The Holiday Express

I’m a borderline crazy Christmas person. Having kids creates a new level of magic in that you are responsible for creating it and in return receive the pleasure of watching it all unfold.

This year we finally made it onto the historic 1880 Train‘s Holiday Express. The ride was out of Hill City, about halfway to Keystone you arrive at “The North Pole” and pick up Santa. On the way there they pass out delicious hot chocolate and sugar cookies. I was shocked at how good they were. After Santa boards the train he comes around and talks to each child while handing out silver sleigh bells. The cost isn’t cheap but for under $100 for our family it was a special and you can’t put a price on memories.

Notes/Tips:

  • You can bring food/drinks onto the train, we went on the 4:15 so I knew my boys would need more then a sugar cookie so I brought snacks in containers.
  • The trains are mildly heated, meaning on a cold night you’ll be comfortable but with your coat left on. Remember you don’t get on the train without waiting in line outside and it’s in Hill City which is probably a few degrees cooler than Rapid.
  • The speaker system on the train is awful and with so many kids you are unlikely to hear what they are saying, therefor you’ll want to read (or watch) The Polar Express before your ride.
  • While it’s a great ride for all ages, our 3 year old loved it the most so I’d say if you only plan on going once, wait for that 3-4 age range. Our 5 year old, who loves trains, had fun but was a little unimpressed afterwards.
  • If your family has a busy schedule or you feel particular about the times book your tickets early, as in November or the first week of December.
  • Take the train during the summer as well, it’s a great experience.IMG_0341.JPG.jpegimg_0334-jpgimg_0086
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Aside

The Rock Maze

Went on a little hike today to the rock maze. It’s a super short walk from the car but provided tons of entertainment as the kids explored the “caves” forcing both Chad and I to squeeze through the tiniest crevices. Please excuse Willem’s mid 90’s “coming out of the grunge” style. Part of the boys terrible twos is wanting to pick out his own clothes so denim shorts, tye dye and cowboy boots it was.

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Snack break was pathetic. As a mother to boys I know that snacks make the world go around and can prevent any meltdown. I should have been prepared with a pack full of food however I grabbed what we had, crackers and craisins. Apparently any food is good food because Harper was thrilled by it and kept thanking me for bringing a snack

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Of course we stopped on the way home to fulfill the promise of throwing rocks in the water.

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The Jeep Wave

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This summer Chad (finally) sold his not snow worthy truck for a very snow worthy Jeep Wrangler. This new vehicle has been a wonderful toy and tool for exploration for our family. It has taken us on adventures picking wild raspberries, driving through large puddles of cow-shit-smelling water, taking us to sights otherwise unseen and showing us our boys are fearless of swift moving streams.

One of the greatest surprises of owning a Jeep is learning about the “Jeep wave.” This is an obvious form of recognition, a highly visible wave, from any other passing jeep. You could be heading different directions across 6 lanes of traffic and you better believe that Jeep will visibly  acknowledge your shared enthusiasm of driving on unimproved roads, it’s it’s not a finger-lift wave, its a full arm, elbow moving wave. This wave does not pertain to all Jeeps, only those that are actually used for intended fun uses. If you drive a brand new Jeep that is constantly clean and you keep all doors and lids on I’m sorry you will probably not experience the Jeep wave, it is assumed your Jeep does not leave pavement. Do not fret though, because with a simple removal of doors, addition of a little mud and maybe a water can on the back you are automatically welcomed into the club of people who like to have fun driving.

Oh What a World We Live In: Summer Goals

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How gorgeous is this canyon? If we didn’t have small kiddos we would have hiked to the bottom.

For Chad’s birthday I bought him the northern plains map for his GPS because he had been talking about geocaching a lot lately. So on a whim this afternoon we went to find a few. Unfortunately the one we really wanted to find was on the bottom of this beautiful canyon and we could not figure out how to get down there. We still had a nice time getting out but now we have the goal of getting down to the water, finding the geocache and most importantly playing in those beautiful water pools!

We found other geocaches, hiked small mountains (while Willem slept in the car), took our Subaru on it’s first off road adventures and most importantly we all were out together.

Mondays Are My Favorite Days

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I’m slightly excited about the day, not because of something special planned but because I have nothing planned. An empty canvas waiting for its paint. The best thing about days with no plans is that nothing can go wrong you can’t be late when there is nowhere to be.

