Custer State Park, South Dakota.

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We spent a total of ten nights at Custer State Park leading up to their annual buffalo roundup. We ended up rotating leaving the park and staying. We camped at Sylvan Lake which is at the northwestern corner, and oddly seems like an afterthought when you look at a map. Almost like it was acquired later? Anyhow, it’s way up and gorgeous. Our site was basically among the ponderosa forest with giant rock pile views when looking up.

While there we hiked the Little Devil’s Tower hike, which was over 4 miles and up, up, up. In fact, the “trail” became spray paint arrows across large rock zones. With 8 and 11 year olds everybody coped just fine. Of course there were the tired complaints from them, but when they started scaling the rocks not a peep. On the other hand that’s when Dear Husband and I started to grumble. You see, we aren’t 8 and 11! Anyhow, like most things that are hard to do and might push us outside our comfort zones, the reward was fantastic. Look at that boy in the bottom pic! It’s like he climbed Everest. My older boy climbed up even higher for some selfie shots. Dear Husband and I looked down the rock and pondered how we’d be able to climb down without snapping an ankle. We made it out just fine and declared it the best family hike ever.

We were also thrilled that Dear Husband read Sylvan Lake, just near us, was featured in the movie National Treasure 2, in the scene where they are shaking water on the granite to change the rocks and look for the noble bird. Well, we found that spot! We watched the movie that night, then hiked back again to analyze what was doctored and what was real. (The hole Nick Cage puts his hand in to pull open the lever, it’s real!) In fact the boys made me film them reenacting the scenes.

The bike trail was not great. We ended up so coated with small gnatty bugs. We couldn’t even open our mouths and talk while pedaling because of the thick bug fog. We tried. Also, the buffalo roundup was disappointing. It seemed a bit unorganized and sadly dull. I think if I was a cowboy, it would be cooler. It looked like cattle, moving slowly. Not great.

The animals were pretty fun though. Little Fella snagged my camera plenty of times this trip and snapped over 100 pics of one prairie dog. The prairie dog was quite a poser. He kept coming closer and closer until I freaked out and told my squatting son to stand up suddenly to let the guy know his true size. I was afraid that thing was going to sit in his lap! I may have over-reacted, but I know wild animals are unpredictable.

We had a great trip, perhaps a family best, but that may be because life is dominated by house building at home which leaves no free time. That’s okay. I’ll take the happy trip either way.

Chicago, IL.

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Being raised in the Chicago suburbs, I am no stranger to this city. However, it’s been a really long time since I’ve been. While driving back from Sonoma, in a bad mood because 1. our trip plans were trashed because 2. we had flooding in our storage building, I talked to my sister on the phone. Instantly she perked up.

“You’re coming home? What about going to see Coldplay?”

It didn’t take me long to go from cranky to excited. So, the week after we started organizing our stuff and pouring that concrete floor to prevent future flooding, I drove to my sisters and we headed downtown.

We parked right between Millennium Park and Soldier Field and started walking. We saw The Bean, we saw Buckingham Fountain, we hid in a hotel lobby to cool off and shockingly noted the weather at 103 degrees. I texted photos and messages back to Dear Husband and the boys throughout the day. I laughed when he texted back, “You look sweaty.” Apparently our hair was getting wetter and hugging our foreheads the later it got.

We took a taxi to Eataly. This unique grocery store/restaurant/café was a fun lunch spot and accidentally broadcasted some terrible news (to me). We were sitting diagonally from the Shriner’s building, which sadly is now a Bloomingdales. I made my sister go inside to congeal my depression. I used to come almost annually to the circus here as a girl. Now it’s a department store. I hung my head.

Even worse, terrible clouds were rolling in and the storm projections looked undeniably against us. We made it to the concert dry and evacuated to the rain shelter to wait out a lightning heavy storm. While we hugged the wall, we hoped the weather would quit sooner rather than later. Fortunately we only missed the opening acts.

I have no good photos because cameras weren’t allowed. My cell phone photos are painful, so let me just try to explain it. Every patron wore a radio controlled light bracelet. The stadium lit up in one solid glow of yellow (for “Yellow”) or white (for “A Sky Full of Stars”) to compliment the songs. Sometimes all the bracelets pulsed multi-colors. There was confetti and lights and fireworks and even balloons. It was the best produced concert I’ve ever seen (although I’ve not seen many).

