Tuesday, May 20, 2014

South Dakota

May 18-20, 2014

Two weeks since I last wrote and I’ve got lots of little notes jotted down of funny things the kids have said and other things I’ve thought I’d like to write/think-out loud about.  But they’ll have to wait.  First, I have to write about our vacation.

But, before I begin – a disclaimer: Nobody’s vacation accounts or pictures are half as interesting to others as they are to themselves.  I understand that.  So, if my readers want to skip to the last paragraph or two of this lengthy account of a family trip, by all means, do so.  This thing took me three days to write.  It’ll probably take twice as long to read!

Yes, I did it!  I hauled all these kids out-of-state, 11 hours from home and actually enjoyed myself (more on that later).  My older boys were a big help, but I do have to say I am a little proud of myself.  I was nervous about doing this.  Going to Minneapolis in Feb.  was one thing,   That was only 4 hours from home.  I knew if I was not gone over my anniversary, I would have a horrible day.  It was a matter of survival, which sounds dramatic, but for this first year, that’s exactly what it was.  But this trip was something different.  We could have stayed home.  I wanted to stay home!  It would have saved me a lot of money and stress.  But I needed to go.  I needed to prove to the kids and to myself that we can still be a family, make good memories, and have fun without Paul.

And besides, I didn’t want to disappoint the kids.  Paul was not even buried yet and the kids were saying, “We’re still going to South Dakota, right?”  At that point I had no idea what each new day would bring and felt like I was existing in a surreal universe.  So I promised them that we’d make it happen the next summer.  And then we were offered the week at Family Camp and did that in August so we still had a sort of family vacation, after all.  Not that annual family vacations are a must, by any means.  I think it will be awhile before we attempt such a large trip again.  I’ve sort of committed myself to going to the Creation Museum by the time David graduates from high school, so I have some time to save money and work up even more courage.  We may try a little camping trip (in a cabin – no tent or camper for this mom) next summer and maybe we’ll do another week of Family Camp some year. 

Anyway, I wasn’t about to disappoint the kids.  They’ve had enough to deal with this last year.  And, too, there is the fact that Will is leaving ( two weeks from today – sob!).  He assures me he’ll still be vacationing with us in the future, but he has no idea how much his life is going to be changing in the next few years.  He’s going to get super busy with school and work and hopefully…a girlfriend and then a wife…and then babies… - not that I’m jumping ahead of myself or anything.  I wouldn’t do that. J  So this may have very well been our last intact-family vacation – as intact as we’ll ever be without Paul, that is.

So, here’s how it went: We left the house at 6:30 last Sun. morning.  I had to be up by 5:30, which about killed me.  What was really sad was that I forgot about setting the alarm that early and this past Sat. morning when I got to sleep in for the first time in my own bed for the first time in nearly a week, my dumb alarm went off at 5:30 AM!  Argh…

We had loaded up the van the night before so all I had to was load up the children, toss muffins at them, and hit the road to Council Bluffs.  When we pulled into town, the rain began to downpour.  So much for having non-frizzy hair!  Oh, anymore, I don’t care too much about stuff like that, thankfully. 

We visited our former church, which isn’t in our former church building anymore, which was actually probably a blessing to me (too many memories of Paul in that building).  But the people are all the same and it was tremendous for me to be back among them.  I had not seen any of them since the funeral, although I had talked to many in the months since.  I remember sitting in my van, waiting for the funeral procession to the cemetery to start and I saw all these people from my former church getting into a van.  They had driven all the way out to Indianola to say good-bye to Paul and to support the kids and me, even though we had moved away nearly 9 years earlier.  That’s love.  I remember wanting to cry over that that day, but my tear ducts didn’t work the day of the funeral until after every one had gone home and I was alone in the cemetery.  But that’ s a memory for another day.

So anyway, I was so thankful we were able to be in church with our “other” family.  I love those people.  Paul did too.

Afterwards, the rain let up and the kids I drove up I-29 towards Missouri Valley.  Wow – the flood of memories that washed over me as I drove that stretch of interstate!  For 5 years Paul and I lived in Loveland and I knew that part of the interstate like I knew the back of my hand.  Then – I turned off at the Loveland exit.  I wanted to see our house.

It was actually kind of sad.  The town is so run-down.  I’m pretty sure it wasn’t that bad when we lived there.  I remember a few houses being a little iffy, but the whole town just has this sad, neglected look to it now.  And our house…well, I’m glad Paul never saw it after we left.  The siding he put on and the wrap-around porch he built on the house were still there, but someone moved the steps (to a dumb place) and painted the railing on the porch.  Someone put up house numbers, but two of them had fallen down. Those crummy green garage doors we could never afford to replace are still on the garage.   A great big dog stared out the front door at me as I snapped some pictures.  Even he looked sad. As I looked at the house, though, my mind skipped backward 10-15 years.  I remember the day we moved in with a non-working air conditioner and a brand new baby with thrush.  I remember ALL the work we did on that house and I have a very clear memory of Paul building that afore-mentioned porch and finally hanging the siding I thought we’d never be able to get up.

