’s toys all over the floor & the kitchen’s got dishes in the sink. A place for friends to gather & chat, & drink coffee together. Thank you for sharing this perspective.

  • Hannah - “I hope that guests leave feeling seen, heard and genuinely cared about” – THIS! I want this to be my goal regarding hospitality – I’m similar to you in that I’m an introvert but I love hosting people in our home. Too often I focus on how I’m presented (I.e. What state the house is in, how good the food is) rather than focusing on them.

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