Thursday, September 26, 2013

Quiet Sick Day Activities

With Clara and Sophie at home for school this year, the dynamic of our home has once again changed.  Inge is getting used to being home without the other littles to play with.  She's been very good most days.  But there have been times she's bored, and needs a little direction in occupying herself. 

While digging out homeschool stuff for Clara and Sophie, I found some hanging files that I was organized enough at one point (must have been in a previous life), to assemble.  They are mostly photocopied worksheets and pages ripped out of various activity books.  And they are all filed by subject and approximate ability level.  Inge's been keeping busy with the pre-school and kindergarten ones, learning her beginning consonant sounds, writing and working with letters and numbers.

Donna, Stella, and John have been sick this week, and those files have come in handy to occupy them, too.  During their recovery hours they've had fun "doing school" with Clara and Sophie. 

This morning, John worked in a geography book.  He's very interested in the German language and Germany, since his social studies teacher, Mr. F., teaches the kids a little bit of German throughout the year.  He asked first to do a Germany map.  But since the book is organzied by geographic region, rather than country, John chose to study Europe.  He filled in the names of the Countries of Europe on the blank outline map.  Then he went onto the computer and did some interactive practice with those same countries.  He worked with one of my favorite learning game websites, Sheppard Software.

He also found some worksheets on our national symbols, so he worked through those, and then did some reading on the internet, on Ben's Guide to U. S. Government, a child friendly site filled with information on our country, much of it at two learning levels.  I asked John to read the sections on our National Buildings and Symbols.  He also read about Mt. Rushmore, since we were recently there; and the USMC Memorial, since his brother is now a Marine.   Then he took an online quiz on the national symbols at the Texas Law Related Education website.  He said it was really easy, but when I asked more specifics, he admitted it probably wouldn't have been easy had he not read about the symbols ahead of time.

Inge just brought a worksheet to me:  What do I have to do here?
theMom:  In the lines on the top part, you practice making 8s.  On the bottom, you draw eight cookies for Cookie Monster.
Inge, with her high, squeaky amazed voice said:  But I already know how to make 8s.

What a blessing it is to have my kids home!  And what a blessing to have such wonderful and caring teachers to which to send them since I can't do it all.

Tuesday, September 24, 2013

A Grand (but very drippy) Canyon

Day 7, Sunday, August 25
We  had planned to do "family church" as we've done in the past, around the campfire before heading out for our day's outings.  But since we no longer had the option of a campfire, and in fact, were packing up to head on to new locations, rather than simply heading out for a day's outing, we, quite frankly, didn't even think of family church.  The schedule was disrupted and the distraction of life tempted us away from what's really important.  But we did have a little "family church" in Las Vegas in the evening.  But how we ended up in Las Vegas is part of this tale, so I'll just leave it at that.

On Sunday morning, we packed up and left our cozy little cabin.  We might have stayed another day, since the cabin was open for that night, too.  But we felt it was a little bit out of our price range for two nights.  We knew we didn't want to camp in the rain.  And rain was most definitely predicted for the next several days.  Apparently there was a tropical storm pushing all this wetness up from the southwest, across the Mexico boarder, and southern California, but toward the northeast and into Nevada/Arizona/Utah.  We could only sigh at the irony of it.  Here we were traveling in the American Southwest.  All of us for our first time.  And where it was supposed to be hot and dry, was predicted to be wet, wet, wet.

And cold in some areas.

Like the Grand Canyon.

But we're pretty tough.  We can handle wet and cold.  Just not in a tent.

So we had more decisions to make throughout the day.

But first to see what we came to see.  We started off our scenic drive past the lake for which our Inn was named, Jacob Lake.  Louisa and Rachel had returned late to the cabin the night before, all giggly and excited about their walk.  "It ended up being much further than we thought.  We need to drive  past there, Mom.  It's so pretty.  I think you'd really like it, Dad.  It's the kind of place you'd like to take pictures of."

It turns out the girls had a surprise up their sleeve.  I had wondered when making the reservation why there were no water recreation opportunities listed in the attractions, "Camping and picnicking, Hiking, Sightseeing, Wildlife viewing, Naturalist programs at Jacob Lake Campground, Access to the North Rim of the Grand Canyon, Horseback riding."

Jacob Lake Historic Ranger Station

The girls drew our attention first to the cute Ranger Station on the left.

Jacob Lake

Then they pointed out the lake on the right.