  I gave a big sigh and drove out of town.

We then stopped in Missouri Valley and had our lunch.  The day before I had bought a bunch of Caseys pizzas because the church guys were putting my deck back on.  Feeding them was the least I could do!  We had quite a bit of left-overs, so Will had the idea to bring them with us.  It was Mother’s Day and I think this was my first Mother’s Day lunch eaten outdoors (I’m not a picnic girl – I’m more of a cook-my-food-and-serve-it-to-me,-cutting-it-up-into-bite –sized- pieces -for –me- would- even- be- appreciated type of girl).  To my utter surprise, the kids had a present for me.  Will had already brought me flowers a week earlier, so I assumed that was it for Mother’s Day.  I was ok with that.  I knew my Mother’s Days from here on out probably would not be what they were with Paul, but that was going to be ok.  But those boys went and bought me the newest Duck Dynasty book, the one written by all the women.  I had it read before we even got home!  I really do like that Robertson family!  But it was the card that made me tear up.  Each of those 6 kids had signed it and Will wrote this note:

Dad made it a point to honor you as a mother.  I knew he’s proud of the mother you’ve become and continue to be.  We’re very thankful and we love you so, so much.

I never have to be given anything again.  Ever.

We continued our trek northward.  I had read about the Blue Bunny ice cream museum in LeMars in my Our Iowa magazine.  So we had to stop there.  It was a neat place.  “Museum” is probably stretching it, but the building was antique and they did showcase Blue Bunny’s history.  The best part was that they sell ice-cream – every single flavor Blue Bunny makes.  We enjoyed that!

We didn’t realize how many huge cattle operations there are in very northwest Iowa.  Oh my goodness – we saw many, many spreads with hundreds and hundreds of cows each.  But even if we’d been driving blindfolded, inadvisable as that may be, we would have known about it.  These places reeked for miles!  We were sitting in the van, holding our coats to our noses as we drove through, wondering how anyone can stand to live there!  At one point, Lizzie demanded to know who among us had “tooted.”  I told her it was the cows.  Puzzled, she asked, “The cows tooted?”

We made it to our hotel in Mitchell, SD later that evening.  This was when I was thankful for my HSLDA membership.  Through them, I get a discount on Choice hotels, which made our trip more affordable.  The entire trip we had suites that slept all of us for the same price as regular hotel rooms.

The next morning we visited the Corn Palace.  Thankfully, it was free.  It was mildly interesting, but nothing I’d spend money for.  Then, we continued westward.

We stopped at a family diner for lunch in Merdo.  Just as I pulled into the parking lot, I got two city phone calls that I had to take.  Don’t people know I’m on vacation?!  Not when you’re the city clerk of a tiny town and the only office phone is your cell phone…  The diner forgot to make my food, but didn’t offer a discount for their mistake.  The service wasn’t very good, overall.  Then Sam rubbed peppermint oil in his eye, which caused a minor catastrophe for awhile until we got the burning stopped.  I was glad to say good-bye to Merdo!

The rest of the day went better, though.  We got to Rapid City and toured Badlands National Park.  It’s so pretty, although I’d still rather have the flat, rolling prairies of Iowa.  To me, it’s so obvious when looking at those rock formations, that Noah’s flood was a reality.  We also went to Wall Drug, which is actually west of RC.  Someone back home had derisively snorted, when I mentioned we were going to visit, that it was a “tourist trap.”  But – I happen to like tourist traps, actually.  So I enjoyed it!

Tuesday was a busy day.  We started the morning off with a tour of Wind Cave.  Will had done some prior research and found this one we could explore.  I don’t think I’d been on a cave tour since I was a preschooler and we went through one in Wisconsin, I think.  We rode in a boat and I remember sitting on my hands because the tour guide told us that if we touched the stalactites and stalagmites our hands would fall off.  At least, that’s what I thought she said…

Fortunately, Wind Cave didn’t have anything that would cause limbs to fall off.  It was a walking tour which meant Will, David, and I had to keep handing Ellie off to eachother.  The boys really liked the cave.  I could have survived without the tour, but I did find it interesting how  the tour guide told us how the cave must have been “filled with water millions and millions of years ago.”  Yes, on the water part – no on the millions and millions of years part!

