Thursday, August 30, 2012

Our Epic Vacation: Day 2, Part B

As a reminder, we spent the (very hot) morning touring the Ingalls Homestead in DeSmet, South Dakota, where Chloe and Sophia both got to try their hand at driving a covered wagon.
EV day 2 travel
And then, it was on the road again. I like to take pictures of my feet to prove that I am also on this vacation, since there aren't many photos of me otherwise. I am also the navigator on road trips and The Maestro is the driver. I love me a big old atlas, and Joel hates to know where we are until we get there. 

Before we got too far, we needed to find a WalMart to stock up our food/drink/ice supplies. And then it was off to the Badlands.
EV day 2 Badlands!
Have you ever read Peace Like a River by Leif Enger? Well, if you haven't, you should. Anyway, a good portion of the book takes place in the Badlands, and I loved Enger's descriptions of the area. And I think it was just like that in real life, and I was excited to see it all.

We drove to our campsite, where we calmly put up the tent. Quite a contrast from the craziness of the night before. (As an interesting sidenote, the name of our campsite loop was the same as the street we live on, and our campsite number was the same as our house number, if you were to take out the zero.  Kind of weird, don't you think?)

This was the view from our campsite, just as the sun was beginning to set.  So pretty.
EV day 2 view from tent badlands
But, we didn't actually cook our dinner at the campsite this time. (Not that we did the first day, either, but that was a bit out of our control.) Joel, food snob that he is, had done some research and decided that we would be eating at the Cedar Pass Lodge that night. A little bit of a splurge, but well worth it, and fun, too!

Joel and the two older girls had Sioux tacos made with buffalo meat.
EV day 2 Chloe dinner
I hear they were very good, but they were also full of gluten. So I ordered the gluten-free buffalo burger, which used GIGANTIC portobello mushrooms as the buns and had not one, but two, buffalo meat patties which were bigger than the mushrooms. I have a big mouth, but not that big! And also, I couldn't finish it. But it was definitely yummy.
EV Day 2 Sophia dinner
Sophia had the mac and cheese. If it's offered a restaurant, it's what she orders.  Doesn't matter what else is on the menu, it's macaroni and cheese for this girl.  I just wish that restaurants could maybe serve something besides Kraft?

Bria was present at this meal, but the photo I took of her is unflattering and is hereby not allowed on my blog. That's what I get for having a 7th grader.

We spent a bit of time in the gift shop, where the girls were enthralled with everything, but mostly the rocks. And then we headed back to our campsite and tucked in for the night. We were one tired bunch, and we had a lot of site seeing to do in the morning!

***End of Day 2***

States visited:

South Dakota

Hours driven:


Wednesday, August 29, 2012


I had my birthday a couple weeks ago.

My gift to myself this year is simply the permission to say "no." 

I am a yes-woman, through and through.  When I am asked to do something, just the thought of saying no gives me the shakes.  I am not sure where this anxiety comes from, but I can assure you that exists.

Just before the Epic Vacation, I turned in an article for about just this very topic, because it's been on my mind an awful lot.  (I've already linked it on a previous post, but if you missed it and want to read it, it can be found here.)  Basically, this summer I said yes to one too many things and I couldn't handle it.  While I was trying to juggle everything, I totally forgot about a lesson I was supposed to teach (one that was out of the ordinary on my schedule) and I got completely reamed for it.

Now, I don't do confrontation.  That gives me more anxiety than saying "no" to someone does, and is perhaps the actual root of my issues with the word.  The only people I am comfortable confronting and/or saying "no" to are my husband and my children.  And I realize how little sense that makes when you think about who my highest priorities should be.

So, after that little incident with my lessons, I vowed that I am no longer going to pretend I can do everything.  I realized that, once and for all, I am going to have to learn how to simply say "no" to people.  Believe me, I've tried.  I even blogged about it a couple years ago.  This is not a new problem, nor have I just discovered its existence.  But it is time to actually have the courage to say it.


And I have.

Wanna know how?

I said I couldn't sing in Stake Conference in October.  But that kind of doesn't count because Joel has a gig out of town during Stake Conference and I'm not driving 4 hours each way by myself with the kids.

I have turned down two students this week already, so that makes me feel pretty good.  But, I still have a larger load than ever for the upcoming semester, so I'm not sure that really counts either.  But I'm working on it.

Finally, I had agreed to teach a class at the university this semester, and when I started to realize how much work it was going to be (for not so much moolah), I started stressing over it.  I couldn't bring myself to back out of it, so I hoped that I would work on lecture plans while on vacation and get as much done as I could (yeah right, like that was gonna happen).