Not only is the lake on private property, it is really, well, not much of a lake.  Not.  Much.  Of.  A.  Lake  (If you can't get the full effect, be sure to click on the image for a better view of this scenic, .. um, ... puddle.

I asked the girls then, why it took so long for them on their walk, since they had claimed the night before to have walked all the way around it.

"Well,"  they explained, with many giggles.  "We kind of got lost and were wandering around the forest service roads.  Luckily when it started to get dark, we ran into some guys who pointed us in the right direction."

BIG LUMP IN THE MOM's THROAT!  Thinking of what might have happened ...  But as Ma Ingalls always said, "All's well that ends well."

We had forty miles to drive before arriving at the North Rim.  We didn't know where we'd end up by bedtime.  So we headed on toward the Main Attraction.  All we could do was forge ahead and hope the rain held off.

Which it did not.

By the time we reached the tourist areas, the rain had turned from sporadic sprinkles into a steady dripping.  And it just kept going.  Not a heavy rain, mind you.  Just a good steady soaking rain.  The kind the farmers at home would like.

It was cold.  With a little bit of a blustery wind.  Not a whole lot of wind.  But enough to make us tuck our hands into our sleeves and hunker down into our hoods and collars.

We checked out the book store and the Visitor Center first, in the hopes that the rain would taper off a bit.

But it did not.

The standing water in the treacherous walkways
So we finally braved the trails along adjacent to the Visitor Center.  We carefully traveled those wet and windy trails that in some areas have no railing guarding visitors from the edge.  We carefully walked out the rocky promontories where they had thankfully erected rails for our protection, but where the rock pathways were filled with water and a bit slippery.

Louisa and Elsie
A view looking down

Notice again, the standing water in the trail.  Oh, and the lack of railings.

We overlooked Bright Angel Canyon, which we had heard about in the book, Brighty of the Grand Canyon.  We talked about how amazing this was, and yet it wasn't even the main canyon.  We hoped to drive to either Cape Royal, or Point Imperial to take in the view of the main canyon before leaving the area. 

The drippy tourists

Then we shivered our way back up to the Lodge area.

We got to have our picture taken with the bronze Brighty statue.

John, Elise, Sohie, Rachel, Louisa, and Mary

We so totally splurged on a rare treat of a round of hot chocolate at the Rough Rider Saloon.  $30 for 10 hot chocolates.  Wow!

Donna, Stella, Clara, Inge, John, Elsie

But it was worth it.  That's what vacations are for.  Treats and memories.


I have a feeling even Inge will remember at least that we were somewhere drippy and having hot chocolate.  And we'll be able to say, "Yes, yes!  That was when we went to Matt's Marine Corps graduation and stopped at the Grand Canyon and it was so cold and rainy."  And then we'll continue with memories of all the other fun things we got to do on this trip.

After we warmed up a bit, we moseyed our drippy way to the gift shop and looked around.  The kids got to pick out a few things to buy for themselves with some Christmas money they had saved.  The first thing John got was a baseball cap, since he didn't have a hood on the sweatshirt he had brought along. 

Besides that, John got a bandana and a sheriff star.  Donna got a nightlight made with a slice of agate.  Inge got a bag of rocks and Stella got a bag of magnetite.  I'm not sure what the older girls picked out, since they had their money in their own care.

After the purchases were made, we sadly headed for the van.  It was still raining steadily.  It was still cold and blustery.  When a family comes to the Grand Canyon with plans to spend three days hiking and other outdoor activities, a rainy several days really changes plans.  We headed toward the Country store that was alleged to be a mile or so down the road and have wi-fi.  We hoped to check the weather one last time and get info on potentially cheap or dry places to stay the next few nights. 

But the store was not clearly marked and we ended up passing it by.

We had a short debate about whether or not to drive out to the other look-out points.  I was all for it, of course, since I wasn't the one driving.  Joe was a little more trepidatious.  The dirt roads were wet.  Visibility was low.  He was driving a new-to-us van that was 20 inches longer than our previous one.  And there were warnings about the safe length of vehicles (30 ft) on the roads out to those viewpoints.  "But we're nowhere near that long," wheedled theMom.  "I'm sure we can make it."

But all things considered, especially the fact that we didn't know how far we'd need to drive that day, we decided to head onward on our way, rather than meandering along scenic drives.  Sadness!  After forty-six years I finally get to the Grand Canyon, and can't even spend any time there.  Alas!

