...with a husband and 5 sons, I am truly outnumbered....stories and thoughts on life from a mom in a houseful of little men!

Thursday, July 17, 2014

Land O' Lincoln and Fireflies

July 17, 2014

It was hard to leave Stevens Point, Wisconsin.  Very hard.  We consoled ourselves with ridiculously-sized ice cream cones at Belt's (large size is 2 lbs of ice cream,) a last visit with my cousins Jack & Kami, and the fact that we will now be within driving distance to return for visits.

*insert shocking picture of ice cream cones which is not yet in my possession*

This journey has been wrought with gut-wrenching farewells at every stage, yet there is still something about it all that is so peace-filled and "right."  I'm so thankful for that peace.

And so, we continued south, out of Wisconsin, and into Illinois, "Land of Lincoln".  What can I say about traveling through Illinois?  Hmm...well, the first night, we stayed outside of Rockford.  We found an out-of-the-way RV campground, and I must say our jaws dropped as we drove off the highway and into the countryside.  We were met with new shades of green, and lush, rich, life-filled country.  The trees were enormous, and created tunnels with the roads to drive through.  Our campground had many such trees, as well as large spans of grassy lawns to play.
This particular Maple tree was so huge, that Nicholas, Noah, and I could not reach all the way around it together.  What a charming place, so filled with life.  Birds of all kinds twittered and sang.  The boys saw their first Cardinal.  Gray squirrels frisked about.  Geese ambled around by the river.  The boys found that upon walking up to a little pond, literally hundreds of little frogs bounded back into the water with each step toward the edge. 

Just as we were leaving, a couple of the boys discovered crab apples.  They stuffed their pockets full of tiny green apples from off the ground, bound and determined to feed them to the deer when we get to Tennessee.  For now, they are stuffed in our little camper fridge.  Oh boy. 

The following day, which was yesterday, we moved on down through Illinois.  There's not much to say about that.  :) 

We stayed in Effingham last night, and the landscape was not anything like what we saw in Rockford.  We enjoyed our campground though, and the highlight of that night was definitely fireflies! 
Sunny morning outside Effingham, IL
I will mention that we had a special lunch out at Cracker Barrel today.  It felt really special somehow...like a taste of what's to come for us.  Rockers on front porches, sweet tea, old-fashioned hymns, and down-home cookin'.  The boys were VERY excited to try catfish.  We're getting closer to journey's end, as the roadsigns say and the crickets so noisily proclaim tonight.

539 Miles to Grandma, and A.A. Milne Sums It Up

Grandmas are some of the sweetest people on Earth.  I sure treasure mine.  I appreciate her more and more as the years go by.  We've been so blessed that Grandma has been able to travel to Alaska yearly for the past several years.  She gets around amazingly well at 84 years old!  One of my dreams for years and years, has been for our family to spend time with my Grandma Dorothy in her own home.  A few years ago, I began praying for that to happen.  The summer before last, I thought that prayer was answered with a "yes", when Zachy Baby and I were blessed to tag along with my parents as they escorted Grandma back home to Wisconsin.
That was an amazing trip which I will always treasure!  I never would have guessed then, that we'd be so incredibly blessed as to have our whole family travel to see Grandma in her home just 2 year later.

We hustled to get there.  Two of my aunts from north-central Wisconsin were planning a family picnic for Saturday, and we really wanted to get to Grandma's house the evening before so we could have some chill time with her before the much-anticipated picnic.  So, last Friday, July 11, was spent motoring across the remainder of South Dakota, and then Minnesota and Wisconsin, for a grand total of 539 mostly prairie miles.  We put in our audio of On the Banks of Plum Creek, and got lost in the prairie lands of the early 1900's.  Imagine the excitement when we saw the turn-off for DeSmet, SD...and then again for Walnut Grove, MN! 
Finally, after hours and hours, we knew we were in Wisconsin.
We also knew just how much God loves us, when we turned off for gas and the gas station happened to be next to a cheese factory.  Simply blissful.  Those of you who have experienced the joy of squeaky curds know what I'm talking about!