I got an email while we were on the cruise ship regarding this class.  They told me that there was no way they could schedule it within my availability and had slated the class from 4-6 on Thursdays.  Now, my availability was pretty big--any day, any time before 3:30 pm--and I thought that it seemed silly they couldn't find a way to work with that.  Of course, I could have still taught on Thursday afternoons if I wanted to--the only thing keeping me from doing so was my children.

My children!

Even after I calmly told myself that I couldn't possibly teach this class anymore, I still had major anxiety about emailing back and telling them I couldn't do it.  It took me several hours to garner up the courage and to just stop thinking of all the ways I could make it work because I had to remember that my burning yes was for my girls, not for a university course that many people are qualified to teach.

As soon as I clicked "send," an enormous weight was lifted from my shoulders.  I didn't even realize how much this particular "yes" had been weighing me down, and I was so relieved to have it gone!  Every once in a while I start to panic that maybe the university wasn't able to find a replacement for me and I'll have to find a way to do it anyway, and then I remember that I do not have to do anything.  And I have permission to tell people "no."

I'm hoping that I will eventually be able to do it without first breaking into a cold sweat.  And I'm also hoping that all of the yeses I said before I resolved to stop it will not kill me off this semester.

I guess the next thing I need to learn to do is back out of things graciously.  But, that kind of makes me want to throw up, so I'll have to worry about that once I've mastered the word "no."

One thing at a time.

Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Our Epic Vacation: Day 2, Part A

(Ahhh! How am I ever going to finish this? I'm overwhelmed already, and now I've gone and divided up Day 2 into 2 parts. But, seriously people, I had to. I took about 400 photos on Day 2! Maybe I can combine some days that were less exciting photographically. Crossing my fingers.)

We spent the first 3 or 4 hours of Day 2 at the Laura Ingalls Wilder Homestead. Now, if you're a Laura aficionado, you know that her family moved around a lot, but Pa finally settled down in South Dakota, and this is the land that we were able to visit.

But first, we had to get up (not so easy)(for Chloe especially), cook breakfast, and break camp. It was totally almost exactly like being actual pioneers.  Okay, so maybe it wasn't, but I think it was fun for the girls to pretend.  While Joel cooked us a yummy breakfast of eggs, sausage, and pancakes, we female-folk cleaned out the tent and loaded the car.
EV Day 2 Laura Ingalls

Some of our neighboring campers had brought along their beagle, and they were letting him roam around the campsites unleashed.  And when he wandered into our campsite, what did he do?  He peed all over Joel's backpack.  Thanks a lot, beagle owners!  (They also let him wander through the entire homestead while they were touring that morning....weird.)  We did get a good laugh out of that, though.  And every time we got a whiff of that backpack, we laughed again.  We may have also cried a little...

But, I digress.  Once we were all packed up and our teeth and hair were brushed, we headed over to the homestead where there was much fun to be had.

First, we climbed up to the viewing tower, where you can see all 160 acres of Pa's land.  The prairie is so different from anywhere I've ever lived, but so beautiful in its own way.
IMG_4013 Laura Ingalls Wilder web
Joel and the girls on top of the tower, with their bright pink stickers saying we'd paid our entrance fee.
IMG_4015 Laura Ingalls Wilder web
After we climbed down from the tower (and I never knew until that moment that Chloe is terrified of heights!), the girls, meaning Sophia, wanted to play on the little pioneer playground.
IMG_4016 Laura Ingalls Wilder web
There was a seesaw made from carriage wheels, which Joel was much too heavy for.   Let's just say it didn't work very well with Sophia on the other end.

IMG_4020 Laura Ingalls Wilder web
And there was a merry-go-round, which Sophia was totally excited about.  She turned her sisters round and round and jumped on like she's done this all her life, when as far as I know, she's only ever seen one other merry-go-round. (And I never knew until that moment that Bria is terrified of merry-go-rounds!)

There was SO much to do there, and I took SO many pictures, so I'll try to do a quick run-through of things...
IMG_4029 Laura Ingalls Wilder web
The girls got to sit in an actual covered wagon!
IMG_4036 Laura Ingalls Wilder webIMG_4085 Laura Ingalls Wilder web
We saw a barn with actual chickens and cows and ponies and the girls really only cared about the barn cats and kittens.
IMG_4044 Laura Ingalls Wilder web
We learned how to use a water pump.  (And yes, Joel's nose is in his phone.  His summer term wasn't quite finished when we left, so he was often walking around various tourist sites grading papers.  And then texting me the grades.  He found that easier than using the notes feature on his phone, I guess.)
IMG_4048 Laura Ingalls Wilder web
We got to play on a pump organ just like the one that Pa bought for Mary.

