Pika-Boy and Trent

It was during our epic Western Adventure that Buddy first became obsessed with Pikas. (Which is – as we discovered – a small mammal that lives in the higher elevations and looks a little like a rabbit. It is continually moving – just like Buddy – which may be one reason Buddy likes them so well!)

We thought it was a passing fade that would last until the trip was over.

We were wrong.

He loved them so much that he changed his name to Pika Boy. He checked books out of the library about pikas. He rearranged the magnetic letters on the fridge so that they spelled “Pika”. He spouted off information about pikas at meal times, in the car, and any other time he had a captive audience.

So for Christmas – we found him a beanie baby Pika – wrapped it up and put it in his stocking.

I have never seen a kid so excited when he unwrapped it on Christmas morning!  We even heard him later singing in the shower, “I got a pika, I got a pika!”

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Yes – he looks a little like a mouse. I keep telling myself he is not alive – but I still don’t like to touch him. I’m so brave. Not.

The little guy was named Trent. When we asked him why, Buddy said, “He just looks like a Trent.”

How we could argue with that?

I’ve been amazed at the creativity that Trent inspired!

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It began with a new home. Buddy spent the next two days constructing a unique house for his special friend out of the cardboard boxes left over from Christmas.

Please note the Pika sized door for easy access to the spacious open lay-out.

And being the good mom that I am – I even ventured into the attic to find some Easter grass for Trent to lay on.

But the creativity didn’t end there.

Just this week Buddy decided that Trent needed to be more mobile.

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So he created the one-of-a kind- super-amazing “Pika-mobile” out of Legos.

It hooks to the rear of  his remote control car. Now Buddy and Trent can buzz along at great speeds all over the house.

Happy boy. Happy pika.

Who knew. All this fun and creativity out of one small stocking stuffer.

The Dreaded Christmas Picture

It’s that time again.

Time to take the dreaded Christmas picture.  Time to find all the children, make sure they are cleaned and in coordinating outfits, line them up somewhere with a good background, make sure everyone is looking in the right direction, and have somebody snap a picture to memorialize the moment for all time.

I was ready this year!

When my niece got married in June, the photographer graciously snapped a picture of the whole family.

Bingo! There’s my Christmas picture – so easy – so painless.

Or so I thought…

When I pulled the photo up last week to send it in I was a little surprised. Okay – a lot surprised.

This picture was taken 6 months ago and I had forgotten to factor in adolescence.

Pedro grew almost 3 inches since that photo was taken and filled out. His entire appearance changed.

Now what?

The kids suggested a family shot in camouflage pants and black t-shirts – with guns. I nixed that one fast. Couldn’t you just see that one on Grandma’s refrigerator all year?!

Then Jan reminded me of all the family shots we took on our epic adventure in September.  Would one of them work?

Good question. I wondered if we could actually find a picture from a ten day camping trip in the mountains that I would want people to see?!

We decided to give it a try and sent Angel Girl to browse the over 3000 shots on the computer for all family pictures.

She came up with about 7 where everybody was actually in the picture and looking at the camera. We quickly eliminated the ones where the National Park sign was bigger than the children and where the boys hats covered most of their faces. (Note to self – on our next epic family adventure I will make the boys remove all head gear before pictures!)

Then I cut out all the ones that I was in (let’s just say I looked like I had been camping!) – and was left with one acceptable shot.

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The kids are all there looking in the right direction, you can almost see all of their faces, and they look like they are having fun.

Bingo – we have a family picture!

Actually – the more I look at it – the more I like it.  They look relaxed and comfortable. It captured who we are – blue jeans and cotton t-shirts, fleece hoodies and flip flops.

And best of all – it’s done.

Meanwhile, Back at the Ranch…

All good things must come to an end – even Epic Adventures. At some point you need to come home and face reality.

In my case, reality included yet another mountain to climb – Mount Laundry. It was almost as scary as Teton Pass! Almost.

In the last few days we’ve all tried to adjust to getting back to school, back to work, and back to a schedule.

But the affects of the trip can still be seen.

Take Buddy.