The greenhouse has been on my mind. My subconscious’ way of telling me to hold out hope, spring is near. It’s my first time in this greenhouse since I was a small child. I used to hate coming here because my mother keep us trailing her for hours going up and down the aisles and losing ourselves in the labyrinth of greenhouses. Today it is warm and the air was a mixture of fertilizer and nectar. There is a koi  pond, one fish as big as my thigh. Harper was taken with the them, Willem snug against me was awed with the red circus trailer and of course, the popcorn. We wander, whispering past seedlings, being sure to not scare them, stunting their growth. We looked at lemon trees (I must go back and get one) and name every garden animal we see “a frog! a pig! a bunny!” We smell, touch and eventually pick out a few to take home. Willem keeps ahold of a small, round petaled succulent in his chubby toddler hands, breaking off only 3 petals before we leave.

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In the car we talk about the seeds we were going to plant, how with care, love and attention they will grow out of the dirt and sprout into flowers. While we talk of flowers blooming from tiny seeds and I contemplate which road to take.

We drive through into the forest, eyes open for big horn sheep, deer, turkeys. We turn corners over the winding river, past our old house, to the T where the road ends and we end up at the lake.

There is no other car in the parking lot. I didn’t expect there to be. I unload the boys and we take off to throw rocks into the lake. A simple thing that brings insurmountable joy to young boys, or rather all boys, I remember my first camping trip with their father, watching him throw rocks off of a cliff. Today the lake is mostly ice and instead of a splash we get only slides.

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Harper leads us down paths and over bridges, we’ve come all this way but we still have no agenda. Willem clings to me, his warm little head bounces between my chin and chest as he struggles between his curiosity to see the world and his stubbornness to touch me, proving to us all that no matter where we are or what we are doing, my attention is always held captive with him.

Returning to the still empty parking lot we take our time eating crackers and bananas in the back of the car, our goodbye ritual to any trail.

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Our Own Backyard

A little less than a mile from our house is a great, quiet little park/playground. Now lucky for us, the playground backs up to a wilderness park which leads to the Outdoor Campus. The Outdoor Campus is a beautiful but non peta friendly building maintained by South Dakota Game Fish and Parks where kids can learn about the outdoor habitats and animals as they play. Everything in the building is hands on (though the snake is still in the cage) and there are classes that children of all ages can sign up for, while we were there on a Sunday afternoon there was a children’s archery class (suction cup arrows) going on in one of the rooms. Outside there is a fish stocked pond, a swamp area filled with cat tails, a 3 story “tree house” look out tower, a mud kitchen for kids to play in and a large nest to take a break in.

We went on the walk to explore and we were surprised not only with the beauty that laid back there but also, as a parent of young kids, we loved all the activities there were for them. It’s great to go somewhere that truly welcomes kids, because then we parents could really relax. Willem didn’t even have shoes on because I didn’t think he’d be out of the sling at all.

Harper had a blast in the mud kitchen. He learned the lesson of fake eating after he real put rocks in his mouth. Oh the imagination in that child is wild.

So glad my sister could come with us. Besides wing a huge help and playing with the boys non stop, we actually had a family photo thanks to her. This only happens when we pay someone usually.

Yellow leaves, red leaves, warm temperatures, fun walks, exploring the world and all this just down the street from us. We probably belong here.

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Hiking Elk Creek

This weekend we went to Elk Creek, only 20 minutes from our house. It was a perfect day and a perfect walk for Harper because there was water to play in and rocks to climb on. Chad had fun with bouldering, we spent a lot of the walk looking for rock climbing routs and wondering why there weren’t any bolts to be seen (I think because it was sandstone but still, couldn’t you put bolts deep enough to make sandstone safe?), there are some perfect cracks and climbs up there. Harper didn’t climb high but we did teach him about hand and foot holds and he practiced a little, he ended up settling for climbing the boulders on the ground which is still good for us.

The trail is 2.7 miles before a turnaround where it meets the centennial trail. We stopped about a mile short because Harper was tired and we were getting a little hungry. It wasn’t a hard or strenuous trail at all but we spent most of our time playing, climbing and talking with Harper so we had been out a while. Hiking with small kids isn’t as easy as walking but it is much more fun. When we first arrived at the trail head there was only one car and it wasn’t parked anywhere near us. When we got back we had a laugh at being surrounded by other subarus, guess we live slightly similar lifestyles.

Be honest, it’s pretty great out here isn’t it? Add milk 70 degree weather in mid October and we have nothing to complain about. The trail itself was very well maintained, people and dogs we saw were friendly, we didn’t see any garbage and it was never past the difficulty of a 3 year old so it is ranked pretty high on our list of favorites. If this is the last hike of the year I won’t complain (though it would be nice to get more hikes in, schedules and weather may not play along).

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