Monthly Archives: September 2010

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.

Great Western Vacation 2010 857

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!)

Great Western Vacation 2010 989

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.

Great Western Vacation 2010 968

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!

Great Western Vacation 2010 975

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.

Vacation s

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.

Great Western Vacation 2010 990

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.

Great Western Vacation 2010 325 - Copy

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!

Great Western Vacation 2010 337

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.

Great Western Adventure

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.

Great Western Adventure 2010 10000000200

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!

Great Western Adventure 2010

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.

Great Western Vacation 2010 342

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?!

Great Western Vacation 2010 379

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! 🙂

Facing My Fears – Or Not

I’m terrified of heights.

Really. Really. Terrified. As in “panic and freeze” scared of heights.

I don’t know what I was thinking when I agreed to a trip out west. I knew there were mountains – but I guess 14 years had dimmed the memory of how high they were.

It started coming back to me as I watched the kids climb around the Veduvoos and later as we traveled down the pass from DuBois into Jackson Hole.

But the real terror hit when we took Teton Pass into Idaho. I went into full panic mode. Traveling around those sharp curves as we climbed up and down the mountain – I freaked. My foot kept slamming the imaginary brake on my side of the Suburban.

Great Western Vacation 2010 259

When I looked out the window I saw steep mountain sides – and thin little guard rails. I tried to close my eyes – but I soon discovered that not knowing what was coming next was worse than knowing.

Then my dear wonderful husband stopped at the top.  He thought we needed some pictures.   He actually allowed my sweet babies to get out of the suburban and walk to the edge of the guard rail.

But wait. There’s more!

He then let our children go down a trail to a snow field and have a snow ball fight – in flip flops.

Great Western Vacation 2010 253

They were having the time of their lives – just making memories.

Mom, however, was not.

All I could see was the height – the danger. They were on the side of a mountain. Do you see the dark line near the top of the snow ?! That’s where they were!

Great Western Vacation 2010 231

To say I was scared would be an understatement.

But I somehow kept it all together the entire week. I even managed to climb a mountain, and endure the mountain passes in Yellowstone (you know the ones that hang you out over nothing while supported with steel posts?) without totally losing it.

(Although I would tremble at the sight of the steep grade signs and often go to my “happy place” as we careened around the steep curves.)

Yes – I managed to keep it together – until we hiked Harney Peak – the highest point east of the Rockies located in the Black Hills of South Dakota.

The hike itself wasn’t that bad – after all – we had just finished a mega 9 mile hike in the Tetons just days before. This was nothing.

Until we got to the top.

Great Western Vacation 2010 875

The views we spectacular! I guess. If you weren’t hyperventilating from fear. The rock look-out at the top was really cool – if you like rock structures perched on top of rock cliffs at 7000 feet.

I was doing fine – very proud of myself for accomplishing the hike when I looked out and realized that my children had left the relatively safe rock walls of the look-out and went exploring on the surrounding rocks – with their father.

They were prancing like mountain goats at 7000 feet.

I had a meltdown. I yelled over to them “You better come back – that’s illegal!”

The guy next to me said, “Actually it isn’t illegal.”

I looked at him and said, “I’m the mom.”

He said, “You’re right – it’s most definitely illegal!”

Little Buddy yelled back, “It’s okay Mom, just go to your happy place – we’re having fun!”

It didn’t help that complete strangers would be enjoying the view from the Look-out and suddenly exclaim, “Whose crazy kids are out there on those rocks?!”

Umm… they are mine.

Great Western Vacation 2010 900

Oh yes. They are mine.

Those are my sons – the little dots on the rock with their arms stretched in a victory sign.

And they are having the time of their lives.

They were doing what God intended for them to do – climb rocks – conquer mountains – explore their world.

What was I doing? Freaking out. Holding them back. Trying to tuck them back in safely.

I failed.

I let my fears win. I sat in a miserable heap on the stone steps overcome with panic and worry.

Where was my faith?

The Almighty God created those mountains. The Almighty God created my precious children. The Almighty God – that I love and serve  – had everything under control.

But I didn’t trust Him.

Psalms 111:6-7

“..a righteous man will be remembered forever.

He will have no fear of bad news;

his heart is steadfast trusting, trusting in the Lord.

His heart is secure,

he will have no fear…”

Another life lesson learned.

I’ve linked this post up at Friday Fails over at My Blessed Life.

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!

Teton Pass Wyoming

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

And the jokes – oh my!

The memories we made are priceless!

Peanut Butter Chocolate Snicker Brownies

BarsTime with my family means chocolate – lots of chocolate.

Our Christmas celebration over Labor Day was no exception.

The girls and I thought long and hard to decide what to bring. We were anxious to try something new – but with the rush to get packed for that trip and plan for our big western adventure – we didn’t plan well.

Dagmar picked out 2 different recipes, but we didn’t have the right ingredients for either.  (I can’t believe I ran out of baking cocoa – I always have baking cocoa – it’s a staple!)

We somehow managed to gather enough working brain cells between us to come up with a yummy substitution.

We took a favorite brownie recipe, substituted some of the butter for peanut butter and added chopped Snicker bars.

These we incredible when hot from the oven and were enjoyed all weekend.  While not quite as decadent as my all-time favorites Peacemakers – they were a fast and yummy fill-in!

Peanut Butter Chocolate Snicker Brownies

1 – 3/4 cups semi-sweet chocolate morsels, divided
1/4 cup peanut butter
1/2 cup (1 stick) butter, cut into pieces (or margarine)
3 large eggs
1 1/4 cups all-purpose flour
1 cup white sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/4 teaspoon baking soda
3 large Snicker bars

Preheat oven to 350° F and grease a 13 x 9-inch baking pan.

Blend flour, sugar, and baking soda in a medium bowl and set aside.

Melt 3/4 cup of chocolate chips, butter, and peanut butter in a large bowl in the microwave, stirring often.

Add in eggs and mix until blended.  Add dry ingredients and mix until blended. Stir in vanilla, remaining chocolate chips and 1 chopped Snickers bar. Spread into baking pan.

Bake for 18 minutes. Remove from oven and sprinkle with the remaining 2 chopped Snickers bars. Bake for another 2 minutes. Cool completely in pan on wire rack. Cut into bars and enjoy!

I’ve linked this post up with Tasty Tuesday at Beauty and Bedlam and Tuesdays at the Table at All the Small Stuff.