At 9 years old he weighs about 60 pounds dripping wet.  Yet, one afternoon he was walking past Matt’s boxing bag in the basement and gave it a kick – just like his brothers do – before coming upstairs.

A few minutes later we heard a crash – the whole thing had fallen down! The solid metal hanger split in half!

Could his legs have gotten that strong on our epic hikes?! I guess we now have a Bionic Boy!

Speaking of strength – Angel Girl went to open the microwave door to heat up some lunch and the handle cracked in her hands.

Then there are the times I wondered just what my kids were thinking!

One child put a brand new carton of sour cream in the freezer.

Another (who shall remain nameless to protect his male ego) was shadow boxing with himself in the bathroom and miscalculated – hitting the mirror and cracking one of the hangers holding it on the wall. It’s a wonder he didn’t crack the mirror or his hand!

But the prize goes to Pedro.

He was sent out to move the hay bales.  This task involves driving the tractor up to the bale, backing up to it to spear it with the bale hook, and driving it off to line it up neatly with the other bales until they are needed.

Normally he does a great job with this. Key word – normally.

But on this afternoon – he had issues.

He put the tractor in the ditch – AND HE TIPPED IT OVER!

And to think I worried about him climbing mountains!

Thankfully he wasn’t injured and Dad was able to flip it upright and pull it out of the ditch.

The jury is still out on how expensive the damage will be to the tractor.

You know – after a week like this – I think I’m ready for a vacation!

Historic Keystone South Dakota

We will skip quickly over the Yellowstone part of the trip – not because we didn’t enjoy it – because we did. But I don’t want to inflict on you all 300+ pictures of geysers and bubbling mud pots that my children took. 🙂

Well – okay – just one – to prove that we were there! I love this one from Mammoth Hot Springs!

Mammoth Hot Springs

Now – I will jump on to the Black Hills portion of the trip – especially our stay in Keystone.

One of our reasons for this trip out west was the Black Hills stop. Jan’s Uncle Don is the only living original carver of Mount Rushmore. He grew up in Keystone and started out as a water boy before moving up the ranks.

He’s been in several TV documentaries and has written a book. He and his wife Carolyn (Jan’s mom’s sister) live in Rapid City now and I really want my kids to know him. The older ones remember a little – but the younger ones have no memories of our last trip.

We were so disappointed to get a phone call from Aunt Carolyn -the day before we were scheduled to get to Rapid – that Uncle Don had fallen and broken his hip.  He would be in surgery the day we arrived. 😦

We did stop at the hospital and had a nice visit with Aunt Carolyn – but weren’t able to see Uncle Don this trip. Hmm…I guess that means we need to go back! 🙂

Thankfully we had perfect weather for our hike up Harney Peak and around Sylvan Lake but as we finished up the wild life loop in Custer State Park, the  weather turned on us. The temperature that night hovered around freezing with sleet and freezing rain.

Uncle Don and Aunt Carolyn graciously offered us the use of the Keystone House – the house Don grew up in – while we were in the area.   They bought it several years ago and restored it. What a blessing!  It would have been a miserable night in the pop-up!


It was almost like sleeping in a museum! There was so much history around us – articles, newspapers, and pictures. My favorite picture was one of Uncle Don sitting under George Washington’s nose on the face of Rushmore.  We tried to get a picture of the picture – but it didn’t turn out.

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The house is on the Historic Keystone tour – it’s free and I highly recommend it – and is just down the hill from the old school that is now a museum featuring Carrie Ingalls memorabilia (of Little House and the Prairie fame).   Carrie married David Swanzey, who ran the depot in Keystone. (Uncle Don used to deliver her newspaper!)

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Further down the hill from the Keystone House is another part of the historic tour -the Halley General Store. Oh my – did we have fun here! They have everything from the antique, to the historic, to the outrageous.

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Like this bear skin coat that Matt is modeling.  The sign said to go ahead and try it on and pose for a picture – so he did!

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How about a genuine Texas Ranger badge? The kids really drooled over this one – but decided the price was a bit high for their limited budget.

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Then there’s this – well – um – tool.  Now that’s one mighty big wrench!

