Thursday, September 10, 2015

Driving East

The first day of our drive home was very grey and rainy.  We had found a few interesting things to do along the drive to Minneapolis, primarily around Fargo, ND, but they were all outside and it was raining so much that we skipped them all.  We did drive through the town of Valley City, North Dakota, which is known for its many bridges.  This train bridge was considered so important for transporting goods during World War II that it was actually guarded by soldiers against terrorism.

We spent the night at a hotel in Minneapolis right near the Mall of America.  The hotel had a swimming pool, so we let the girls swim for a while in the morning.  Interestingly, it was a salt water pool.  Amelia let Ben throw her up high so she could splash down in the pool, which is something she had never wanted to try before.

Because we were so close, I said we should go eat lunch at the Mall of America, because it would have a lot of choices for fast food.  When we walked in, we saw the American Girl store right in front of us, so Mom and I took the girls to look around while the boys went to the Lego store.  Mom bought the girls each an outfit, for Amelia's doll Caroline and for Megan's doll that she is going to get for Christmas but doesn't know about yet.  After MUCH deliberation, Amelia chose Caroline's Christmas outfit which is purple and comes with a braided hair headband, purple shoes and long white gloves because she knew Caroline was being retired and she would never have another chance to get one of Caroline's own outfits.  Megan chose Rebecca's movie star dress, which is pink with flowers and comes with a lovely pink hat.  Thanks for letting the girls choose outfits, Mom, what a special treat that was for them!  Then we met the boys in the Lego store, where Dad had to show us his favorite 5000 piece kits.  The girls loved all the huge creations made out of Legos.

Finally, we stopped at Crystal Cave in Wisconsin.  It was a fun little tour; the cave doesn't have any spectacular formations, but it did have lots of tiny stalactites:

And then, two hours later, we got home.  I made a quick dinner of chicken nuggets for the kids and orange chicken for the adults, then we put the kids to bed, got the car unpacked, and went to bed ourselves.  We had a fantastic trip, and it was so nice to be able to share it with Mom and Dad!  Thanks for coming with us!  We all loved having you along!

Wednesday, September 9, 2015

Devil's Tower and Theodore Roosevelt National Parks

We left the Black Hills on Friday morning and drove to Devil's Tower, because Ben had never been there and the kids had never been to Wyoming.  Our first stop inside the park was the prairie dog town, where we got to see the prairie dogs very close up.

 Then we went to the visitor's center to pick up the Junior Ranger pamphlets; Nathaniel got a head start on the trail while the girls started filling out their books.

Megan liked learning about the Native American legend that said a huge bear had trapped a group of hunters on top of the tower, and the bear scratched at the rock trying to climb up the tower, which made the scratches on the side.  She still likes to ask how tall that bear must have been.

The kids really wanted to climb on all the rocks, but there were a lot of signs saying that climbing on rocks above the trails was illegal and that violators would be prosecuted, so we only let them climb on a few rocks right on the trail.  Exploring on those rocks was one of my favorite memories from our trips out west, and it is so disappointing that a few careless people ruined it for everyone.  Anyway, all the kids loved climbing on the rocks and jumping off of them.

We didn't have time to walk around the entire tower because we planned to drive through Montana, stopping at a state park so that the kids and Ben could count that as a new state, before driving on to Theodore Roosevelt National Park in North Dakota and exploring there.  So we finished up the Junior Ranger pamphlet, turned it in to get the girls' badges, and headed out.

As it turned out, there was road construction, and Ben's phone directed him the wrong way, so we didn't get to go through Montana.  But it worked out for the best, because we wouldn't have had really any time at Teddy Roosevelt if we'd taken that detour.  Theodore Roosevelt National Park was great, and a perfect place to explore in North Dakota.  (Hey, did you notice?  Ben and the kids have now been in North Dakota!)  As we started off on the loop road, the first thing we came across was a prairie dog town.  We were having a good time watching the prairie dogs when Megan spotted a coyote!  The coyote was looking for some tasty prairie dogs to eat; he would stick his snout down into a prairie dog burrow, come up empty, then move along to the next one.  The prairie dogs had sentries stationed at the mounds nearby keeping an eye on the coyote, but I was surprised by how close they would let him get before they would duck down into their burrows.  After watching this coyote for a while, Megan noticed that there was a second one following along behind him.  The girls were devastated thinking about a coyote wanting to eat a cute prairie dog, but we didn't see him catch any.

