Monday, August 31, 2009

Rafter J. Bar Ranch & George S. Mickelson Trail

As I mentioned earlier, Rafter J Bar Ranch has been one of my most fond memories of the Black Hills. It's where I learned how to ride a horse - Dakota. When we arrived on Saturday night, I literally held my breath as we drove up hoping that Steve would like the place and hoping that it was still as wonderful as I remembered it.

Initially, I wanted to tent camp, but it didn't take long for Steve to convince me that we would probably be better off in a cabin. (I'm really glad we did because we had a spectacular lightning and thunder show the next night.) I was a little nervous at first, expecting the cabin to be very rustic, filthy, and inhabited by spiders and bugs. Much to my relief, we walked in and it was as spotless as a cabin could be and not a spider in sight! This is a picture of the outside of the cabin.

This is our view from the patio.

The cabin can sleep six - the table folds down to sleep two, two in the full bed, and two in the bunk beds.

Amaya enjoyed getting up on the bunk bed, but slept in her pack-n-play.

There are so many changes that have been made since I was last at the ranch - some good and some bad. They no longer offer horsebacking riding, but they do offer a Chuckwagon Supper and Wagon Ride (unfortunately, there weren't enough people interested in doing this, so we weren't able to go). They also serve an All-You-Can-Eat Pancake breakfast every morning. We took advantage of this quite a bit. I think all of the cabins are new (but I'm not quite sure). And they've added this HUGE playground! Overall, we were massively impressed and very excited to spend our week here.

Right off the entrance to Rafter J Bar Ranch is one of the many trailheads to the George S. Mickelson bike trail. The trail is right in the heart of the Black Hills and is approximately 109 miles long. The trail is relatively flat with no noticeable hills, however, the way back to the Ranch was for the most part a steady incline. Isn't it always harder on the way back? We left right away in the morning, and already the temperature was nearing 90 degrees. Amaya was running a little bit of a fever which made us nervous, so our bike ride wasn't as long as we would have liked. Here's a picture of Steve and Amaya at the beginning of our ride.

We were very excited to see lots of horses, cows, and were even fortunate enough to see a baby deer on our bike ride.

Biking in the middle of the Black Hills was quite an experience for us. Don't get us wrong, Minnesota is a beautiful place and there's no place else we'd rather live, but there's something about the hills that was absolutely breathtaking.

Sunday, August 30, 2009

Black Hills Vacation

Our family vacation this year was to the Black Hills in South Dakota. Steve hasn't been there since he was a kid, and the last time I was there was in 2002 with my parents, brother, sister, and their families. One of my favorite places that we've stayed at is called Rafter J Bar Ranch. It's located just outside of Hill City and is right in a valley surrounded by the Black Hills. We rented a minivan again because we had so much stuff. I'm not sure how Steve managed to get everything in the van, but he did - even our bikes and bike trailer!
Here's a picture of Amaya (and Elmo) before heading out:

Amaya travelled exceptionally well, even though it still took us longer to get out there than we expected. We were still able to make a quick stop at Wall Drug before heading to our cabin at Rafter J Bar. Steve and I tried counting all the Wall Drug signs and the first one we noticed was just outside of Worthington, MN and we got to a total 0f 70 (give or take a couple). We did a little bit of shopping and ate supper there, but in order to make it to our cabin before it got too dark, we cut our stay a little short.

Every time my family visited Wall Drug, my dad would take a picture of us kids in the covered wagon. It took us a little while to find it, when we did, I was glad it was still there. Here is a picture of Amaya and one of me.

There was a small carousel that Amaya enjoyed riding. She wasn't too excited about riding this covered wagon with the horses because it jostled her quite a bit. This picture was taken right before a minor meltdown.

This covered wagon was more her speed.

There's a picture of my dad kissing this woman... so I couldn't resist getting a picture of Steve and Amaya with her.

I'll post more pictures over the next few days of our experiences. We had a wonderful time, but it's good to be back in our own beds.