I had to shake myself out of my self-pity.  "For goodness sake, Mary.  This wonderful trip you're on!  You're wonderful family!  And you'll get to see Matt soon!  Get over it, Girl, and count your blessings!"

And so we drove.  And drove.  And drove.  And for the first couple of hours, we enjoyed the scenery we'd seen the day before.  Then we veered off to the southwest, in the general direction of San Diego.  We still didn't know how far we'd go, or where we'd end up.

The immediate goal was the town of St. George, UT, where we were hoping to hit a wi-fi spot to do some lodging research.  We had hoped to go to the public library, having forgotten, once again, that it was Sunday.  See, this is what happens when you miss church.  You're discombobulated for the whole week.  We arrived in St. George around 5:00 and realized we'd not be likely to find a library open at that time on a Sunday evening.  So after we fueled up, Joe asked the station attendant if there was public wi-fi anywhere in town.

And as is often the case, God worked everything out for us just right.  The wi-fi hotspot in town was at the Wendy's restaurant.  And Wendy's has one of the most "official" gluten free menus of any of the fast food chains.  And we were hungry.  And tired of being in the van.  And truth be told, kind of tired of eating food from the cooler.

Now, just imagine what it's like to try to order for our family at a place like this.  Firstly, we are almost totally unfamiliar with the menu.  Then we've got to try to explain it all to the littles.  We usually go directly to a table, until we can get it all worked out.  "A burger or a wrap?  Chicken nuggets?  Or a bowl of chili."  Mom, can I have three wraps and a chicken sandwich?  I'm really, really hungry."  "Do they have fish sandwiches?"  "No. No happy meals.  No. no pop."  And so on.  Until we've finally got it all written down and approach the counter.

And get ready for them to stare at us in wonder, as we continue to order and order and order.

We got our food and everything passed out to the right people.  We got the ketchups and waters and napkins and straws passed out where needed.  I hit Kayak to get some help finding a place to stay.  We'd kind of decided by this point, that it was futile to try to camp.  Our whole route was under this system of rain and storms with only spotty sun.  Without going too far out of the way, we'd not find a dry place to set up a tent.

Where can we get the cheapest lodging in that part of the country?

"Las Vegas, Baby!  Viva, Las Vegas!"

It was a little tricky searching for hotels in the Las Vegas area, since apparently, the system there is to market the rooms at about 1/2 price and then charge for fees and services which about doubles the rate.  As I was frantically trying to figure this all out, the kids were finishing their meal.  And the battery life was expiring on my laptop. 

No problem.  I'll just go out to the van, plug the computer into the power jack, and use the wi-fi from there.  Nope, sorry, the wi-fi didn't reach to the parking lot.

Hmmmm.  Maybe they'll let me plug it in inside somewhere.  I was thinking maybe a table or booth had an adjacent outlet. 

When I re-entered the store, and explained my problem, the manager pointed to a utility sink just inside the kitchen area.  "Hmmm?  Curious," thought I.  "And not terribly convenient, but I guess it will do." 

So there I stood, balancing my laptop on one hand; digging in my purse for my credit card with the other; moving out of the way anytime one of the workers needed to access the sink; trying not to drop my cord into the water; just to start all over again when I got situated once more.

But it was soon done.  Reservations were made.

Anyone who's traveled into Las Vegas from the northeast on I-15, will recognize this view.   The canyon through which the highway is carved is tremendous.  Down and down we went, though layers of cliff.  It was very cool.

Las Vegas, here we come.

Texas Station Casino on the north side of Las Vegas.  $12 per night, plus a $15 service fee.  Two rooms.  Two nights.

Some thoughts on my recent re-entry into the homeschool world

First thought
Sophie finished two days' worth of lessons yesterday so that she could sew today.  I hauled out the sewing machine (which is sadly only about a once in every two years occurrence).  I got the it threaded and the tensions all set.  Sophie found some fabric someone had given the girls for craft type projects at one time. 

As I write, she's pinning two sides of a pillow together.  We've talked about seam allowances; marking them first or using the gauge on the machine; how and why to pin; and the pros and cons of running over pins vs taking them out. 

After she's done pinning, I'll have her practice on some scrap fabric, sewing straight lines and then progressively harder curves for a little bit, before she works on her pillow.

