Monday, April 30, 2007

Mt. Rushmore and a crazy horse.

The girls obviously didn't read last nights blog, as I had stated that we would SLEEP IN this morning. Katelynn was up around 7am, and the rest soon followed. ARGH. Just once I want to be the first one up, I guess that would entail going to bed before midnight. Oh well.

Even with our early start, we didn't roll out of camp until around 11am. With snacks packed and plans to eat lunch at Mt. Rushmore, we hit the road. I had briefly talked to the girls about stopping by the Crazy Horse Memorial before going to Mt. Rushmore, as it was on the way. They agreed, but I didn't know that they had no clue what they were going to see.

As we got closer, we could see the face of an Indian carved in the mountain. Emily spotted it first, and excitedly tried to point it out to her sisters. This was my first clue. Eventually I figured out that Beth was expecting a HORSE. Poor kid, I think I disappointed her, especially since she has been asking to go horseback riding since we left California.

Our time at Crazy Horse was short, punctuated by a cuddle with Thunder. Thunder is the 19-year old cat who lives at the gift store near Crazy Horse, and tolerated all of us loving on him. Hailey kept calling him "Abbey", he didn't seem to mind. The "Bigs" enjoyed the 14-minute video telling about the Crazy Horse Memorial, but I ended up with both "Littles" in my lap, as there were quite a few shots of the explosions, rocks tumbling, loud booms. I got to watch a little bit of the video, through hands grasped around my windpipe and fingers grabbing my hair.

Next stop, Mt. Rushmore. This was a bit more impressive, for although the scuplture is much smaller than Crazy Horse, I know a bit of the history about the 4 men carved into the mountain, so it has more personal meaning for me. Also, one doesn't even really glimpse the sculpture until you are right at it. More of a grand entrance.

After a quick glance at the faces, we hustled into the cafe to eat lunch. Then back out onto the terrace to gaze up at the presidents. I'm not sure why, but this was one stop that I was really looking forward to. I was not disappointed. Katelynn and Emily snapped pictures while the "Littles" giggled, and I tried to get the best photo possible. (Most shots you can see up their noses.)

We went down to the museum and watched a video of the carving of Rushmore. The challenges that the artist, Gutzon Borglum, had to overcome were astounding. Most of the sculpture was created during the Great Depression, so funding was tight and periods of inactivity were common. Even with all the setbacks, it did take only 14 years to complete.

We raided the bookstore where I picked up two books about the history of Mt. Rushmore. I'm so curious to read how everything occurred, and how the sculpture ended up placed as it did. I'll let you know if the books are any good. :)

Then, off to the trails we headed. There is a small (.6 mile) trail loop that we set out on, and were able to go about halfway before the stairs prevented us from going any further. (I had the stroller with us this day.) We did park the stroller and go out to an observation deck where we had a great view, and the girls got to play for a short while. It was so odd to be gazing up at Mt. Rushmore and have my cell phone ring! Scott!! So we all enjoyed taking turns talking with the best man alive while others played or snapped pictures. Hailey surprised all of us by walking almost the entire way back to the viewing terrace (almost .2 of a mile), while holding onto my hands and/or Katelynn's.

I'm proud to live in a country where carving a mountain is not seen as impossible. That may sound strange, but to see the beauty of the Black Hills, and then to see how men are trying to leave a legacy, brings out an odd sense of pride. If you haven't been able to visit this part of the country, it is hard to explain, especially with my limited words. However, if you have been able to see South Dakota and its grandeur, you may understand what I mean. :)

On May 1st, we'll do a little school, and then journey underground to the Jewel Cave. Tonight should be the first lighting of Mt. Rushmore, so we'll head back there around sunset.

When Mom's away...

the girls will PLAY!!!

We had a long drive today (probably close to 7 1/2 hours due to an spontaneous detour through the Badlands), and didn't arrive to the campground until after dark. I set up alone outside, without my usual helpers, as it was just quicker to do it myself. This is what the girls were up to while I was working...

Tomorrow we'll sleep in, and head out to Mt. Rushmore and the Crazy Horse Memorial. Maybe a few other things as well, one never knows where the Stringer Zoo will end up!