Not much later, we pulled into Grandma's house.  What an incredible joy to be there with her, and to have the boys run up her steps and experience her home just as I had done as a child.  Precious, precious time. 
Those 4 days were filled to the brim with lots of talking and laughter, delicious food, Monopoly, cards, checkers, staying up way too late, and backyard hang-out time, including a bonfire.  And of course, we also trekked off to a picnic together!

Grandmas are some of the sweetest people on Earth, and so are Aunties.  Two of mine made an unforgettable family picnic happen on Saturday! 

I know how hard they must have planned and worked to make it happen...and we are so, so grateful.  Although not all of our beloved family could be there, most were.  I am still soaking it in. Unspeakable joy.
Wilcox family...all together!
Active Grandma Shirley pitching so low to li'l Emma
awww...5 days apart...5-yr-olds...2nd cousins
Finally Noah can climb big trees
Me and Baby Jase...pretty sure I'm his fave cousin, right?
Wait!  We didn't have gray in our beards last time we met?!
amazing, delicious, beautiful food
Zachy will follow his cuzzy Emma anywhere!  He's still talking about her.
My beloved cousin is so beautiful.  And I'm SO sweaty.
I could go on posting pics of this event forever.  It was just an all-around amazing and treasured day.  We got pics of the families altogether, and then one huge pic of ALL of us together.  So fun. 

Wednesday, July 16, 2014

Through the Land of Sitting Bull, Custer, and Little Bighorn, and a Little Rushmore to Top it Off

We woke up outside Sheridan, Wyoming on July 10, and headed out into legendary country.  History was brought to life as we drove through this country and read about Fort Phil Kearny, Red Cloud's War, Massacre Hill, the Wagon Box Fight, and of course, Custer's Last Stand.  It brought new meaning to read about these things while we could look out our windows to the terrain where all these things took place.

On this day, we completed our journey across Wyoming and entered into South Dakota.  We listened to the remainder of Laura Ingalls Wilder's Little House on the Prairie before heading into the Badlands.  We encountered the worst construction of our entire trip through the Badlands, and that includes traveling on the Alcan!  In fact, the construction reminded us of our trip north on the Alcan in 1998, with the huge rigs and completely torn up "roadway."

Thankfully, we reached the construction and pilot car *just* as the pilot car was taking our side of traffic through the whole mess.  From the look of it, the folks ahead of us had been waiting a long, long time.  Just past the construction, which was several miles long, we saw a little herd of bison grazing.  We did not stop, but continued on climbing.  We had a Wonder of the World to see.
We loved seeing this national treasure, and learning about the planning and preparation and process of its completion.  We all learned so much.  I never knew that Gutzon Borglum chose the presidents he chose in order to represent the first 130 years of American history--the founding, growth, preservation, and development.  We also loved seeing the old photos and hearing and reading accounts of the workers contracted for the project.
 What a great break in a long travel day.

 South Dakota was also hot and very, very humid.  We were so thankful, after 489 miles, to pull into a welcoming campground for some grub and an evening swim! 

We had camped outside Chamberlain, SD on this evening.  The boys chased around their first-ever-seen, LARGE toad, while I tried not to throw up.  Although that was impressive, the real star of this campground was a wonderful pool which we had all to ourselves under the stars until about 10:30.

By the time we showered and headed back to the Little House, we could see very clearly that we were to have a significant thunderstorm.  Sure enough, just as the last one was tucked into bed, the skies let loose, and the downpour began.  The winds blew, and our Little House rocked and swayed as we all looked out into the cascades of water.  The sky lit up all around us as the heavens boomed.  It was the first real, rip-roaring storm the boys had ever experienced.

Lots of "firsts" on this trip, and we'd all be in for one on the following day...