We made it home by 1:00 AM and I trucked home to my family (and brother who was helping roof our coop and garage) who made fun of me for liking Coldplay. There is no chance any of these boys will like Coldplay. It’s a darn good thing I have a rocking sister!

Light Art Fireworks.

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For the past couple of years I’ve had the boys shake the camera around at fireworks and see what we got. This year I didn’t ask them. Sometimes it’s hard to know if they are truly enjoying something or are just doing it because I ask. I decided to leave them comfy in their chairs. Behold, Little Fella popped up and came over asking to do our light pictures. I was happy to oblige. My older son joined in readily. It’s so fun to see what comes of these shots! (It’s also nice to know they really enjoy it as much as I do.) Next year I’ll be sure to ask.

 

Chicago Joe’s, Las Vegas, NV.

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Almost 18 years ago, Dear Husband and I got married in Las Vegas. (When I met Dear Husband, he joked he just wanted Elvis at his wedding. He’s no extreme Elvis fan or anything, I think he was just being goofy, but the joke led to reality.) We ended up getting married in Graceland Wedding Chapel in Sept. of 1998 because we were in Vegas for a trade show. It was fun, we got a video, Elvis sang to us. We even rented a limo for the night and bought rings at the mall on the way to the chapel. I know, it’s ridiculous. But, that’s what we did.

Our limo driver took us to a little restaurant before the ceremony.  They served fabulous Italian food and gave us free cheesecake to celebrate our 12:00 AM wedding, a few hours later after our dinner.

Well, we brought the boys to this little restaurant and took them to the little chapel. It was so sweet to remember where we sat, what we ordered then, and then add a new little chapter, one that includes two more boys I love dearly.

 

First Birthday in Tracy.

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Just to clarify, this actually was an “eighth” birthday, but it was our first time celebrating a family birthday in the Airstream. Little fella wanted Mickey balloons inspired by our Disney World visit. I don’t have room for our regular birthday banner but instead used a felt square garland I packed for all our celebrating needs. I hung those both over the booth, which folds into his bed at night.

To celebrate we took him to Wisconsin Dells to an indoor waterpark, of which I have no photos because that was no place for a camera, and because I was swimming and water sliding right along with the fellas.

He wanted a Minecraft birthday cake. I’m a big fail at any themed birthday cake. I did better when all cakes were round and figures were placed on top. I talked him into brownies because our little convection oven just doesn’t have cake pan capacity. He was so great about it. We decided to make Minecraft grass blocks. He also requested figures atop, so I drew those and placed them on toothpicks. I am no artist cake or pencil wise and fully fess to it. He was happy with it, and for that I am most thankful.

He picked out his presents beforehand, including a gator from the Everglades. He was happy with his spoils, cake, and waterpark fun.

Oh my, I almost forgot, we had pancakes for breakfast, lunch, and dinner because they are just his darn favorite. We try to do pumpkin, chocolate, and “something” else usually, but this year we just did plain due to our pantry and kitchen constrictions.

Celebrating in the trailer was fine. The balloons got annoying after a few days so we just popped them. The cake alternative worked well. Mostly it’s pretty cool we can go anywhere fun the boys want for their birthdays.

Nashville Night.

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In our little lame duck stint, we celebrated a birthday for a good friend. Dear Husband laughed and said, I guess we got a night out on the town just before we left. Indeed, I have had a few nights out with my sister down here, but Dear Husband and I just aren’t the late night in the city type. 

We were invited to the Wild Horse Saloon which allows children. Yup, we did. We brought the boys. From 5:00 to 9:00 we celebrated, ate, listened to live music, played games, and line danced. The stage set up was fantastic. The boys loved the lights and screens and everyone in the audience enjoyed the performer. The view from the second floor and games had me going up and down all night with the kiddos. The boys got to shoot pool and then run over and dance to the songs. I must admit, there was a little pang in my heart as Tyler King sang “Big, Green Tractor.” I remember my fellas dancing to that around the living room of our rural IL home just before we moved South. It was quite serendipitous.