Sunday, April 29, 2007

What beauty.

I must admit that I usually don't think of South Dakota when I think of the ideal vacation spot. This weekend has changed all that!

The driving from Minnesota to South Dakota was not hard, but I sure seemed to be going through gas quickly. Once I eventually found a service station and climbed out of the truck, I realized why. There was a steady headwind. For the rest of the drive you could actually see the needle on the gas gauge drop as we drove forward.

We made it to the Ingalls Homestead around 6:30 at night - the sun was no where near setting, and there was plenty of time for the girls to play while I set up camp. The Ingalls Homestead is not officially open until Memorial Day, but they were gracious to let us camp on-site while they did some of their spring cleaning. We are situation on a small knoll with the township of De Smet visible to the northeast. All around us are fields and wetlands (sloughs).

It was unreal to cook dinner and then watch the sunset, possibly standing in the same location where Laura might have watched a similar sight. As a child, I was engrossed with all things "Little House". I read the books, watched the TV shows, and identified with Laura and her "mouse-brown" hair. Thanks to the Morrison family for telling me about this fabulous place!

We've enjoyed clear, warm days here. Even though they had a harsh blizzard only a few weeks ago, now it is sunny, trees are budding, and the temperature is ideal at around 73 degrees. So we woke up on Saturday, eager to explore and see what life on the prairie would really be like.

The first stop was the Laura Ingalls travels exhibit, where the girls got to climb into an authentic covered wagon. It was way smaller than I expected! I can only imagine bouncing through the hard ruts on the trails in such a small vehicle, with all my worldly possessions packed along with me. (I'll take my trailer anyday!)

Then we climbed down the hill to crawl inside the cool walls of a dugout replica. A dugout is a small, one room home dug into a hillside, with the fourth wall being made of strips of stacked sod. Think man-made cave. Inside there was an old wooden stove, small table and barrels for chairs. There was barely enough room to turn around.

We clambered around a few other outbuildings (claim shanty, hay roof barn, livestock barn, and old fashioned garage), but the highlight was the shanty which was the replica of the Ingalls home here on the prairie. It was rebuilt on the same site as the original home, using the description of the building that Pa (Charles Ingalls) filed with the local government at the time of building.

Here the girls marvelled at the hay stuffed beds, the small size, and the simpleness. They enjoyed trying out some old laundry methods. How come they won't help with the laundry at home, but were THRILLED to use the washboard, wringer, and clothesline here. :)
After nap time, we headed back down the hill to the prairie schoolhouse, where Laura once taught. It has been moved from its original site, but still stands much as it did in her time. Emily, then Beth and Katelynn took turns being the teacher and awarding grades from AAAA to Z. Hailey even got in on the fun and certainly enjoyed standing in the teachers chair instructing her sisters and mom.

Everyone we met here has been so friendly. And although they are so busy getting ready for the summer season, they were all willing to talk and share with us. I'm so thrilled that we were able to stop here and experience a little taste of life on the prairie.

Only one problem. Since Hailey still refuses to walk, she get extremely dirty as she crawls around the grass and gravel trailing after her sisters. As you look at the picture, note the very CLEAN thumb - I'll let you use your imagination as to how it has been cleaned. :)

Friday, April 27, 2007

Trailer Life

I was originally going to title tonight's blog "Trailer Life - Love or Hate it." But, hate is such a strong word, I don't ever HATE trailer life, I just don't always like it as much as I usually do. Most of the time, I do LOVE the adventure of pulling the trailer, stopping when we desire, and using my problem solving skills to see how I can manage black and gray water with only 30 gallon tanks. (See Mom and Dad, I AM using my college education. :P )

However, after 3 days of rain in Chicago, I'm beginning to realize why most people don't ever entertain the idea of living in a trailer for an extended period of time. The leak in the window above my bed didn't get any worse, but it definitely didn't get any better either. My bed stayed dry, but I had to use up every hand towel I had to absorb the steady drips. (Now that we are out of the rain, I'll be picking up some silicon sealant at the next hardware store I see.) I was very worried this morning that I may have developed another leak near my bed, as I found a small puddle of water near a wardrobe. Come to find out, it was just condensation dripping down a window and pooling on the floor. When it is raining outside, almost non-stop, I can't keep the roof vents open to allow the humid, exhaled air to escape, resulting in foggy, condensation covered windows. (Oh, and your bath towels don't dry either, ever.)