It makes me kick myself a little bit, "This is so easy and so fun.  Why haven't I done it more often?"  But then I must stop to remind myself, "Most of your years of mothering, Mary, have been spent in pregnancy, nursing babies, and teaching many children at multiple ages.  Now you can relax and enjoy it a little bit more with these girls.  You only have one preschooler, and two to school."

Second thought
As I came into the living room after getting Sophie started, I saw a little pile of school pictures on the counter.  I assume they are some one of the kids brought home from their school friends, since I don't remember seeing them there before. 

Which then made me a little sad because of something that happened the other day.  The day they got their pictures back.

Poor little Donna!  She was so sad.  Traumatized even, when she realized that I hadn't ordered any pictures and she just had and empty envelope with a black and white proof to bring home.  The other kids all had pretty color pictures that they could share with their friends.  She sat on my lap and just cried out of sadness.

This almost broke my heart.  And over such a silly thing, too.  It's just one of her first little lessons in peer pressure and wanting to be like everyone else.  And have what others have. 

But I simply can't get myself to spend money on school pictures.  Firstly, when I think about the cost, it's crazy, ... multiplied by three kids, it could by a weeks worth of groceries for us.  But besides that, I see how they lie around my house.  The kids want to keep them nice, they intend to keep them nice.  But they lie around.  They get shoved here and there; torn and scratched and otherwise beat up.  Sometimes pin holes in eyes and mustaches drawn on.   Until kids are old enough to treat them well, why should I pay my money so my child can give a picture to someone who's going to treat it like I see my kids treating their friends' pictures.  Or are not all kids like that?

Yes, I could get them to send to friends and relatives.  But I know myself well enough to know what would happen to those pictures.  They'd sit here and rot, because even with my best intentions, I know full well I'd never get them in the mail. 

And so my kids don't get pictures.  Is that depriving them too severely?  I don't think so. 

Until we have moments like Donna's the other day. 

Saturday, September 21, 2013

Unexpected Pleasures, aka, the Silver Lining in a Wet Cloud

Days 5 and 6,  Friday and Saturday, August 23-24 (having been written on Day 6)

Oh, where to start!

I'm not going to start at the beginning. I'm going to start right now. I'm sitting in a cabin! A cabin that's not where we planned to be. And the power is out!

Our lovely van outside the Jacob Lake cabin
Joe, Elsie, Clara, Sophie, and John are at a talk on the Navajo, particularly focusing on the weaving and other handicrafts of the women. Louisa and Rachel took a walk around the lake, and it took them longer than they thought it would, so they were late for the talk. Instead, they shopped at the gift shop and then came to the cabin all tuckered out and ready for bed, and grinning ear to ear. I was here with Inge and Donna and we were playing a Pictionary Card Game I picked up at Wal-Mart today in anticipation of the rainy weather.

But what about Stella, you may ask. Where is Stella?

She is here with me now. But a little bit ago, when the power was still up and running, she had been with Joe at the Navajo talk.

A few minutes ago, Inge, Donna and I were sitting in our cabin playing our card game. Suddenly everything was pitch black. And at the same moment, there was a knock at the door. We were all a bit befuddled, trying to figure out where the lights were, and where the sleeping bags and tote bags were, compared to the walkway.  And who would be knocking at the exact moment the power went off.  All I could do in answer to the knock, in the dark, in a strange place, was to holler, "I'm coming, just a minute."

Fortunately, I had left the door unlatched. And in tumbled Stella. She had become bored at the talk, so Joe said she could come back to the cabin. She was walking back here all alone, in a strange forest, through the roads and paths of an unfamiliar inn and cabin facility. Thankfully, she was just about here when the power went off, so she could find her way all right! Poor little goose. She didn't seem too phased, which I suppose it good. Inge was kind of freaked out, so she crawled into bed with Louisa and Rachel until her heart stopped racing.

We got the littles all jammied by the glow of Sophie's dollar store LED lantern. They crawled into their bed on the floor of the cabin. We sang I am Jesus Little Lamb and Jesus Loves Me. We said prayers. Besides our regular nightly prayers, we thanked God for the blessing of this cozy little cabin, in which we can sit out tonight's storms.

We prayed for Matt, as we've been doing each night all summer long. But this time we included his birthday prayer. His birthday was really a few days ago, but with not much for schedule these days, we'd forgotten it was his birthday. We always say a special birthday prayer for each of our children on their birthdays. We thank God for the precious gift of the child, and his or her particular personality. And we ask God's blessing on the coming year. Particularly, we ask that according to His tender Mercy and Wisdom, God grant us another year with that child.