Update on Potty Training

All systems go! This morning, we were eating breakfast when Amaya said, "pee-pee." Once again, we rushed to the bathroom and surprisingly SHE WENT! Steve and I were both pretty shocked while Amaya took it all in stride. Thirty minutes later, she was grunting and Steve got her to the potty again and AGAIN she was able to go! We went to Wal-Mart to restock our bare fridge and cupboards and picked up some pull-ups (which to my dismay are more expensive than diapers), a timer (so Amaya knows how long she has to sit on the potty), a stool (to reach the sink to wash her hands), a basket (to put the wipes, pullups, books, stickers, and timer in)and a bunch of stickers to award her for her accomplishments. Stay tuned...

Saturday, August 29, 2009

Ready or Not... Potty Training Here We Come!

One of my projects for August was to check out some books about potty training and start working with Amaya when we got back from the Black Hills. (We just got back last night - still working on the MASSIVE amount of laundry - and catching up on e-mails, etc). Anyway, I was playing with Amaya this afternoon and she said, "Poopy!" I rushed her into the bathroom and she was able to finish in her little potty! I guess we're going to have to be ready whether we want to or not. I'm not looking forward to trotting her to the bathroom frequently or the accidents, but I'm definitely ready for her to get out of diapers! Let the adventure begin!

Friday, August 21, 2009

Sesame Street Live: 1-2-3 Imagine!

My daddy is the best daddy in the whole wide world! Yesterday, he surprised Mommy and me with tickets to Sesame Street Live in Lacrosse, Wisconsin! That's a long way away, but because I was going to see Elmo in person, I traveled like a champ! There were so many kids - even some littler than me! Some of the kids were even wearing clothes with Elmo on them! It was so exciting with all the different lights and then Big Bird came out and soon all the Sesame Street characters came out! We used our imagination to go to a jungle, the woods, sailing on the sea, and then back to Sesame Street. I loved the music and the dancing! Elmo is a great dancer! I'm so glad that Daddy took Mommy and me to see him. Thank you Daddy for the great surprise! Love you - Amaya

Sunday, August 16, 2009


For the past several months, Amaya has been calling her grandpas "Poppa" and her grandmas haven't really had a name. We haven't cared for the typical Grandma names like "Nana", etc. But on Friday, she FINALLY called my mom "Grandma" when she was putting Amaya down for a nap. And on Saturday, she called Steve's mom "Grandma" too! And since it's such a new word, she's been saying "Grandma" a lot more than "Poppa." She has such a sweet voice and it's very exciting to hear her try new words. Some other new words this week are: "e-mail," "Connie," (one of my co-workers), "oh, man" and "come on." It's amazing how quickly she's been picking up words! Before we know it, she's going to be chattering nonstop!

Friday, August 14, 2009

Gustafson Garage Sale

One of the last things we did with my sister was have a garage sale. The kids were really excited to have a garage sale since they had gone through their rooms and weeded out some of their toys to sell. Steve and I cleaned out pretty well in the spring, but we still managed to gather up some more stuff plus all our leftover rummage from the last sale. Last Friday was relatively cool and it poured rain for a couple of hours, but people still came and bought! I wasn't able to help on Saturday, but it was hot and humid and people kept buying and buying - and it was really weird, junky stuff that sold. Oh, well... it's gone! And we're 75 dollars richer (after taking money out for the ad and to pay for what I had already bought!)

Thursday, August 13, 2009

Update on Baby Eden

Eden Olivia has arrived. She is 1 lb 14 oz. Eden is about 9 oz bigger than they had anticipated which is great news. The doctors seem to be pleased with her development for a baby her age. Please continue to pray for their family as they have a long road ahead of them.

Mall of America Trip

While the Springers were here, all 17 of us, ventured to Mall of America to go on the rides, visit Lego Land, and shop at the American Girl store. Surprisingly, no one got lost and we all had a great time.

One of the very first things the kids wanted to do was go on the rides. I thought maybe we'd ease into the rides by going on the swings or one of the tame roller coasters, but Ben wanted us to go on the Sponge Bob ride RIGHT AWAY!

Are you kidding me?

The brave souls before we go on the ride. Ben, Joshua, Jordan, Me, and Mike.

Yup, that's Joshua and me in the front row screaming our heads off!

We're still going strong, upside down, rightside up, every which way! (By the way, it was an AWESOME 15 second ride!)

The next ride we went on was the Splat-O-Sphere (or something like that).