We also saw Ma's house, where the girls made button toys and toured a pioneer dugout and a lean-to, neither of which would be too fun to live in!
IMG_4076 Laura Ingalls Wilder web
And then we took a wagon ride to pioneer school!
IMG_4061 Laura Ingalls Wilder webIMG_4062 Laura Ingalls Wilder web
Joel got in trouble for forgetting to fill up the water pail and had to put his nose to the board (which he was much too tall to do)
IMG_4064 Laura Ingalls Wilder web
and Sophia had to recite her numbers to 20 in front of the entire class.
IMG_4066 Laura Ingalls Wilder web
All of the children had a spelling bee, and we learned all about what school was like for the kids in the 1860s.  Like, did you know they only went to school for three months in the winter?  I think our girls felt like they got gypped being born in modern times, but they learned pretty quickly that the work the kids had to do at home was probably harder than what they had to do in school. So maybe it isn't all bad.
IMG_4077 Laura Ingalls Wilder webIMG_4083 Laura Ingalls Wilder web
On the way back, Sophia and Chloe got to take the reins of the wagon.  Sophia was a little shy about it, but Chloe said "Yee" and "Whoa!" loudly and confidently, and those horses obeyed her!
IMG_4088 Laura Ingalls Wilder web
After we finished with school, the girls got to go on a pony ride.
IMG_4091 Laura Ingalls Wilder webIMG_4097 Laura Ingalls Wilder web
The pony pulling the whole outfit was named Tinkerbell, and she was hilarious.  It was a super hot day (about 95 degrees) and she had absolutely no desire to be hauling kids around, so she kept turning and heading back for the stables, meanwhile banging the little carriage into the gates.  The girls thought she was so funny and started to call her Stinkerbell.
IMG_4101 Laura Ingalls Wilder web
After the pony rides, we went into the carriage house to learn some of the things that Laura and her family did to survive.  We learned how to make hay twists, which is what they had to do to stay warm during The Long Winter since there are no trees on the prairie, and therefore, no wood to burn.  We learned how to grind wheat in a hand coffee grinder.  We learned how to make rope, and the girls each got their own rope to take home as a souvenir.

All of that was awesome, but the girls' favorite thing was making their corncob dolls.  Laura had a corncob doll in Little House in the Big Woods, remember?  Chloe promptly named hers Susan, just like Laura. 
IMG_4111 Laura Ingalls Wilder webIMG_4112 Laura Ingalls Wilder web
After that, the girls skip-roped their way to the little church and we took a little tour there.
IMG_4119 Laura Ingalls Wilder web
We had such a wonderful time doing and seeing all of these things.  After we went to the gift shop and we were eating some snacks outside on the picnic table, Chloe said, "I am so happy right now!"

Which is just how these vacations should be.  I'm not going to say that Chloe or anyone else was happy all the time, but the fact that she was happy right then was enough for me.

More Day 2 coming soon....
IMG_4075 Laura Ingalls Wilder web

Monday, August 27, 2012

Our Epic Vacation: Day 1

Day 1 started bright and early.  We had packed the car the night before (and believe me, packing for 26 days that include camping, cruising, and staying with family is no easy task), dropped off Puccini at a friend's house (you've never seen sadder girls), and were ready to head out by 7:00 in the morning.  Of course, we didn't quite make that goal, but I'm pretty sure we were out by 7:30.  Oh!  I just checked my planner and I wrote down that we left the house at 7:23.  That, for us, is big. We never leave less than two hours before we said we would.  I guess there's something to packing up the night before, huh?

The girls weren't too thrilled about leaving so early.  Especially since in the summer they never go to bed before dark, and dark is pretty late.  So, they slept the first few hours of the trip:
The pink monkey blob is Sophia, the blue blob is Bria and the light one is Chloe.  We hadn't even left town yet (that stoplight is just past our local WalMart) and they were completely out.

It was nice to stop a good two hours later for breakfast.  Except, there was a schnoodle (same breed as our puppy) in the car we parked next to, and that made the girls cry for Puccini all over again.  I was seriously beginning to wonder how we would get through four weeks without her.

After breakfast, we crossed into Wisconsin for a bit, and then we entered Duluth.  I always like that bridge, so I took a picture of it.  (By the way, I pretty much just Instagrammed this entire vacation.  I only got my big camera out sometimes, so most of the pictures are courtesy of my iPhone and Instagram.)
EV Duluth
After driving through Minnesota for a while, we ended up in St. Cloud where we met one of Joel's best friends for lunch.  I should say that we were served a lovely lunch at his house, which was so kind of him!
EV Dan
These two did their MM degrees together at BYU, and then, amazingly, both moved on to Arizona State, where they did their doctorates in orchestral conducting together, right up to graduation day.  Unfortunately, his wife was out of town, so I had to sit and listen to the two maestri talk shop.  No biggie, though.  I'm used to it.