Now everyone under my immediate care is tucked in tenderly, so I have time to write. To share the excitement of the evening, and to talk about the wonders of the last few days.

Yesterday morning, we were still in South Dakota, in the lovely Black Hills.  We woke the kids early and rolled everyone out of their sleeping bags and bedding. And yes, there were a few whom we quite literally rolled out. They all worked very busily to get the bedding rolled up and the tents taken down. I packed the van, which job traditionally falls to me. I'm a pretty good packer. I learned from my dad, a Navy man and an excellent packer. Joe finds packing very frustrating, trying to make everything fit. I find it kind of a fun puzzle. But I'm also discovering that, well, I'm not as young as I used to be. It's kind of a drag, really. the getting old thing. I want to be tough and be able to work hard and stand anything. But by the time I get the van loaded and unloaded a few times in a few days, I am pretty much worthless. I'm sure that it's mostly my age. But I'm secretly blaming the altitude. That must be it, right? I can fool myself into believing that were I simply vacationing in Minnesota, I'd be just as spry as in years past.  Or maybe it's the bruises all along my hips and rib cage from sleeping on the deflated air mattress.  Or maybe all of the above.  But mostly the altitude.

We had gotten the van mostly loaded the night before, and slept in our traveling clothes. And we'd planned to eat breakfast at a stop later on our way. We didn't want to mess with a fire that morning, and we knew as damp and chilly as it had gotten, nobody would want to eat cold cereal at 6:00 am. (We have done that before and trust me, it's really, really no fun. For the parents or the children.).  So all we had to do that morning was roll up sleeping bags and take down the tents.  And pack said sleeping bags and tents.  Just a quick morning pack-up.  Ten sleeping bags; six or eight other quilts and blankets; pillows for all; and two tents.

We ended up stopping at a rest are in Wyoming to eat breakfast. There was another family there at the same time, doing the same thing. They were a young couple, with six small children. It was fun to visit and to be able to encourage another younger couple. We certainly remember those days when the number of littles was still far too great compared to the number of bigs. It's a very difficult time, but so worth the work.

We traveled many beautiful miles yesterday, through the southwestern Black Hills area, diagonally across Wyoming, and on into Utah. We listened to Ann of Green Gables as we drove.

We arrived at the Hamilton's house for our evening sleep-over at about 8:00 pm. They are in the middle of preparing for a move to Wisconsin! In just a few days! When we found out, we made other plans, to travel a different route instead and see a few different sites. But they encouraged us that they were game for a little bit more crazy yet. I'm not sure they really were, but we totally understand. Their children were kind and welcoming, and they all made every effort to accommodate us even through they were in such an upheaval. We are thankful for this very great offering. And we understand, too, their desire to have us stop. They are a pastor's family, too. And we understand the sense of gratitude that comes with a visit from another pastor's family. It's always a treat. I'm glad Aaron and Joe had those few hours to visit and build each other up in their Holy Callings.

We got up and left kind of quickly this morning. We had to run back in once, just before we pulled out for a pair of flip-flops; and then we circled back a few blocks away from their house because a certain one of us remembered she had left her pillow. This time, when pulling out, we immediately got lost. Not really lost, lost. But mixed up anyway, to the point that Joe and I had differing ideas of where to go.

But that was soon resolved and we hit the road. I was quite bleary-headed the first hour or two. Just felt in a total fog. Joe drove until he felt groggy and then he pulled off at a truck stop/travel center. He parked way out away from everything, thinking since I was so befuddled, we'd just sit awhile and let the kids run a bit and he could nap. But by the time we got everyone pottied and bought some snacks, and one of the older daughters painter her toe nails in the truck stop parking lot, I was fully awake and ready to roll.

What a beautiful drive we had this day!  Since our destination for the day was the North Rim area of the Grand Canyon, we listened to Brighty of the Grand Canyon by Marguerite Henry as we traveled.  We saw view after view of colorful cliffs, lonely looking draws, majestic rim rock, rugged gullies, and mountains and valleys of every shape and color.

The weather continued wet, alternating storm and sun throughout the day. We wound and climbed and coasted and braked. We took time to pull off the highway and photograph the vistas. We drove like old folks, meandering slowing and pulling off to let others pass us when necessary.

John leaving Utah

And so South through Utah, and into Arizona.