Our Time in the Cowboy State

No doubt about it, we did not want to leave this place.
Every one of us was perfectly content where we were, and I admit to crazy thoughts swirling about in my mind such as, "What if we just stayed right here...Operation Sunshine complete?"  We really could do that, and who knows what the future may hold?  But at this point, my husband reminded me, we aim to get me out of harsh winter zone, and SW Montana would not qualify.  So we reluctantly packed up and moved on...back through Yellowstone Park's Lamar Valley..
All those little black dots--they're bison!
...and out the silver gate to Wyoming's Chief Joseph Scenic Byway.
We twisted and turned and climbed and climbed.....and climbed....and climbed through northern Wyoming.  Lovely, lovely country.  Very peaceful and quiet.  There's not a lot of traffic, other than free-range cattle.  Like Montana, it's also very dry.  If it's not irrigated, it's brown. 
We've taken our Little House on wheels through some crazy places.  On this particular day, in addition to one last jaunt through Yellowstone's windy ups and downs and climbs, we also took it up Dead Indian Summit, elevation 8060 ft.  Upon its completion, we continued on toward and through Bighorn National Forest's Windy Mountain, elevation 10,042.  Next was Granite Pass, elevation 9033 ft. 
Each time we thought the landscape was about to level off, we headed up into another pass, it seemed.

Our Little House and its steady driver did great.  The only protest our Little House put up was the climb up and through Granite Pass, when it began to lurch slightly.  We did not like that at all, especially when we saw another motor home stopped in the middle of the road.  At least that one was really old, helping us to have more faith in our Little House!  And let's face it--we have the Ultimate Pilot.  This particular climb had long stretches going upward, rather than so many switchbacks as our other climbs had.  The high elevation and strenuous climb was a little tough for the air-fuel ratio to adapt.  Nothing serious, and we made it ok.  I have no pictures of that crazy climb.  The few pictures I took on this day were mostly on-the-fly.  We didn't do a lot of stopping this day, as we had a lot of ground to cover.  Lots of red rock formations; it reminded me of Arizona. I found it funny that after a strenuous climb through wilderness, we were greeted with utility poles and fences and camps and even a restaurant lodge at the top and through the pass.  What seemed like "no man's land" was actually inhabited after all.  The wildflowers were spectacular--purple, blue, yellow, pink, and white were exploding along the rolling, grassy hills.  Beautiful.
A certain driver was growing very weary of mountain driving.  It was a long day of driving, but we were rewarded with an overnight at a great little KOA outside of Sheridan, WY.  We had a nice, long swim, showers, did laundry catch-up, and had pizza delivered from Powder River Pizza Pub.  Glamping, for sure. 

Tuesday, July 15, 2014

Rafting the Mellow Yellow

I'm back online tonight outside Rockford, IL, after living a week which seems like an eternity.  A week ago today, we had decided to stay an extra day in Gardiner, MT to raft the Yellowstone River.
 No doubt about it; I am in love with the Mellow Yellow.  We camped beside it the night before our crazy, 12-hour day in Yellowstone Park.  I could not take my eyes off that beautiful river, sunshine glinting on it as it flowed so clearly and quickly by with hayfield, mountains, and bright blue sky as it's backdrop.
That night, as Noah and I sat admiring the beauty, we looked at each other and grinned, and mischievously agreed we'd love nothing more at that moment than to slide a boat in and go for a float.  The next day, as we drove through Gardiner, I convinced my other half that that would be an excellent idea!
 Our guide, Mr. Mitch, seemed to be hand-picked for our family.  He has two brothers, one older and one younger, and he went over-the-top to make this an amazing event for our crew.  Plus, he was just a really great young man with a bright future, who was great to talk with and get to know.

 We also could not have had a more perfect day for rafting.  The sun blazed down on us and made the river sparkle, just like our faces were sparkling with so much joy at having the blessing to partake in such a fun and memorable event.

 The scenery was spectacular.  We all went for a dip in the refreshing, powerful current half-way through.  And here's a fun tidbit--Tony's sunglasses are now bumping along the river bed somewhere as we speak!

It was all over way too soon.
While we waited for our pick-up down-river, Mitch played around with the boys and taught them special sand castle building techniques at water's edge.

We're always thrilled when we come across super role models for our sons.  Kaleb was especially inspired, and has dreams of being a rafting guide.  His "Yellowstone River Swim Team" bracelet has not left his wrist once yet. 

What an all-around incredible day.  It was the kind you just want to linger in and not have to let go.  At least, we were able to close it out camped again by the edge of this gorgeous river.  I sure hope it's not the last time I laid eyes on it.