Another (white) family touring had a black child with them.  Prior to the start of the tour, the mom had asked about Ellie’s leg and we chatted briefly, only about that and touring caves.  Later, one of the kids commented that this family’s son must be adopted, too.  Will said, “And did you notice that the mom immediately assumed you were Ellie’s mom?”  He was right.  I hadn’t noticed at the time, though.  Usually, I just get these interested looks from people.  I think they’re trying to figure out if I’m really Mom, a friend,  a foster mom, or the babysitter.

After that, we went through Custer State Park.  We saw buffalo there.  At one point, they were walking right toward our van on the road!  Later that week, I would actually eat some buffalo meat.  It’s a lot like beef.

Then we went to see the Crazy Horse Memorial.  I really, really liked this place.  I’m 1/16th Choctaw, so maybe that’s why I’m attracted to anything having to do with the Indians.  I couldn’t bring myself to buy anything Native American, though, because that’s just not my fashion or decorating style.  But I do like the fact that I’m part Indian!  I’m so grateful that before my grandma died she wrote down this family history for me.  I have names and tribes listed – it’s so cool!  I identify more with my European (but mostly American) roots but I love the fact that some of my ancestors were dark skinned tee-pee dwellers!

  Later, I heard David explaining to Lizzie why it is that he is so dark – because he is 1/32nd Indian.  I think he’s probably right.  All the white blood pretty much diluted the Indian right out of us, but David was born a shade or two darker than his brothers; it’s especially evident in the summer when he gets a natural tan.  I heard Lizzie reply, “Uh – I’m pretty sure that I’m darker than you!”  Ha, ha, ha – I about ruptured my spleen up in the front seat when I heard he reply!

You do see a lot of Indians up in the Dakotas.  At first I found myself wondering why I kept seeing all these Hispanic people.  To the best of my knowledge, S. Dakota didn’t have any processing plants that would attract them.  But then it dawned on me that I was seeing Indians, not Hispanics.  I doubt they’d be amused by misconception, though!

Then, we went to see Mount Rushmore.  Wow, oh, wow.  That is a cool place!  We spent a long time there.  I posted a picture on Facebook of our entire family taken there.  A friend of mine commented that I looked so “relaxed” in that picture.  I’ll write more on that later, but I think she was right.  I was enjoying myself!

That evening Will and David went back to Mt. Rushmore while I stayed at the hotel with the others.  They wanted to see it all lit up at night, as well as have a “guy” adventure.
Well, I’ll have to write more later.  Right now, it’s Sunday night and Monday morning will come before I want it to.  This week is going to be super-busy and I’ll be plunging into it right away in the morning.  Besides, my wrist hurts from all this typing! 
The next morning we drove to Wyoming – just to say we’d been there.  This was all Will’s doing.  I couldn’t care less, but he wanted to cross the state lines.  So, we drove across them, snapped a picture of the “Welcome to Wyoming” sign and crossed back to S. Dakota (yes, this mom is rolling her eyeballs just a bit!).  We then went through Spearfish Canyon, which was a really pretty drive.  There was still snow up in the hills – not much sunlight gets through there, I guess.

After lunch, we went to downtown Rapid City.  There were some neat little shops – including an antique store.  I have studiously avoided those since Paul’s death.  Antiquing was our “thing” and the thought of doing it alone was just sad.  Plus, I don’t need any more stuff in my house.  But we came across this little shop and I was about to pass by.  Instead, I stopped, pulled back my shoulders, and went in.  I don’t know if it felt good or not.  But I did it, just to show myself that I could.

Rapid City also has a unique feature of 43 life-sized statues of US presidents, all sculpted doing something unique to their personality.  We didn’t find them all, but they were fun to pose with when we did.

Thursday we visited Keystone.  I really liked that place – lots of neat little shops.  By the end, though, the kids were all in the van while I shopped and I was getting texts that read, 

Are you done yet?

Not that they were impatient or anything!

We then went back to Mt. Rushmore.  This time we explored the museum and watched a film on the carvings.  I found a number of books on American history that I look forward to using for homeschooling, if I ever get organized enough.  All the kids, except for Ellie, decided to hike on the trails for a little bit.  So I went to the gift shop!  Nature mama I am not…  I heard one older woman commenting to a companion as she walked through the entry way to the monument (a long, tiled walk arched by every state flag in the Union) that when she had been there last that path had only been made out of dirt!

Bear Country was the last item on our agenda.  I liked it, although it was a little expensive, I thought.  It’s basically a drive-through zoo, which is something I’ve never done before.  Their big focus there, though, are the bears.  And boy, do they get up close and personal!  I wondered who would pay for a paint job on my van if they put their paws on it.  Will kept rolling down the window when we were in that section, mostly just to freak out David.  It worked.