This morning was my first experience in tearing down camp while in the rain. I kept waiting all through breakfast for the steady, but light, rain to let up so I could get unhooked from power and water, and hitched up to the truck. No such luck. So, out I went, in my PJ pants, and a fleece jacket, to disconnect and hitch up. What an adventure. I think everything I touched was cold, clammy, and covered with mud. I was a sight by the time I called for Katelynn to come help me get into position to hitch up. Katelynn was a brave, non-complaining, girl, ready to help - as long as she had the Vera Bradley umbrella. (Yeah, I caved, and bought a VB umbrella on a recent shopping trip with Melody. Let me tell you, I am soooooo thankful I did!!!)

My reasoning for going outside while still in jammies was since I knew I was going to get all dirty while getting ready to leave, I would just take my shower once we were hitched and ready to go. Great thought, not so practical in implementation. We were running into the 11am checkout time for the campground, and I really just wanted to be on the road, heading OUT of the rain. So I threw on clothes, and stunk up the car as I drove.

This brings me to one reason why I LOVE my trailer. The girls and I eventually pulled off the road for lunch and after cooking soup and making sandwiches for the girls, I hopped into the shower. :) Katelynn said that she was embarrassed that her mom showered behind the McDonald's. I said it was better than having to get back into the truck with me as dirty as I had been. How cool it was to have a hot lunch for the girls - that I didn't have to pay oodles for - and take a hot shower while they ate!

Hey, it is the simple things in life that make me happy. :)

Anyway, now that I am surrounded by piles of clean sheets, I'm going to head for bed. (After I make it of course.) But here is the only picture I have of the truck and trailer all hooked together. Just to give everyone an idea of how big we are as we chug down the road. Night all!

Tuesday, April 24, 2007

A Little Further West

Our adventures over the past two days have been pretty unadventurous. We drove through very high winds in Canada, spotted 3 of the Great Lakes, inadvertently had the dogs go for a swim right before loading up into the truck, and broke a Corelle dish while driving. Pretty much run of the mill stuff for the Stringer Zoo. Oh, and Beth has developed a nice chest cough, and Hailey is running a mild fever. Yahoo!!! :)

Right now the older 3 are attempting to fall asleep with the sound of rain overhead. This is the first time the girls and I have slept in the trailer with it raining. I can only pray that the leak in the window above my bed has miraculously sealed itself so I don't wake up to a wet bed. Actually it may not be rain that makes my bed wet tonight - with Hailey not feeling good I had to put her to sleep in my bed. (The big girls were still eating dinner on her bed - AKA the kitchen table.) Hmmm, let the adventures begin.

Actually, it has been a pretty good couple of days. The winds were rough as we drove from Niagara Fall, NY to Port Huron, MI, so I kept two hands on the wheel at all times - no phone calls to friends or IM'ing with Scott. Yet, we safely landed at the campground at Selfridge ANGB in Michigan, right on the shore of Lake St. Clair. It was GORGEOUS!!! The campground was just yards away from the water, the skies were cloudy, but it was sunny. All of the girls enjoyed playing on the grass as I set up camp for the night.

This was where the dogs "accidentally" took a swim this morning. Beth and Katelynn were in charge of walking them as I prepared the trailer for our drive. They left the dogs with a "stay" command and walked away to play. Does 2+2=4??? Two retrievers + two geese on the water = WAY TOO MUCH TROUBLE. Abbey went in, leash and all, and was swimming out to catch the geese before I realized what was happening. Eli, being older and stiffer, had barely made it over the rocks at the edge of the lake before I called him back. So, Abbey was soaked, Eli was wet from his belly down, and we needed to load up and get to the commissary for groceries.