And entering Arizona
But with the continuing dreary weather, we really did not feel up to setting up our leaky, somewhat primitive tents. I didn't feel strong enough to deal with a three day cycle of hauling wet bedding to the laundry mat or hanging it all on our clothesline to try to dry between showers. So we just drove. Without worrying. When the kids asked, we'd answer along the lines of, "We don't know yet we'll have to wait and see."  It's always a challenge to find lodging for a group this size. If places have the space available, they often want us to get two or three rooms. Some places even require an adult in each room.  That's really challenging when they sometimes want to put us in three rooms.

We had reservations for three nights in the National Forest Campground, at the Jacob Lake area, about 40 miles north of the North Rim.  When we arrived, we consulted with the nice lady at the Forest Service information desk about the weather forecast and the various options available for lodging.  She said the weather was expected to continue much the same for the next several days, rain and storms with only a bit of sun peeking through.  She called the Inn area nearer the Rim to check on their prices and space availability.
Then I went next door to the lodging complex at Jacob Lake. I had read they had hotel, motel, and cabin options. When I asked at the desk, and explained about our large family, they were very helpful, even recommending we could all squeeze into one cabin, if we put sleeping bags between the beds and in the hallway area. Wow! I was astounded! Rarely have I had anyone encourage me to get fewer rooms! They usually cite fire code or company policy, etc, to get us into more rooms rather than fewer.

And so we had a lovely, relaxing evening. We had to eat cold supper, since there is no cooking of any sort in or outside of the cabins.  But we all filled up on a variety of good things. Sophie took the littles to the playground. Louisa and Rachel took their walk, and Elsie and Clara did dishes. I got the food put away, and the bedding organized for later.   Joe downloaded today's photos. 

The Main Room

Here's a view of the main room of the cabin.  Joe and I in one bed; Louisa, Rachel, and Elsie in another; we put a sleeping bag on each side of the beds and in between, which were occupied by Clara, Sophie, and John.

The Alcove

But that's not all, ... We still had three more kids to bed down.  Here's the little alcove where we made a bed for the remaining three.

A view of the other cabins and the forest setting

The back deck

Later in the evening, those that were interested headed to the cultural talk.  Joe is still there now, at 9:51.  He must have found a kindred spirit in somebody there. By now, the kids who had been at the talk with Joe are back.  They came in almost an hour ago and brought word that he was staying for the discussion afterward.

Everyone here is nicely settled in. The power is not yet on, and I'm at the end of my tales thus far.

Hope all is well with you, my readers.  Goodnight.

Wednesday, September 18, 2013

A Very Cold Swim and the pursuit of the National Treasure Rock

Sylvan Lake
Part 3, Day Four, Thursday, August 22
After the fun hike and the adventurous drive, we finally made it to Sylvan Lake.  We toted our coolers to the nearest picnic tables, through the natural spring-fed ground that was kind of mushy-muddy.  Ish.  It was grass, like any other park picnic area I've seen, but it was deceiving.  The ground was sodden and sucked at our feet as we walked through it.  Several of us had mud splattered legs and clothes by the time we got to the picnic tables. 

No problem, though, since we're finally going swimming!

Playing in the sand
We quickly ate lunch, but not quickly enough to please all the kiddos, especially the older ones who'd been waiting to swim since we started out Monday morning.  Some kids had swimwear on under their clothes and others changed in the van.  The off we went to the lake.  To the beach.  Along the path.

Until we once again got into some spongy ground.  Thinking it to be only about the same as the ground in the picnic area, since there was a path there, after all, we continued on.  Only to learn too late that we really, really ought to have turned around and found another way.  There was a paved walkway further in, but we hadn't seen it until things got gooey.  But this time, besides just the gooey, spongy ground, we also found the water was sedentary.  Whereas on the hillside where the picnic area was, the springs flowed downhill toward the lake, here on the path too the lake, the ground was level enough it simply sat.

And stank.

So that by the time we had gotten through the quagmire, we were all quite coated with stinky, smelly mud.  Most had on flip-flops, so it wasn't too much trouble. 

But I had my tennis shoes.  Ish!  As soon as I got to the lake, I dipped them in and swished them around to get the stink out.  Which would have been fine had we sunny weather in the days to come.  But those poor shoes ended up in a bag in the car for several days.  And ended up in a gas station dumpster somewhere in Arizona or New Mexico.

But I get ahead of myself.