Everyone really liked this ride - especially the girls. Mike, Annika, Lydia, and Hannah.

Me and my sister, Carol.

And who could resist a Carousel ride?

Miles really liked riding the horses too!

Laughing at Grandpa and Daddy!

With 9 kids between the ages of 4 months and 11 years old, we took turns watching the kids. Here are Dan, Hope, Amaya and Steve waiting for us to get off one of the rides.

Arwen took Miles and Amaya over to see some of the Nickelodeon characters. As you can see, they both have the death grip on Arwen.

And of course, you can't go to Mall of America without having a snack. I think Miles was introducing Amaya to Reese's Puffs.

Hope, finding her thumb wishing that Miles would share with her.

Bumper Cars! Need I say more?

The Log Ride. One of Steve and my favorite rides. Even Grandma loves this ride! Annika, Mike, Hannah, and Carol. Mike and I were the only ones that got really wet.

Late afternoon, Amaya finally conked out.

As did Miles.

We were able to do a little shopping and got Amaya some new clothes for the fall and also a new ball.

When can we come back?

Baby Eden

Please be praying for two friends of ours from our old small group today as their little one is born today. They discovered this spring that they were expecting twin girls. Unfortunately, one of the twins didn't make it and now the other twin -Eden- will be delivered today at 24 weeks (approximately). Please pray for a safe delivery, wisdom for the doctors, the health of Baby Eden, and strength for the family.

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Baby Tessa

Last night, Mommy and Daddy took me to the hospital to see my friend Cooper's new baby sister, Tessa Grace. She was born on Monday at 10:30 in the morning and was 7lbs, 5oz and 20 inches long. At first, I thought that the baby was Hope. But Mommy explained that it was a different baby named Tessa. (I still think she looked a little like Hope because she had brown hair and was really cute!) Cooper's mommy let me pat her and hold her hands. I really wanted to touch her eyes, hair, mouth, and nose, but Mommy doesn't quite trust me to be gentle. Mommy says that Tessa has the most beautiful complexion (whatever that means) and soft skin. She also said that I used to have really soft skin too, but now I'm usually sticky or dirty unless just after a bath. I was sad that I didn't get to see Cooper last night, but it sounds like he was having fun with his Grandma and Grandpa. This morning when I woke up, instead of my usual, "Mama? Hannah? Hope?" I said, "Mama? Baby? Tessa?" Mommy says we can see baby Tessa when we come back from vacation. I don't know what I'm looking forward to more - vacation or seeing that cute baby again!


Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Olmsted County Fair

We have a lot of catching up to do from our time spent with my sister and her family. One of my favorite things to do with them is to go to the Olmsted County Fair. It's become even more fun now that our nieces and nephews are getting older and like to go on the rides.

Within a span of three days, Amaya rode three different carousels - one at Lark Toys, one at the Fair, and one at the Mall of America. She loves riding the carousels and loves laughing at everyone watching her ride. (I'm now regretting getting video of her riding at least one of them.)

We've loved having Jennifer (aka Coldstone) home for the summer and she was able to come with us to the fair along with Mike, Miles, Ben, Annika, and Lydia.

Even Hope enjoyed watching the bright lights, the rides, and all the people. She did absolutely awesome at the fair!

Our nieces Lydia, Hannah, and Annika have NO FEAR! All of them wanted to go on several "scary" rides - especially Lydia!
Our nephews Joshua, Jordan, and Ben took me on this ride TWICE. I think I really only needed to experience it once. It's one of those round and round rides that could very easily make someone "toss their cookies."
We were able to get a chance to see a few of the animals before their owners took them home for the night. We were at the fair way past Amaya's bedtime, but as you can see from the picture - she's ready for more rides on the carousel.

Sunday, August 9, 2009

Landscaping Project - DONE!

We're finally getting a chance to catch our breath after the last week and a half or so... our landscaping is done, the Springer's just left this afternoon, and our last big event is celebrating Great-Grandpa Struckmann's 95th birthday tonight! Whew...

After a few minor glitches with the landscaping and a weather delay, we've been enjoying the finished results. We're glad the process is over, we've learned a lot, and are SO GLAD we hired professionals!