I guess it was an appropriate punishment that Beth and Katelynn sit closest to the dogs, and had to smell wet dog for the first part of the drive. :)

We are now north of Chicago in some extremely green farm land. The KOA here is very nice, even if their wireless access seems a bit spotty. All the girls piled out of the truck tonight and RAN around in circles in a grass field across the gravel drive from the trailer. This was a great thing to have tonight, as I wouldn't let anyone into the trailer until I had a chance to clean up the shards of Corelle scattered around the middle of the floor. Hmmm, maybe the curb I ran over at our last pit stop wasn't as benign as I had thought.

Tomorrow we will catch up with my grandma's sister and husband who live just outside of Chicago, as well as attempt to get a hold of a friend from high school who lives nearby with his wife and kiddos. Who knows what adventures lay ahead for tomorrow? :)

Please pray for our health, spirits are high, but I'll need HIS wisdom to know how to care for the girls. I'm off to bed for now, I'm looking forward to cuddling with Hailey - she likes to give lots of kisses in the middle of the night. :) Plus, I LOVE the sound of the rain on the trailer roof. It reminds me of my childhood when the rain would beat on the roof of an old metal shed in our backyard. Mmmmmm...I love good memories.

Monday, April 23, 2007

Niagara - the Canadian perspective

Katelynn told me more than once that today was the best day of her life. WOW! What high praise. I'm still grinning as I remember walking back to the car with her, the sun had set, our bellies were full, the Falls were lit up in pinks, oranges and purples, and roar of the water soothed my frazzled auditory nerves, and the cool mist from the Falls floated through the air, chilling our faces and hands. Hmmmm. I wish I could bottle this memory to pull out when times get tough.

The morning began like most mornings in the trailer - me in bed, with 6 of my favorite beings surrounding me. Eli and Abbey had taken up the bottom two thirds of the bed. The 4 girls and I were relegated to the top third. The phrase "dog pile" has taken on new meaning lately. :) We all took our time getting up and moving, we indulged in a Krusteaz Crumb Cake for breakfast. Emily chanted "We're eating CAKE for breakfast, a cake made of crumbs." Dishes were washed, coffee was spilled, mud was washed off of a few kids, a Diet Pepsi was spilled. (Yes, it was a conspiracy this morning, I was NOT allowed to ingest any caffeine.)

We eventually wandered down to the laundry room/arcade to finish up the laundry began the night before - and to start a new load full of muddy clothes from their morning "adventures". The girls enjoyed spending their hard earned allowances on air hockey, bubble gum, and a few video games while I folded the never ending pile of clean clothes. We inhaled a fast lunch and packed up the truck for our first international stop on this trip.

Passing customs into Canada was very simple, I decided to play it safe and not joke about diaper "bombs" or any other such "no-no" key phrases. However, actually getting to where we wanted to go in Canada was not so simple. I ended up turned around - and almost had to head back into the USA - because my GPS said there was a road where there was no road. After paying a road toll twice in the span of about 10 minutes, we eventually got going in the right direction. As Scott and I text messaged back and forth later in the day, he commented that this was the first time the entire Stringer Zoo had been out of the country at the same time.

Our first official stop of the day was to the Butterfly Conservatory. The girls had watched a Dora episode last night where Dora and Boots went to a Butterfly Garden, so during the entire drive from campsite to conservatory we were all chanting "Where are we going? Butterfly Garden". What nuts we are!

The butterflies were stunning. The "Bigs" and I snapped picture after picture, while Hailey giggled from on top of my back, and Beth cringed down by my waist. (Beth is horribly afraid of anything resembling a bug, even these brilliantly colored insects.) We were all in awe of the way these delicate creatures floated around, chasing each other through the sun and shade. Our favorite one was a blue butterfly that when closed was brown with spots that looked like eyes.

The girls were so good!! They stuck by my side, never ran, stayed quiet and were hands down the most well behaved children in the conservatory. We passed many children that were screaming, running away from their parents. I took a moment to praise the girls and to reward them with a trinket from the gift shop.