Little fella and I enjoyed learning to line dance. He had so much fun dancing he said, “It’s too bad Dad gave big brother the “not dancing” gene.” I did pull them out for the second dance, and they gave it a shot, but faded away. That’s cool. We all had fun and that’s what counts.

Tyler King played four sets that night. We saw him perform acoustically which was fabulous. In fact, I think I preferred those sets, but I’m a mellow type. I’m not sure how he had the stamina to sing all night, but I suppose others could wonder how mothers have the stamina to corral their children all night as there were plenty of them there!

I’m no Nashville night life expert, but I’d say we did pretty well. The Wild Horse Saloon was fabulous and kid-friendly. Tyler King was a great entertainer. We left all smiles, but I told our friend I’ll blame him if the boys request another night out at the bar.

New Path.

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Dear Husband and I have traveled since we met. His job provided ample opportunities and I was fortunate enough to tag along crossing the US. Pregnancy didn’t slow us down, and frankly neither did having a little fella, then two, to bring along. By the time my youngest was three though, our endless travel opportunities changed. Instead, a new opportunity presented itself. One that involved relocating near Nashville, TN.

We have been near Nashville for a little over four years. During that time our traveling has lessened considerably. Of course, we have squeezed in many fun camping trips and overnight adventures, but something has gnawed at us. Our boys are growing, quickly. They don’t remember when we dragged them to Mount Rushmore and the Grand Canyon. For over a year we’ve had lots of late night talks. More serious thoughts. We decided to put our house up for sale in October.

Through the entire year we have sold, cleaned out, planned, cleaned up and shown the house, and saved money like we were a couple on a mission. We were. We are. We are moving into our Airstream trailer and taking to the road for a trip of a lifetime.

We are storing our items (trailer pictured above), bringing the necessities (muck boots waited patiently aside while other items got packed for storage) and settling back into a life on the road with our kiddos (their favorite “pups” have found a little home atop our cabinet in Tracy).

I expect posting to become sporadic as WiFi won’t be under my control. But, I WILL be posting! I started this blog to capture our little stories. This new adventure is a big part of those stories.

So there you have it. It’s a new path for us. One we’ve prepared for, one we know very well, and one we are thrilled to embark on with older boys who will be able to remember some of it.

In more good news, Stones River National Battlefield will be featuring our family trip on their Facebook page here. We will be their “roving reporters” celebrating 100 Years of our National Parks. See you down the road.

Volunteering.

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Last winter I searched the local National Parks for volunteer opportunities. Being an avid National Park camper and hiker, the thought of volunteering at one was a dream. Fortunately, just about an hour away, Stones River National Battlefield has an outstanding volunteer program. Scrolling through the listings I found “photographer” and about jumped for joy. I contacted the park, took some required online classes, got my uniform, and started shooting.

One year later, I’m remembering the days I’ve lingered there with camera in hand. I can’t express how fun it is to slither along the ground on my belly to shoot bike riders on the trails, or river side trying to capture floating leaves. It’s wonderfully fulfilling to pursue and capture shots in not only natural surroundings, but at a park with historical significance as well. Civil War era reenactments provide so much photographic interest. Finally, to be honest, it’s also just darn nice to do something I love, without interruptions.

Through the past year I gained a better appreciation for the Civil War, the land and river where the battle was fought, the cemetery, and the people who continually share its stories. I’m ever so appreciative for Stones River’s rangers and volunteers who work daily to keep that history and land alive for all passersby. I am delighted to share the stories through photography.

Check out Stones River National Battlefield for hiking, bike riding (they even have ranger led bike tours!), reenactments, and a peaceful, tidy cemetery walk. Follow them on Facebook and/or Instagram you might catch a photo or two of mine. If you get a chance to visit, give Ranger Jim a high five for his encouraging volunteer program too.

Do More With Less.

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My recent Konmari education has re-infused my dreams of less stuff. In that spirit, I happily searched for a paperless calendar for 2016. You know, try to do more with less, no paper on the wall, use what I have sort of thing. So, I came upon this site that generates calendar wallpaper for your phone or computer in mere moments using your own photos. It was fast, free, and functional. I already own and have displays on said electronics, so two birds, yes?

The longest part was picking the darn photo. (And I figure it’s easy to switch out if I want to.) With little snow here, the evergreen wins.

Hoping this new year brings you closer to  your goals one tiny step at a time.