More driving through Minnesota, which is becoming more and more rural, and more and more prairie-like.
EV Day 1 Minnesota
This is good news, because we are planning on camping at the Laura Ingalls Homestead in DeSmet, South Dakota of Little House on the Prairie fame.

The girls have been such great travelers so far.  They've drawn in their journals (which were very well documented the first half of the trip, and the last half not so much), listened to music, played Battleship, and watched movies.
EV Day 1
They were seriously amazing on this whole trip.  I guess that's what having children older than six is like on a road trip!

The last 50-mile stretch of Minnesota highway was under construction.  Which meant DETOURS.  We seriously went over 100 miles out of our way on all of these crazy detours!  And we had been making such good time, too!

Now that arrival before sunset was shot to heck, we just enjoyed the setting sun once we entered South Dakota.  Because it was pretty stunning!
EV SD sunset1

iPhone and Instagram don't do justice to sunsets, in my humble amateur photographer opinion, so I made Joel stop the car so I could take some pictures with my real camera.

South Dakota Sunset webSouth Dakota sunset web
The main reason I wanted to stop was because we passed this pond/swamp area with trees, and on the trees were hundreds of birds.
South Dakota birds at sunset
Their silhouettes just looked so beautiful against the setting sun.  So I made Joel turn around and let me get out and take some photos.  He didn't mind, and while Suite: Judy Blue Eyes by Crosby, Stills, and Nash (that is one of our favorite road trip songs) was blasting from the car, he took pictures of me taking pictures.
EV SD sunset
And then, I had to turn around and take a picture of the beautiful landscape to the east as well. I never knew how beautiful South Dakota is!
South Dakota Sunset No hunting web
Not long after our photo stop, we finally arrived in DeSmet, where we had to ask directions to the Homestead, but eventually got there.
I can't really describe how excited I was to be on the same land that Laura Ingalls herself walked on.  To see with my own eyes some of the scenery that was in my very favorite childhood books.  I've been reading them to my girls this summer, and they were pretty excited, too.  But I cried when I got my first glimpse of Laura's prairie.
EV laura ingalls day 1
But, I didn't have time to dwell on it, because we were losing light fast, a storm was blowing in, and we had to get our tent up!

Thank goodness for nice campsite neighbors, or we would have been in trouble.  A man and his three teenage boys helped Joel get the tent going while I unloaded sleeping bags and such and threw them in.  Then Joel and I had to get the rain fly up by ourselves in the dark and the wind, which just kept getting darker and windier!  By this time, we were a little frantic in our effort to beat the storm, and the tent wasn't cooperating well in all the wind, but we managed to finish, get in and zip it up just before the rains came tumbling down.

We had planned on cooking dinner at our campsite, but the detours and the rain took care of that for us, so I just dug through the cooler and came up with hummus and crackers for dinner.  The girls love eating hummus and crackers (thankfully), and it was a grand adventure eating them in our tent in the downpour on the prairie.  So, no complaints about our non-orthodox dinner.

The girls were a little scared of all of the thunder and lightning, but it passed quickly, as midwestern storms generally do, and everybody finally fell asleep.  Well, everybody except me.  I stayed up worrying and thinking and listening to the next storm roll through...

***End of  Day 1***

States visited:

1. Michigan (home)
2. Wisconsin
3. Minnesota
4. South Dakota

Hours driven:


Thursday, August 23, 2012

5,000 Miles, 26 Days, 13 States and a Million Memories Later...

...we are home.

We took an EPIC vacation for the last 26 days. That is nearly a month, people. We camped, we cruised, we swam, we ate, we national parked, we historical sited, and we drove and drove and drove. Most importantly, we spent a lot of time together and with extended family and it was amazing.

And now it's over.

This is me driving on Day 1, somewhere in Minnesota after about 7 hours.

And this is me driving on Day 26, somewhere in Wisconsin after about 55 million hours.

Day 26

I'm just a little bit tired.  But I did get a wonderful night's sleep in my own bed last night, so I'm not complaining.

At least, I'm not complaining about that.  What I am complaining about is that my washing machine decided to die last night when I have a ton of laundry to do and we spent all our money vacationing.  Good old Murphy is laughing somewhere, I'm sure.

Besides buying a new washer, my to-do list today is pretty full.  Time to get ready for real life.

And, speaking of real life, I have a post up on Time Out For Women right now that I hope reminds ME of how to live real life with the proper priorities.  Hopefully it helps you, too.  Here's the link:  Changing My Theme Song.

Now we're off to find out who our teachers are for the upcoming school year, finish unpacking, go grocery shopping and, well, I won't bore you with the rest.  I will try to blog about our epic vacation, but you all know what a poor track record I have with blogging about vacations, since I still haven't finished last year's summer vacation or the Caribbean Cruise from January 2011.  I'll try, but I don't make any promises.

Happy Thursday!