Next we drove along the cliffs toward the falls. We jockeyed for parking with all the other tourists and natives - it was a Sunday afternoon. Then we walked, and walked, and walked, and walked, and... I wish I had a pedometer on, I'd love to know how far we went. We walked along the falls, up a hill into town, in town for a while (looking for the Hershey store). The "Bigs" were excellent walkers, never complaining, just wondering aloud if Mommy would ever head in the right direction. :)

Eventually we found our way to the Rainforest Cafe for dinner. The girls were suitably impressed with the decor and our volcano dessert. Scott tried valiantly to reach me by phone, but the cell signal was just too weak.

After eating our fill, we ambled down the street to the Hershey store. (Hmm, I'm sensing a theme.) The girls ran around drooling at all the chocolate, I was on a hunt for fondue chocolate. I found it!!! I picked up 13 boxes (no, not all of them are for me). We also picked up a few snacks for the drive to Michigan, and once again we headed toward the falls.

It was dark now, and the falls were lit up with strong lights from the Canadian side. I didn't think that the colors changed, but as I look through my pictures from the night, I can see that they did range from pink to orange, and even to purple at one point. It was striking, but we all agreed that we liked the view during the day even better.

It took us a while to walk all the way back to our truck, but there were no complaints. We enjoyed the sights and just being together. What an awesome way to end our trek at the Niagara Falls.

Sunday, April 22, 2007

Niagara - an American perspective

The female portion of the Stringer Zoo has spent the past two days enjoying the sights, sounds, and tastes of Niagara Falls. On Saturday, March 21, we finally left our KOA campsite around 11am, and eventually made it to the American side of the Niagara Gorge by noon. (We are only camped an exit away from the Falls, but with 4 girls, and two dogs, one exit turns into one hour.)

We could hear the Falls before we ever saw them. My heart began to beat fast, as I grew excited to see the Lord's hand at work. I was not disappointed. The girls were picking up on my excitement and everyone was awed by the sight of thousands of gallons of water rushing over the edge of the cliff. We wandered out onto an observation platform and took a few pictures before meandering over to the Visitors Center.

We enjoyed lunch across the street at the Hard Rock Cafe (LOUD music, average food) where Hailey managed to spill an entire cup of chocolate milk onto the floor.

Back over to the cliffs we went, stopping at the car to leave the stroller and pick up the wrap for Hailey. I knew that our afternoon plans would not allow for a stroller. We picked up the Niagara Scenic Trolley and rode it over to Goat Island where we walked and admired the sight of the Niagara River rushing past us. Katelynn, Emily and Beth were able to bleed off some excess energy by running alongside of the paths, stopping to pick up sticks and various flotsam they called "treasures".

We eventually found ourselves off on the Three Sisters Islands - climbing over the rocks and among the trees. (The highlight of the day for the girls, they didn't want to leave.) We loved to watch small ice floes speed past on their way down to the Falls. We caught our breath while sitting on some rocks, gazing upstream. The sun was shining down, warming our backs, yet the cold water kept the air on the islands refreshing.

We hopped back onto the Trolley and ended up at the Cave of the Winds for the last descent of the day. (4:45 - everything closes up extremely early in April.) We took the elevators down 18 stories to the bottom of the American and Bridal Veil Falls, and ventured out onto the observation deck. During the summer season, there are walkways and numerous stairs that will get observers even closer to the falls. However, even at the end of April, the snow and ice prevent us from getting any closer than the first observation deck. One ice formation in between the American Falls and Bridal Veil Falls was estimated to be at least 70 feet tall.

After ascending back to the cliff top, we were ready for some ice cream, but all the snack shops had already closed for the day. So, we headed back to the trailer for a Skinny Cow ice cream sandwich. :) Our adventures ended with a salisbury steak dinner and playing ball with the dogs. (Oh, and getting some laundry started - not finished, just started.)

Thursday, April 19, 2007

The Big Apple

New York City - There was an unusual sight in New York City today. A semi-sane woman was followed around the City by four rather rambunctious children. I surruptitiously followed and have recorded their antics.