As the girls were laying down on the ground listening to the sounds of prairie dogs, we noticed that a herd of bison nearby was on the move.  We got the kids back in the car, drove down a short ways, and had to stop:

Some of the bison were crossing the road, but the biggest guy decided to stand still in the middle of the road, and then the herd decided to walk down the road in the direction that we were going.

We followed along for a while, enjoying the rare opportunity to be so close to these huge creatures while remaining in the safety of our car.  Although, I did stick my head pretty far out of the window to get some photos.

We did a short trail to an overlook of the Little Missouri River; it was hazy but we did manage to spot another herd of bison in the distance.

I took a photo of these tiny liatrus for Mom:

On the way back to our car, the girls were thrilled to spot a Hawaii license plate!  We ended up seeing license plates from 48 states, all except West Virginia and Rhode Island.

Dad spotted part of the herd of wild horses a little further on our drive:

Theodore Roosevelt National Park was a great place to stop, with the best wildlife that we saw the whole trip.  It was definitely worth the long and very boring drive to North Dakota.  We could have spent an entire day there, I think.

Tuesday, September 8, 2015

The First Week of School

The girls started school a week ago, and they were both very excited.

Megan's teacher is named Mrs. McKeith, and this is her third year teaching at Horizon.  Megan says that she is very nice and that she likes her teacher a lot.  Megan was excited to start kindergarten until I tried to leave her in the library with the rest of the kindergartners on the first day.  She told me that she almost cried, but that she didn't actually cry, but that a lot of kids did.  At the start of the summer, she had told me that I didn't need to walk her into school at all, but now she has changed her mind and wants me to walk her in for a few more weeks.  She comes home from school every day saying that she had a great day, but that she doesn't want to tell me anything until dinnertime, so that she doesn't have to repeat herself.  She knows four of the kids in her class pretty well, but she has also been talking about making friends with three new girls in her class.  She has been whinier than normal at home in the evenings, so I think that she is tired after a full long day at school.  She has been watching a tv show to relax right after school is out.

Her teacher sent this note and photo home after the first day.  In the photo below, Megan is sitting with the principal, Mr. Briggs, and the new assistant principal.  When I asked Megan if she knew who the woman was, she said she had no idea, but she did know the principal.

Megan colored this picture of our family on her second day of school.  She made sure to get everyone's eye color right, and she has started adding noses to her smiley faces. 

I thought it was very nice that her teacher sent a personalized note home to all of her students after the first week.


Amelia was counting down the days until school started, and she was thrilled to go to school on the first day.  As soon as we got in the doors, she gave me a quick hug and kiss and ran off to join the rest of her class in the cafeteria.  She has a teacher named Mrs. Lutz (pronounced Loots) who is new to the school this year.  She says Mrs. Lutz is very nice.  She only knows a few kids in her class this year, but one is a girl that she was friends with in kindergarten, so I'm hoping that they will resume their friendship.  Amelia told me last night that she has been trying to be extra friendly to the new girl who moved to town this summer from Florida, but that the new girl keeps rejecting Amelia's offers of friendship.  It is making her very sad, so we'll see how this next week goes.  Amelia has been more sad and sensitive than normal after school this first week, so I suspect that she is having a hard time getting used to the long school days, too.  She had an epic meltdown on Tuesday after a very unlucky game of Chutes & Ladders, and ended up going to bed at 6:30 that night. 

Amelia wrote out a nametag for her desk the first day of school that lists some things that she likes or that describe her:

 And the class had to write a letter home to their families telling them about the first week of school:

Nathaniel and I have done a lot of errands this week, it is much nicer to run errands with one child than with three.  I am still trying to figure out what time I need to put him down for a nap so that I don't have to wake him up at 2:45 to go pick up the girls.  Even when I put him down at 11:45 on Friday, I still had to wake him up!  I thought I would get a photo of his really curly hair before I take him to get it cut in the coming weeks.

And what would a photo session be without trying to eat your foot?