They have a section where you can get out and walk and see the cubs.  There were a bunch of them and two, a little brown and a little black bear, were wrestling eachother – so-o-o cute!

And then…and then it was time to start our trek home.  We made it to Sioux Falls about 10:30 that night (losing an hour as we traveled east) and stayed at a sub-par Comfort Suites.  The movie, “Jerry McGuire” was playing on cable and Will stayed up until after 2 watching that, which meant most of the rest of us were up that late, too.  But the next morning I got to watch a fun cable show about women who popped out babies, not even knowing they were pregnant.  I’m still not quite sure how that happens, but it makes for entertaining tv.  I’m thinking it’s a good thing I don’t have cable tv at my house – I would watch far too much of it!

We stopped in Missouri Valley for lunch at a Pizza Ranch – and picked at our food.  We were so sick of restaurants at that point!  I believe that Sam, who sat there munching on fried chicken, had begun to sprout some tiny white feathers.  This child ate chicken at every single meal we ate while on vacation.  I find it easier to just order off the kid menus for the short people.  Paul almost never did that – he’d figure out who who could share what and then dump everyone’s fries into a big pile in the middle of the table for sharing.  Right now my brain can only take so much strain.  And evidently, every restaurant in the universe offers chicken strips on its kids’ menu!

We pulled into our driveway right at 4:00 and I breathed a sigh of contentment.  This trip that I had been rather pessimistic about went beautifully.  Nobody got hurt, my van gave me no problems, we never got lost,  I came in under budget, nobody tried to strangle a sibling, and nobody tried to mug or murder me.  Success!

The best part to me was hearing my kids thank me for the trip and saying this was their “best vacation ever!”  I did it.  I brought some happiness back into their lives and created some good memories, even without their dad present.  I needed to know I could do that.

And, for the first time in nearly a year, I relaxed, at least a little bit.  I have been a bundle of nerves and stress since Paul’s death, more so than I have realized, I think.  Getting away gave me an opportunity to finally breathe.

I did miss Paul on this trip, of course.  We loved family vacations.  Even when we were doing things that the kids primarily enjoyed, there were plenty of quick kisses and long looks.  We’d kind of roll our eyeballs at eachother as we entered yet another roller coaster or hoisted another preschooler into a bumper car. But we were living our dream of family life.  We had the kids and the good marriage – life was wonderful.   It was so good to get away together, even if the kids were with us.  Paul particularly seemed to like it when I’d finally get the vacation pictures scrapbooked.  He said it was like going on vacation all over again!

So I thought about Paul plenty of times on this trip.  But this time, the thoughts were sweet and really didn’t hurt.  I was surprised by that.  I expected to be wracked with heartache on this trip, but it wasn’t like that at all.  I did notice as I got closer to home on Friday, thoughts of Paul would come and then those would throb more.    So, apparently, I hurt more at home than away!  Maybe that was just God’s grace at work.
This trip, too, was a way to vacation the way that I wanted to do it.  It’s not that I never got to do anything that I wanted on past trips – I did.  But with Paul not with us, I could set the pace and schedule.  Paul liked to relax on trips.  He would not have been thrilled about the go,go, go pace I kept for the trip.  I didn’t do that intentionally, but it did dawn on me halfway through that Paul would have been balking at doing everything I planned.

So, a lot of this trip was really about me – figuring out what kind of  a single parent I can be, discovering that I can have fun without my husband, and realizing that it is possible to enjoy my children without continually wishing their dad was around to share the joy, too. 

Of course, I would give anything to not have had to do this this way.  If I could change the last year and still have gone on this trip with Paul, I would have.  I miss him.  Vacation was good, but it wasn’t the same without him.

Still, I would do it again.  All the concerns, stress of getting ready, and money spent were worth last week.  We are still a thriving, functioning family. 

That knowledge feels really, really good.


  1. Thanks so much for the extensive blog post. I am very thankful your trip went well, and am in awe that you were "up" to taking your precious brood that far for that long. My husband and I are pretty wimpy about trips...it really does take a lot of effort, as you know. But yes, such good memories. And I'm glad you were able to find some joy and beauty in your memories of previous trips. God bless.

  2. Congrats! I remember our first "vacation" as well. There is a wonderful feeling to be able to do a fun family trip and survive :) And for icing on the cake, to thrive! I'm so proud of you. With God, you are giving the kids beautiful memories and showing them that all the fun didn't stop when dad died, AND that is soooooooo important.
    So proud of them kids not strangling each other and giving you such a precious card.
    Thank you for sharing it all!