Groundbreaking began on time... I was impressed with how quickly the Ground Pros crew ripped out the shrubs and was once again thankful that Steve and I weren't doing it ourselves.

Here's a picture of the truck with most of our shrubs and rocks.... Unfortunately, when Steve came home for lunch and the crew was supposedly finished... we found this:

We wanted MOST of the rock removed, and there was quite a bit of rock that wasn't taken care of - especially around and underneath our deck. So... the next day they came back and spent another few hours removing rock and it looked AWESOME - even without any mulch or plants!The concrete curbing was supposed to be installed the next day, but because of a chance of scattered showers, the date was pushed back to the following Monday.

Creative Curb Appeal installed the concrete curbing and the process of installation was much more complex and detailed than I originally thought. Interestingly enough, we found out the owner goes to our church! I was in a Bible Study with his wife several years ago and had been praying for their family with the birth of their second son and also the prospect of her husband starting a second business - Creative Curb Appeal! Little did I know then that he'd be working on our landscaping a few years later.

And so begins the tour... I apologize in advance for the amount of pictures... but we LOVE it!

Here's the front of the house: there is a Sedum with purple flowers starting to bloom, three Hostas, an Endless Summer Hydrangea in the middle, and a Skyrocket Juniper on the end. We really wanted to show more of the brick on our house and also allow more sunshine into the two lower bedrooms.

Remember that scary corner with the dead rose bush and the everlasting bushes and weeds? Weeds be gone! What a transformation!

A close up of our Endless Summer Hydrangea and the curbing. We've already started to notice new blooms growing.

A side shot of our Skyrocket Juniper which will grow to be about 15-20 feet tall and about 2-3 feet wide.

And the side of our house. Ground Pros provided the trellis and picked out a better one than I would have - it's beautiful. There is a purple Clematis vine on the trellis, a yellow Asiatic Double Lily, a Purity Coneflower, and another Double Lily on the other side of the fence.

This picture is taken from the back of our house. We used to have that huge shrub that Steve struggled to get by with the mover. We put in another Skyrocket Juniper and then left the back window free of shrubs.

Another picture of the back of the house near the deck. This plant is called a Nora Leigh Garden Phlox. I liked it because it looked like a hosta, and had pretty flowers, but does great in full sun. We had a couple of Fieldstone Boulders placed around the border to add interest.

This is the back of our deck. We have two boxwoods - one on both sides, and in the middle is a SilverMound Artemsia plant. I think this may be one of my favorites because it feels really soft and has a silvery sheen to it.

Another view of our deck. There is a Jack Frost Brunnera plant on the side of the deck that has heart shaped leaves. This plant is also very similar to hostas in that it likes a lot of shade.

Here is a picture of my garden box. Initially, we weren't going to do the curbing around the box, but Creative Curb Appeal suggested that we extend it around just in case I didn't want to keep the box there forever. I'm glad we went with CCA's advice, because it looks great. They replaced the dirt with new dirt from an alfalfa farm. (I guess it's supposed to be really good dirt!) Later that evening, we went to Sargent's where their annuals were marked 50% off and loaded up with various flowers. I'll probably plant bulbs this fall, but I'm still a little undecided what else I'd like to do.

The "after" pictures of my garden box. There are various violets, snapdragons, basil, impatiens, and some other flowers that I still haven't learned the names of. (As I mentioned earlier - this has been quite a learning curve!)

Amaya enjoyed playing around in the dirt and "helping" me plant, water, and of course, smell the flowers.

This was a tricky area for both the landscapers and the curbing crew. Because of the step off the deck, we weren't sure where we wanted the curbing to go and how many stepping stones we wanted. Fortunately, the Creative Curb Appeal had some great suggestions, and I think it turned out great. Amaya enjoys stepping on the stones over and over and over....

This is the other side of our house. There is another Purity Coneflower by the garden box, a Peppermint Spice Coral Bell, a Mugo Mops Pine Bush, and another Coral Bell.

The last view of our house - the side near the garage. We have a variegated Dogwood bush. It'll grow to be much bigger, so it will cover up the utility boxes nicely.

There you have it! We hope you've enjoyed the tour of the outside of our house. Stop by and visit anytime and enjoy the last few weeks of summer with us!