John trying to open the cave
One of the fun bonuses to which the kids looked forward at Sylvan Lake was the possibility of finding The Rock.  The rock into which one of the treasure hunters in National Treasure Book of Secrets had to stick his or her hand to open the cave or whatever it was to solve the mystery. 

Stella trying to open the cave
But they all knew just what Joe meant when he said, "Sylvan Lake is the Lake where they filmed parts of National Treasure.  The one that's alleged to be above Mt. Rushmore, but isn't really.  But it is a real lake and we'll get to go there when we're in the Black Hills." 

"Can we stick our hand in the rock?"

Sohpie getting bitten by a brown recluse--JK
As it turned out, no, they didn't get to stick their hand in the rock.  That particular rock must have been a prop.  But they found the promontory which was where the rock was supposed to be.  At least they think they did.  Joe took some of the littles around to other places until they found a similar enough looking rock that the kids could stick their hands in.  What a guy!

Climbing the rocks
By the time we were done with lunch and ready to swim, the wind had come up and it was quite chilly out.  The more mountainous lake temp compared to our still shallow lakes in Minnesota was also colder than they expected.  So as it turned out, nobody really swam much.  But they played in the sand, took walks and climbed the rocks.

Trying to keep warm
We listened to the chit-chat of the other tourists in many languages.  We heard German and Turkish and Russian, just at the beach among the few families that were there.

When we tired of shivering, we headed back to the campground to get an early bedtime.  In the morning it'd be time to break camp and hit the road again.

Rock Climbing
Hang on, girls!
Rachel and Louisa
Teeny Sophie

GF Red Lobster Style Biscuits

Clara recently discovered a wonderful gluten free quickbread to go with soup or eggs or whatever. 
The original recipe is from Gluten Free Easily, but Clara adapted it to work with our flours and fats.  In the original recipe, she also includes dairy free options.

Gluten Free Cheesy Garlic Biscuits (Red Lobster Style)
5 cups gluten-free flour mix (We use Artisan Gluten Free Blend from the Bronski's at No Gluten, No Problem blog.)
1 1/2 tbs xanthan gum
1/2 tb tsp salt
1 1/2 tbs garlic powder
2 tsp baking powder
1 1/4 c lard
4 cup milk
4 cup shredded cheddar cheese

Preheat oven to 400 degrees Fahrenheit.

Mix together dry ingredients.  Work the lard in with your fingertips until crumbly. 
Mix the cheese and milk together. 
Make a well in the center of the dry ingredients.  Add the milk and cheese to the well and stir to combine.

Drop onto greased jelly roll pan by spoonfuls (about 1/3 c).

Bake in preheated oven for 15-20 minutes until golden brown, and a toothpick inserted in the biscuits comes out clean.

Great job, Clara!

Tuesday, September 17, 2013

The Majesty of Needles Highway

Part 2, Day Four, Thursday, August 22
After our very nice hike in the French Creek Natural Area, and our surprise visit with old friends, we continued on our way.  The kids were all very ready for a nice swim, after sitting in the back of the hot van while we chatted away with the Timms, the couple we ran into from Joe's hometown. 

So we continued on our way to Sylvan Lake.  The scenery along the Needles Highway was tremendous.  We had picked up a couple of more detailed maps of the areas and the kids had noticed we'd be driving through three tunnels.  Oooh, the anticipation mounted with each curve of the highway.  Until finally, ...

The first tunnel one finds driving north on SD 87.  I believe it's officially called Tunnel 6 or Iron Creek Tunnel.  This seems unnerving until one sees the later ones.
But the views only got better after the first tunnel, each progressively more marvelous and rugged than the last.

A view of some of the Needles formations for which the route is named.  I like the roadway curving along further ahead.

More Needles.  I obviously took this shot out the car window, so the areal is in the way.  But it showed how narrow the roadway is along this stretch of highway.

More pretty views.  I think one of the kids took this shot.  Maybe Sophie.  I love how the dark rock along the right contrasts with the blues of the hills.  And the green leaves in the foreground sparkling in the sun.  Can't you almost see them swaying in the mountain breezes?

I think I took this shot looking straight up.  Joe warned me it wouldn't capture the reality of the view.  And he was right, of course.  But it's still a cool shot.

Another "looking up from the car window" shot.  A bit askew, but only that makes it more cool, I think.

The approach to the Needles Eye tunnel.

And a closer view of the 8'4" wide tunnel
Shortly after the Needles Eye, we arrived at Sylvan Lake, hungry and ready to swim.