The group drove a large red Suburban into uptown New York City, prepared to pay an arm and a leg for parking. Then then piled out of the automobile to venture out on foot for a few blocks before boarding another large red vehicle...a double-decker, pepper-red tour bus. The bus wound its way downtown, passing by such sights as Times Square, the Empire State Building and Greenwich village.

The pack disembarked the tour bus to board yet another vehicle - a ferry boat bound for Liberty and Ellis Islands. Before getting on the boat, soft pretzels and drinks were consumed while the girls ran circles around their mother. Not prepared for the long lines waiting to go through security, the mother resorted to silly voices and crazy antics to keep her giggle patiently waiting in line. Security guards did NOT know what to do with this Californian woman who set her youngest daughter in a belongings bin instead of letting her stand on the floor. (Because, of course, all children this girls size can clearly walk.) After a minor scuffle with a female guard, everyone made it through the metal detectors with no other incidences.

The ferry ride to Liberty Island was uneventful, and the quick jaunt around the base of Lady Liberty was full of photo opportunities. There were a few explainations as to why she was green, not copper, and passers-by repeatedly looked at the group in awe.

After another relatively uneventful ferry ride back to New York City, the group once again settled in to the top of a tour bus to finish gazing at the Chrysler building, Central Park and Rockefeller Center.

Dinner was large slices of cheese pizza washed down with soda at a small pizzaria near Times Square. Copious amounts of money were spent on chocolate at the Hershey store, and reclaiming the car at the parking garage.

The trek concluded with PJs and Daddy kisses (the chocolate variety) at the Round Pond Recreation Center, near West Point. All are safe, happy and still semi-sane.

Tuesday, April 17, 2007

Life is a Highway - Westbound

It looks like the girls and I are going to hit the road again. The weather has calmed down - just a bit windy, and the refrigerator burner dried out and it working again. Melody and I worked Sunday and Monday and got 19 meals prepped and loaded into the trailer. I used the Low Carb Mega Menu-mailer from the Dinner Diva and was able to pack 16 meals into the trailers freezer. It is stuffed, but of course, I managed to fit in a few Skinny Cow ice cream sandwiches as well. :)

Our time in Maryland has been phenomenal. The connection we have with the Goughs is hard to describe. There aren't too many people who would put up with me and my giggle of girls for over 3 weeks. :) Our two families mesh together so well, the only thing wrong with this trip was that Scott wasn't with us. He was missed. However, Kaitlin Gough so aptly said that as much as she missed Uncle Scott, we wouldn't have been able to come on this adventure if he was home. True words indeed.

I'm going to pack up the last visible remnants of our stay here, take a few more pictures and climb back into the drivers seat of the Suburban. The Lord has blessed me richly over the past few weeks. I praise him for his grace!!!

Sunday, April 15, 2007

We're being held hostage.

Originally, the plan was to leave Maryland on Monday, April 16. Hmmm. Weather has made me rethink that plan. Then today, when I tried to load 10 freezer meals into the freezer - the freezer was not cold. OK, there is one RV service place here in Southern Maryland, we'll see how quickly they can work me in. Plus, the rain has decided that the window above my bed would be a great place to come inside the trailer. Hmmm. Maybe the Lord is telling me to stay here another night.

It is extremely late, I'm hoping that the rain will lull me to sleep and not keep me awake worrying about all the stuff that has to fall into place so I can get on the road again. I covet prayers for a smooth repair process!!!!

Wednesday, April 11, 2007

We're still here!!

I promise that we haven't fallen off the face of the earth! We've just been having so much fun, and really enjoying ourselves here. It is so hard to believe that we are coming to the end of the 3 week visit in Southern Maryland. I've got so many pictures and stories to share from our adventures, I really need to spend more time updating this blog, don't I? :) I will do some updating slowly over the past few days, I'm also trying to get video uploaded from my camera, plan the return trip to California, and upload photos for printing. There just isn't enough time in the day, is there? *giggle*
I did have to share this picture of Hailey. She is having fun getting truly spoiled here. She is slowly building confidence in taking a few steps, her vocabulary is growing daily, and she is still extremely stuck on me. She does enjoy life here, there are 3 adults and numerous kiddos to keep her entertained.