It was a great way to spend some time during a cold and miserable weekend.

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Especially since the views of Mount Rushmore weren’t so good! (So can you make out the presidents behind their heads?!)

Since Jan lived in the Rapid City when he was younger and visited Uncle Don and Aunt Carolyn frequently over the years – he knew the area very well. We spent the rest of our time there checking out some of his favorite places before packing up one last time and heading back home.

Another memory made – even though it wasn’t quite the one I had hoped for!

Mountain Climbing Momma

You may remember from my previous post that I am terrified of heights.

That makes me doubly proud of the fact that while we were in the Tetons – I climbed up a mountain with my family.  🙂 Jan and I had taken this same climb years ago before children – so I knew what to expect.

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Our goal was Surprise Lake and Amphitheater Lake – high up in the ridge between the Grand Teton and the Middle Teton. It’s somewhere roughly behind where the arrows are pointed in the picture.

It would be a climb of over 3000 vertical feet and almost 10 miles round trip – pretty strenuous for a family that includes a 9 year old and a 40 something mom!

It’s under the treeline and in the shadow of Disappointment Peak (so named because the it looks like you are climbing the top of the Grand Teton – until you get to the top and realize there are still several thousand of feet to climb!)

Jan is a mountain climber (or was – before he married me and we had 5 kids!) He has hiked and climbed extensively in the Tetons – even reaching the summit of the South Teton.  This hike was really important to him. He wanted his kids to see the world from the top of mountain peak.

You have to admit – the perspective is sure different!

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On the way up we were so intent on every step that we kept on eyes glued on the path ahead. Every once in awhile Jan would remind us to stop and look around.

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But I have to admit – it’s was hard to look around when I was standing on a tiny path on the edge of mountain side.

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Then there were these obstacles to watch out for.   They trip you up and the fall is painful – just ask Buddy. His scrapes are healing nicely and he never left the trail (I’m sure his guardian angels are bruised!)

By the way – this was the scariest part of the hike for me! We were in this beautiful alpine meadow but I felt as if I was balancing in mid-air. I felt much safer with trees around me!

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What a life lesson there is in this sign! There are no real shortcuts in life.

We actually saw a guy walking straight uphill between switchbacks. He would take about 4 steps and stop exhausted. He was climbing straight up that mountain. He was exhausted and he was stupid.

There’s a reason the trails are laid out the way they are.  Short cuts just lead to trouble – in mountain climbing and in life.

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We made it!  Amphitheater Lake – fed by glaciers and hidden in the peaks. We stopped and enjoyed our sandwiches while watching real mountain climbers using ropes to descend from Disappointment Peak.

The water was ice cold.  I know that for a fact because I put my feet in it!  The kids had a competition to see who could keep their feet in the longest – Angel Girl won.  She kept them in for 4 minutes. Yes – FOUR minutes. I’m wondering if her thermostat might not be working?!

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It was a sweet moment of victory – the entire family relishing the accomplishment and savoring the view.

It became especially sweet when we realized that the second half of the hike was all downhill! 🙂

We’re Back!

We’re back!

After 10 days, 5 kids, a 15 year old suburban, a 30 year old Starcraft Pop-Up Camper, 6 states, and countless miles of sagebrush, cornfields, and trees – the great Western Adventure is now history.

We saw 3 National Parks…

Grand Teton National Park

Grand Tetons, Yellowstone, and Mount Rushmore.

Two State parks…


Vedavoos in Wyoming and Custer in South Dakota.

Lots of cool wildlife…

moose at Grand Teton National Park

like this moose in the Tetons.

And more public bathrooms than I want to remember.

Along the way I learned a lot about myself and my family.

Most importantly – my husband is still my best friend and favorite person to be with.

Mom and Dad Grand Teton National Park

We traveled to the Tetons and Yellowstone on our honeymoon – so this trip was full of memories for us . Sweet memories. 🙂 It was so much fun to introduce our kids to these very special places.

Speaking of the kids… this trip showed me once again how really fun my kids are to hang with!

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They had good attitudes and adventurous spirits and kept things exciting.

And the jokes – oh my!

The memories we made are priceless!